O'Connor wants to communicate how human beings must do a better job of discriminating between what is temporary and what is ultimately lasting.
One of the primary failures of Julian and his mother is their inability to understand what is real. Julian's mother continues to cling to her family's "good name" and her social standing. This is reflected in her belief that her run down neighborhood ‘‘had been fashionable forty years ago." Her failures lie in her inability to understand what is true. She looks at temporary conditions as permanent and fails to understand the importance of what really is permanent. When she is struck to the ground and calls out for the people who matter in her life, she is forced to understand what is transcendent. Her realization before death strikes the reader as insight that arrives too late. Julian's mother's life is one where priorities are placed on things that are temporary and cannot provide any real meaning.
Julian himself is an example of someone incapable of cultivating any understanding regarding what is real. He, too, sees temporary ideas as being more important than anything else. For example, he thinks of himself as "enlightened." However, he fails to understand that others see him as pretentious and inauthentic. In addition, Julian believes his mother is the embodiment of everything that is wrong. As she is lying on the ground, Julian mocks her value system in saying, "The old world is gone. The old manners and your graciousness is not worth a damn.’’ However, he fails to construct anything real in its place. All he focuses on is destroying her. This becomes a temporal pursuit, something he understands too late when she is dying. At the moment of her death, like his mother, he embraces something real when he calls out to her, saying "Mama."
O'Connor suggests that human beings must recognize what is real and meaningful. Both son and mother eventually get to an understanding that is transcendent. However, it is acknowledged far too late to live a meaningful life. In both settings, O'Connor seems to suggest that the illusion of human must give way to what is real.