Discuss the theme and irony found in "Revelations" by Flannery O'Connor.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O’Connor writes about the south and its unique flavor of life. The name of the story “Revelations” has several meanings: disclosure, shock, and eye-opener. All of these meanings apply in Ruby Turpin’s revelation. 

As Ruby sits at the doctor’s office with her husband Claude, she puts each person through a litany of qualities. The main character finds that she is above all of the people who are waiting with her to see the doctor.   All of the people are strangers, but Ruby easily categorizes them.

  • a poor white trash woman
  • a fashionable woman with red high heels
  • the girl’s mother
  • the ugly girl
  • the little boy
  • the boy’s grandmother

Ruby is a fat, egotistical woman.  She goes around the room judging each person.  If anyone does not meet her standards, they should be taken by train to a gas chamber.

One of the themes of the story speaks to “do not judge a book by its cover.” The outside of a person does not always portray the person inside.  What a person looks like does not tell the character or values of a person.  Obviously, Mary Grace judges Ruby.

As Ruby thinks about the people, she reminds herself that she is blessed to be in touch with God.  It is when she is forced to actually look at herself both outwardly and at her inner being that she finds her revelation. She has not always been a good person.

Ironically, the girl’s hurtful words lead to Ruby’s epiphany. The ugly girl is reading a book about Human Development.  Mary Grace finds herself in misery.  She really has nothing going for her.  Her mother has moved her out of the house to the dormitory of a college. 

Finally, when she can no longer stand to hear the voice of Ruby and her arrogance. She throws her human development book at her and hits her head. This is ironic because that is exactly what Ruby needs to develop: more humanity. Then, Mary Grace jumps at her and begins to choke her. 

Mary Grace is obviously ill and is rushed to the hospital.  Note her name. This is another example of O’Connor’s irony. Mary [the mother of Jesus] and Grace [what everyone wants from God] pronounces Ruby Turpin lacking and tells her exactly what she is: a wart hog from hell.

After Ruby’s rest at home, she goes out to the hogs.  Ruby admits how hurtful the girl’s comment was:

She appeared to be the right size woman to command the arena before her. “How am I a hog?” she demanded. “Exactly how am I like them?...There was plenty of trash there. It didn’t have to be me.”

Mrs. Turpin becomes angry at God and yells out at him:

What do you send me a message like that for?" she later demands of God. "How am I hog? How am I saved and from hell too? Call me a wart hog from hell. Who do you think you are?” She opened her mouth again but no sound came out of it.

Where had Ruby Turpin gone wrong? She judges harshly those that God loves…He loves the white trash, the black people, and even Mary Grace …just as much as he loves her.  However, just going to church and speaking to God does not get a person into heaven. It is only through God’s grace that a person finds redemption.  

The final revelation for Ruby Turpin comes to her as she stands at the pig pen.  A person’s actions mean nothing if she judges others based on their color or class in life.  God will judge that person with the same judgment. 

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