Who is offered the moment of grace in "The Displaced Person" and does he/she accept it? (Are there any passages that support this contention that the grace is accepted?)

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Throughout Flannery O'Connor's stories, the symbolic peacock strolls with its resplendent tail containing the eyes of God. As an image of immortality, this bird figures strongly in the narrative of "The Displaced Person." In fact, it is by means of some of the characters' reactions to the peacocks that O'Connor suggests their moral levels in this Catholic faith-based short story.

  • Mrs. Shortley, the sanctimonious Southern Fundamentalist who personifies all the bigotry of her religious and racial culture, perceives the peacocks as annoyances and merely "more to feed." In accord with her narrow selfishness, she perceives the arrival of the Polish immigrant farmworker, the "Displaced Person," as an intrusion into her ordered world in which she has her position established. As "another to feed," Mr. Guizac, whose name sounds like "Gobblehook" to her, is an interloper into her world. As she looks at the priest who has brought them, Mrs. Shortley is reminded that "these people did not have an advanced religion" because it had not been reformed as has her Calvinistic faith. As she thinks this, the peacock swings around and cocks its head at her. The priest comments upon its beauty, asking when it raises its tail, an act he later calls the "Transfiguration" (when the presence of Christ is made into the host at mass), but Mrs. Shortley is unimpressed. ┬áLater, she fulfills the lines of "Judge not lest he be judged" as she dies.
  • Mr. Shortley, who has let his wife do the thinking, then becomes much like her as he talks more and maligns Mr. Guizac. He later becomes complicit with Sulk and Mrs. McIntyre as they watch, their eyes "froze them in collusion forever" as the runaway tractor runs over Mr. Guizac.
  • Mr. Guizac, [Poland was a Catholic country] receives from the priest the Last Rites of the Catholic Church and is given Holy Communion. ("...the priest was slipping something into the crushed man's mouth.") Thus, from his reception of the sacrament of Extreme Unction and the host, Mr. Guizac receives sacramental grace before he dies.
  • After the tractor "accident," Mrs. McIntyre does not notice that her hired help has fled because she comes down "with a nervous affliction." With numbness in her body and failing eyesight, she is forced to sell her farm and retire on what she has left. But, the old priest comes regularly and feeds the peacocks that she has kept; while there he sits at Mrs. McIntryre's bedside and instructs her "in the doctrines of the Church." Thus, Mrs. McIntyre is in a type of purgatory in which she is physically punished, but yet has the chance for grace and redemption. Because she has kept the peacocks always, she has admitted the divine into her life, and she has also not rejected the priest.

Therefore, while Mr. Guizac receives the grace given in the reception of the last sacrament of his Catholic faith [as a Catholic herself, this would be O'Connor's belief]. Mrs. McIntyre, who loved her husband while he lived and placed the cherub on his grave and has kept the peacocks, has not completely rejected grace even though she has been guilty of "collusion" in the death of Guizac. For, now she yet has an opportunity for redemption with the visits from the priest that offer her a conversion.

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