Why does Mary Grace attack Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation"?
From the opening of her short story “Revelation,” Flannery O’Connor makes it clear that her main character, Mrs. Turpin, is an imposing figure, both physically and mentally. As the story begins, Mrs. Turpin enters her doctor’s office, a small room that, O’Connor’s narrator suggests, is quickly filled by the patient’s large frame: “She stood looming at the head of the magazine table. . . a living demonstration that the room was inadequate and ridiculous.”
With this opening, O’Connor, a particularly cynical author, lets the reader know that Mrs. Turpin is a figure to be taken seriously. This initial description is immediately reinforced by the author’s reference to Mrs. Turpin’s husband, Claud, who is depicted as a subordinate figure in the relationship and the one in need of medical attention. In addition, Mrs. Turpin is racist, evident by her suggestion, made to herself, fortunately, that the “white trash” she had encountered was “worse than niggers.”
Mrs. Turpin is the quintessential Flannery O’Connor character: religious, condescending, ignorant, self-righteous and hypocritical. Mary Grace, in contrast, is well-educated—she attends Wellesley College, her mother informs Mrs. Turpin—but she exudes the kind of anger and bitterness occasionally associated with college students whose exposure to a little knowledge leads to an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
One can only speculate for the reason Mary Grace attacked Mrs. Turpin. Mary Grace could not read Mrs. Turpin’s mind, so she was not privy to the latter’s racist and judgmental thoughts. What Mary Grace did know was that Mrs. Turpin espoused religious views that may have run counter to the college student’s more agnostic or atheistic perspective. Just as Mrs. Turpin condemned what she viewed as “white trash,” Mary Grace may very well have viewed Mrs. Turpin in that same pejorative light. Negative perceptions of another individual aside, there is no valid reason for Mary Grace to have physically assaulted Mrs. Turpin (although, in today’s society, assaulting someone for their beliefs is becoming mainstream). The attack was probably the result of pent-up frustrations over what Mary Grace perceived as the ramblings of an intellectually and culturally inferior person masked behind overt religiosity.
This is a very profound moment in the short story, Revealation, by Flannery O'Connor. The story takes place in a doctor's office and Mrs. Turpin is a self-righteous woman who thinks pretty highly of herself and thanks Jesus that he has not created her to be "a nigger" or "white trash." There are several other people in the office, and one of them is a white trash woman and the other is a nice woman. The nice woman is the mother of Mary Grace. Mary Grace is an ugly girl, covered with acne. Mrs. Turpin has been musing to herself, criticizing all of the other people in the office, and eventually she makes this comment aloud:
"If it's one thing I am ... it's grateful. When I think who all I could have been besides myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting, 'Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!' It could have been different!"
At that point, Mary Grace freaks out and attacks Mrs. Turpin. Mrs. Turpin asks her:
"What have you got to say to me?"
Mrs. Turpin's question, I believe, is really a request from God to see what HE has to say to her. If you read some background on Flannery O'Connor and read her other stories, you will find that the concept of Christian "grace" is a very strong theme in her writings. So when Mrs. Turpin asks this question, she is asking it of God, who is the only one that can give us grace (unmerited favor).
Mary Grace's answer to Mrs. Turpin is:
"Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog!" says Mary Grace
This is God's message to Mrs. Turpin. She thinks she is clean, lily white, above everyone else, but God says no, you are a sinner like everyone else, in need of grace. Mrs. Turpin things she is heavenly, holier than everyone else, and God tells her no, you are going to hell like everyone else unless you accept my grace.
Mrs. Turpin is upset by Mary Grace's answer and for the rest of the story grapples with this answer, really grappling with God's revelation to her, which she does not like, with good reason. She is a hypocrite.