The Displaced Person by Flannery O’Connor

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of this story suggests that it is about one displaced person. In fact, the tale is about several people who are displaced. In one character’s words, “Displaced Persons . . . means they ain’t where they were born at and there’s nowhere for them to go—like if you was run out of here and wouldn’t nobody have you.” To explore this idea of displacement, Flannery O’Connor divides her story into three parts, emphasizing Mrs. Shortley, then Mrs. McIntyre, and finally the displaced person, or D.P., who connects all the other D.P.’s, Mr. Guizac.

In the first part, the idea of displacement is introduced through the character of Guizac, a Polish émigré who comes to Mrs. McIntyre’s farm with his family after escaping from his native country. Mrs. Shortley, a farmworker with her husband on Mrs. McIntyre’s farm, views Guizac as a foreigner who does not belong. His name is strange—she pronounces it “Gobblehook”—and he speaks a strange language. Because of her limited vision, she sees Guizac not only as a stereotype but also as a threat, for he endangers both the predictability of their lives and the security of their jobs. Guizac is, after all, far more efficient and skilled than her husband, Chancey. When she overhears Mrs. McIntyre telling the priest that she will be giving the Shortleys notice that they are to be replaced—displaced—by the Guizacs, Mrs. Shortley decides to pack up her family and depart before Mrs. McIntyre has the chance to fire them. Leaving the farm, Mrs. Shortley has her second dramatic inner vision (the first was immediately before she overheard Mrs. McIntyre’s conversation). This final, mysterious, personal vision destroys Mrs. Shortley and leaves her family dumbfounded: “They didn’t know that she had had a great experience or ever been displaced in the world from all that belonged to her.”

The second part of the story focuses on Mrs. McIntyre’s vision, which, unlike the ultimately enlarging vision of Mrs. Shortley, is a gradually restricting view of Guizac. When Guizac first arrives and demonstrates his farming skills and efficiency, Mrs. McIntyre is delighted, believing that Guizac is her “salvation.” His redemptive qualities, however, escape her notice when he arranges for one of the black farmworkers to pay for the transportation of Guizac’s cousin to the United States. In return for transportation, the cousin would be married to the farmworker. When Mrs. McIntyre learns of this arrangement, her anger overtakes her earlier delight, and she repeats, with new emphasis, her earlier adage: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” She knows the white farmworkers; she knows the black farmworkers; she does not know the ultimate implications of life with the Polish farmworker. Mrs. McIntyre decides that he is...

(The entire section is 721 words.)