(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

At the heart of all of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction is the theme of the surprising action of God’s grace in a world that seems oblivious to it. The invisible action of this grace moves through each story, becoming visible at a key point in the action (usually the very end), though sometimes to the reader only. These moments of epiphany, or “revelation,” to use the title of one of these stories, redeem the otherwise dark and sordid vision O’Connor offers of the fallen world. “Grotesque” is the term critics most often use for this vision, though O’Connor repudiated the word.

One of the devices O’Connor uses to effect the reader’s participation in each epiphany is the subversion of the story’s point of view. She chooses as her protagonist a character whose point of view is furthest from that of the story. After building sympathy for the point-of-view character, she then allows an action (usually violent) to upset the status quo, revealing the weakness of that point of view. In the title story, for example, the reader takes part in Julian’s condemnation of his mother’s prejudices, but when his own prejudices lead to her collapse from a stroke, he reveals not only his prejudices but also his need for her. In “Revelation,” Mrs. Turpin’s neat hierarchy of classes of people is disturbed by violence when she is attacked by someone she had pegged as on the bottom rung; the story ends with her vision of the lower classes entering Heaven before her.

Another favorite characterization technique of O’Connor is her flair for exotic names of the type critic Franklin P. Adams called “aptronyms,” names that are appropriate descriptions of the characters who hold them. “Turpin” suggests “turpitude,” or moral baseness, an ironic name for a woman who scorns the baseness of others; it comes from the Latin turpis, meaning “ugly,” and the girl who attacks Mrs. Turpin had been categorized by her as “the ugly girl.” Another ironic aptronym is “Sheppard” in “The Lame Shall Enter First”; he thinks himself a good shepherd to the delinquent boys he...

(The entire section is 863 words.)