Last Updated September 5, 2023.
At the beginning of the story, Mrs. May sees a bull outside her window causing damage to her property. Almost immediately, readers pick up on imagery that poses the bull as a divine figure. As he listens carefully to the noises emanating from inside of her house, the bull is bathed in warm, pink light, indicating that he, in some way, replicates godhood. A sense of grace accompanies his presence, and his physical description echoes this sentiment:
The bull lowered his head and shook it and the wreath slipped down to the base of his horns where it looked like a menacing prickly crown.
In this passage, O’Connor ties the bull to Christ, as the bull is adorned by hedge wreath caught in its horns, similar to the crown of thorns Christ is often depicted wearing. While Mrs. May detests the bull and wants it to be removed from her territory, the bull is naturally endowed with a Christ-like grace that Mrs. May, a secular woman embarrassed by religion, cannot see.
Scofield was thirty-six and he had a broad pleasant smiling face but he was not married. “Yes,” Mrs. May would say, “and if you sold decent insurance, some nice girl would be willing to marry you. What nice girl wants to marry a nigger-insurance man? You’ll wake up some day and it’ll be too late.”
Mrs. May is a woman who says she follows religion, but her sense of religion is skin deep. For example, she looks down on her son for selling insurance to African American people. She thinks no one will marry him for doing so, and she doesn't recognize the needs or humanity of other people. The irony is that she has no insurance herself. She looks down on her son for selling insurance to people who need it, and she gives herself pretensions about being better. However, the fact that she has no insurance shows that her pretensions are hollow.
“Oh Jesus, stab me in the heart!” Mrs. Greenleaf shrieked. “Jesus, stab me in the heart!” and she fell back flat in the dirt, a huge human mound, her legs and arms spread out as if she were trying to wrap them around the earth.
Mrs. Greenleaf practices a kind of religion in which she prays by burying newspaper articles about acts of inhumanity in the earth and lying down in the earth herself. She dirties herself in an act of asking for forgiveness. Mrs. May looks down on Mrs. Greenleaf and her slovenly family, but Mrs. Greenleaf has true humility and a true sense of grace that Mrs. May lacks.
One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart and the other curved around her side and held her in an unbreakable grip. She continued to stare straight ahead but the entire scene in front of her had changed—the tree line was a dark wound in a world that was nothing but sky—and she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.
At the end of the story, the bull gores Mrs. May and she experiences a sense of grace. The way the bull gores her through her heart is similar to the way Mrs. Greenleaf prays for Jesus to stab her through the heart. The act is purifying, and suddenly she can see. Her sense of moral vision, of what's right in the world, has been restored to her, but she can hardly handle what she sees. She experiences a sense of grace almost against her will.