Summary

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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

This story begins with Ruby Turpin and her husband, Claud, arriving in a doctor's waiting room because Claud has been kicked by a cow and has an ulcer on his leg. Also in the waiting room are a "stringy" old man, a well-dressed older lady, and a dirty-looking child. Ruby is irritated that the child does not move to let her sit down, as would be polite. Ruby feels an affinity with the "stylish" white lady and chats with her.

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Meanwhile, a fat teenage white girl with acne is silently reading. Ruby judges her, thinking that she is ugly. With the girl is an older woman Ruby thinks is "white trashy." Ruby casually thinks to herself that these people are "worse than n*****s," noticing in particular their shoes. At night, when Ruby is trying to sleep, she often ranks people according to their levels of righteousness, ranking "white trash" and black people at the bottom and others above them. Every person's ranking is based upon their wealth and social standing. Ruby is extremely grateful to have been born as she is: a God-fearing, middle-class white woman.

Ruby begins to express these views to the others in the waiting room. When discussing the "nice clock," Ruby cannot resist saying she has a clock like that, and she judges the poorer white people for mentioning "green stamps." As the conversation goes on, Ruby feels the teenage girl looking at her, increasingly hostile. The women talk about sending black people "back to Africa" and complain about cotton picking machines. Eventually the conversation turns to black people marrying white people, looking to "improve their color."

Soon Mrs. Turpin addresses the mother of the teenage girl, Mary Grace, and finds that Mary Grace is in college. The girl does not speak, and Mrs. Turpin judges her for her lack of manners. She then thinks that she would rather send the "white trash" to Africa than send the "n*****s." At length, Ruby says that she is flooded with gratitude every day for being who she is ("Thank you Jesus!").

At this point, Mary Grace has had enough. She throws a book at Ruby and tells her she is "a hog from hell." Mary Grace is sedated and taken to the hospital, and Ruby, outraged, goes home with her husband.

Ruby cannot understand why the girl would say such a thing to her. She thinks of all the other people who are more "hog"-like than she is. She even tells her black servants what was said but is then offended by their resultant flattery, thinking it insincere. At length, she goes out to look at the hogs and interrogates them. It seems that she is really interrogating God—"What do you send me a message like that for?"

At the end of the story comes Ruby's "revelation." As in a vision, she sees a "vast swinging bridge" going up to heaven. On it, "white trash" and black people are ascending, while judgmental middle-class people (like herself) are having their virtues "burned away." Finally, Ruby realizes that she has been wrong in her understanding of what a Christian really is; her eyes have been opened, and she hears "the voices of the souls climbing upward . . . and shouting hallelujah."

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561

The character in “Revelation” whose point of view readers experience, Mrs. Ruby Turpin, typifies one of author Flannery O’Connor’s satiric identities. Most of the story takes place in a doctor’s waiting room, and Mrs. Turpin categorizes the other people in the room in reference to her own self-image. Mrs. Turpin, to a limited extent, represents a generation of morally blind Southern ladies in cotton print dresses and pillbox hats.

The bulk of the irony in this story is directed at Mrs. Turpin’s spiritual blindness and the falseness of her identity, but there is also an implicit criticism of the extent to which body type and external appearance become important to identity in American culture. For example, Mrs. Turpin describes herself as overweight, but rejoices that her “good disposition” compensates for it and that her obesity does not take away her good looks. It is also difficult for the reader to resist judging Mrs. Turpin in the same manner that she judges the others in the waiting room.

Mrs. Turpin sees a young woman in the office whom she pityingly describes as ugly, her face “blue with acne.” Ironically, the mother of the girl is the only other occupant of the room described as a “lady,” although there are several other females. The acne-sufferer’s mother becomes known to readers as “the well-dressed lady,” her social status defined by her clothes and her genteel disposition. Mrs. Turpin’s pity for the daughter, whose name turns out to be Mary Grace, derives solely from her appearance and disposition. As Mrs. Turpin mouths her banalities, Mary Grace glowers behind her college textbook.

O’Connor’s characterizations have often been criticized as flat caricature, which might seem to limit the theme of identity. Yet O’Connor’s fiction can illustrate the extent to which false identities are often formed by cliché and epithet. Even the names of some of her characters reveal a partial identity: Mrs. Turpin’s name suggests “turpitude,” which literally means “ugliness,” but in moral philosophy refers to immorality. Averse to physical ugliness, and proud of her own good looks (although wishing she could lose weight), Mrs. Turpin is nevertheless blind to her moral turpitude. She thanks Jesus that she is saved. The name Mary Grace, on the other hand, suggests the mother of Jesus—a heavy irony, considering what Mrs. Turpin sees: a surly, ugly youth. The name “Grace” may be a further irony: Lacking grace in the worldly sense, the clumsy, homely, bookish girl becomes a conduit of God’s grace for Mrs. Turpin. When Mary Grace (in a violent outburst typical of O’Connor’s fiction) becomes disgusted with the inane platitudes that Mrs. Turpin is dispensing to her audience in the waiting room, she hurls her book at Mrs. Turpin. She also flings something even more wounding, an insult; she calls Mrs. Turpin a warthog from hell.

The insult scores direct hits on the two sources of Mrs. Turpin’s pride, her identity: her appearance and her churchgoing righteousness. That night she receives a disturbing vision of all the people she categorized as behind her in the hierarchy of Southern society—“niggers,” “white trash,” “freaks,” and “lunatics”—getting to heaven before her. She recalls the passage from Scripture about how the last shall be first. The insult, she fears, was a message from God.

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Themes