(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Revelation” opens in a doctor’s waiting room where Ruby Turpin is waiting with her husband, Claud. As she often does, Mrs. Turpin passes the time by categorizing the other waiting-room inhabitants by class—“white trash,” middle class (like her), and so forth. This is the segretated South, so there are no black people here, but Mrs. Turpin is happy to judge them, too.

She identifies a pleasant-looking woman as one of her own class, and they begin an idle conversation that centers first on their possessions and eventually on their disapproval of civil rights demonstrators. They conclude that it would be a good idea to send all black people back to Africa. During this conversation, the other woman’s daughter, Mary Grace, an obese college student with severe acne, has been making faces directly at Mrs. Turpin. At last Mary Grace cracks entirely, throws her book (Human Development) at Mrs. Turpin, and then physically attacks her. When Mary Grace has been subdued, Mrs. Turpin begins to think that the girl has a message for her, and when she moves closer, Mary Grace calls her a warthog and tells her to go back to hell where she came from.

Later, at home, Mrs. Turpin is deeply shaken by the message. At last, while hosing down the hogs, she questions God about why he sent her such a message when there was plenty of “trash” in the room to receive it. His answer comes in the form of a vision of people marching to Heaven, a procession led by all the people she has most held in contempt. The vision fades, and Mrs. Turpin returns to the house in the midst of a cricket chorus of hallelujahs. Critics have disagreed about the meaning of the end of this story, but Mrs. Turpin’s serious acceptance of the violent message of grace and the imagery of the ending seem to suggest that her vision was a gift of mercy that has clarified her vision of the world, its people, and her possessions.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 561 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

While Mrs. Turpin and her husband Claud are waiting in the doctor’s office for treatment of Claud’s bruised leg, Mrs. Turpin strikes up a conversation with some of the other patients but becomes annoyed with a Wellesley student, whom she thinks is fat and ugly and who scowls at her. Mrs. Turpin notices that the girl, Mary Grace, seems to be staring at her malevolently, and when she tries to engage the girl in conversation, she is snubbed. As she sizes up the people in the doctor’s office, Mrs. Turpin classifies them, as is her wont. She thinks that Mary Grace’s mother is stylishly dressed and pleasant, in contrast to the woman with the small child sitting nearby, whom she regards as white trash.

While talking to Mary Grace’s mother, Mrs. Turpin concentrates her attention on herself. As the reader soon learns, she is normally preoccupied with herself. She thinks about how fortunate she is to be who she is, rather than being black or merely white trash. Just as she comments to the others on how grateful she is for all she is and has, she is suddenly assaulted by Mary Grace—struck by the book that she has been reading. As she struggles to escape, Mrs. Turpin feels as if she is watching the event from far away. When Mary Grace is sedated, Mrs. Turpin asks her what she has to say for herself and waits as if for a revelation. Mary Grace calls her a warthog and tells her to go back to Hell.

Because she believes that Mary Grace had...

(The entire section is 528 words.)