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Revelation Summary

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.

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."


(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...

(The entire section is 1,972 words.)