Flannery O’Connor’s background influenced her to write the short story “Revelation.” One important influence on the story is her Southern upbringing. During her lifetime, Southerners were very prejudiced towards people of other races and lifestyles. They believed that people who were less fortunate were inferior to them; therefore, people were labeled as different things and placed into different social classes.

The South provided O’Connor with the images she needed for her characters.  Similarly, this can easily be identified in her short story “Revelation.”  The characters in the story are identified by physical characteristics and some are even identified with racial terms.  The main character in the story is actually prejudiced and makes many statements using racial jargon.

For example, Mrs. Turpin, the main character, refers to the higher class woman as “well-dressed and pleasant”. She also labels the teenage girl as “ugly” and the poor woman as “white-trashy”. When Mrs. Turpin converse with her black workers, she often uses the word “nigger” in her thoughts.

These characteristics she gives her characters definitely reveals the Southern lifestyle which the author, Flannery O’Connor, was a part of. In addition to her Southern upbringing, another influence on the story is Flannery O’Connor’s illness. 

She battled with the lupus disease which has caused her to use a degree of violence and anger to make her stories somewhat unhappy.

The illness caused a sadness inside of Flannery O’Connor, and that inner sadness flowed from her body to her paper through her pen. Although she was sick, O’Connor still felt proud to be who she was. By comparison, Mrs. Turpin in “Revelation” has a good disposition about herself.  She is far from perfect, yet she is happy to be who she is.

Perhaps the most important influence on the story is religion. In the words of Robert McCown, O’Connor’s writing was mainly generated by a most powerful Christianity which was fed by her Catholic background (McCown, 256). O’Connor was not only influenced by her own Catholic heritage but by others as well. Like the other writers from France and England, she is curious about the actuality of sin and the effect that it has on the presence of mankind.

Her stories and every characteristic about them was Flannery O’Connor’s way of showing reality and qualities that are determiners of fate and destiny. No matter which path her stories took her readers, they mostly ended up finding social truth. This background, together with a believable plot, convincing characterization, and important literary devices enable Flannery O’Connor in “Revelation” to develop the theme that sometimes people must look farther than the surface in order to understand the actions of others.

To develop this theme, O’Connor creates a believable plot by using a social conflict, the element of surprise, and an unhappy ending.

The main social conflict that appears in this story is not determined until a good portion of the story has passed.  There are, however, incidents that build-up to the actual conflict. The story “Revelation” has a major and a minor social conflict.  The minor conflict is between Mrs. Turpin and a white-trash woman. This conflict is born because Mrs. Turpin believes she is in a higher class than the white-trash woman.  The white-trash woman is unintelligent and uneducated, and Mrs. 

Turpin is repulsed when she speaks and interrupts her conversation with someone else. The major social conflict is between Mrs. Turpin and a teenage girl across from her. This conflict is built up over the course of the story through rude gestures and facial expressions given by the teenage girl.  For instance, Mrs. Turpin makes a comment about a clock.  The girl looks at the clock and smirks which was followed by another smirk toward Mrs. Turpin.  Mrs. Turpin also acknowledges a look the girl gives her as the “ugliest face she has ever seen anyone make” (O’Connor, 394). It was like the girl has known and disliked Mrs. Turpin all her life. 

Another element of the plot that reinforces the theme of “Revelation”, is the element of surprise which actually brings the main conflict out in the open. O’Connor brings the conflict out well because the incidents that built up to the actual conflict do not give away what is going to happen.  The action around the conflict is completely surprising and unpredictable. We are aware the girl dislikes Mrs. Turpin because of her previous actions.

The girl never does anything other than giving dirty looks; therefore, we are not expecting any type of physical violence between them. When the girl hits Mrs. Turpin in the face with the book, Mrs. Turpin is conversing with another character and is not talking to the girl.  In this situation, a violent act by the girl is completely unpredictable.  

Also, O’Connor uses an unhappy ending for this story.  Mrs. Turpin, who is happy being who she is, does not understand why the girl hated her. She does not think she is a bad person, and she cannot comprehend why she is not liked. O’Connor ends the story with Mrs. Turpin’s questions unanswered which leaves her with a sadness that is unsolvable. 

Through the use of social conflict, the element of surprise, and an unhappy ending, a believable plot is created. To further develop the theme, O’Connor uses consistent behavior, clear motivation, and plausibility to create convincing characterization. The protagonist, Mrs. Turpin, is convincing because she was consistently curious and involved in the conversation.

She is also consistently observant of the other characters.  Over the course of the story, Mrs. Turpin does not change; therefore, she is a static character.

O’Connor’s characters are victimized and are images of lower intelligence.  Mrs. Turpin, however, does appear to be of average intelligence.  Her behavior in the story mirrors the Southern image given to her by O’Connor.  At the beginning of “Revelation,” Mrs. Turpin is a polite and outgoing individual, and these are characteristics that remain with her. 

In addition to consistent behavior, Mrs. Turpin is convincing because she is mainly motivated by her insecurity.  Her motivation for appearing at the doctor’s office is clearly because her husband is injured.  She also feels a need to observe the other patients so she can draw conclusions as to why they are there. Mrs. Turpin is a friendly and curious woman which explains her continuous conversations with anyone who will listen.  Even though she notices the hatred given off by the teenage girl, she continues to act ignorant of it. 

A possible motivation for her continued talking could be that she is deterring from a confrontation.  Another characteristic of Mrs. Turpin is her plausibility.  In this story, she is very plausible because her personality and characteristics model those of a lifelike person.  She is curious and observant just like everyone else and she also enjoys a friendly conversation.  

O’Connor makes Mrs. Turpin an average Southern citizen with an average Southern attitude.  With these characteristics given to her, Mrs. Turpin has become a plausible protagonist in the story “Revelation.”  Through consistent behavior, clear motivation, and plausibility, convincing characterization of the protagonist is developed by O’Connor.

O’Connor’s use of important literary devices such as symbolism and foreshadowing allows her to reinforce the theme.  Many think of O’Connor’s writing as humorous.  In most of her stories, she uses a technique that is, for the most part, comic.  Humor is one way O’Connor masks what she is actually trying to say.  She was considered a tragic ironist which wasn’t understood by some people.  O’Connor’s stories also include much symbolism like in her story “Revelation.” 

In this story, there are several points of symbolism.  The teenage girl extremely dislikes Mrs. Turpin from the beginning of the story to the end of the story.  Her dislike grows throughout the story and then erupts like a volcano.  When her anger erupts, she throws a book at Mrs. Turpin.  This book symbolizes her hatred toward Mrs. Turpin.  It symbolizes her hatred because, in a book, the plot develops and builds up over the course of the book.  This is exactly what her anger did toward Mrs. Turpin. 

The book is not the only symbolism in “Revelation.”  In the doctor’s office, there are several types of people.  These different types of people symbolize the different types of social classes.  For example, the white-trashy woman represents the lowest class with uneducated intelligence, the well-dressed woman represents a class of higher standards and intelligence along with an educated background, and Mrs. Turpin represents a middle, working-class with average intelligence and educated background.  Another literary device O’Connor uses is foreshadowing.

The facial expressions and actions of the girl show a conflict between her and Mrs. Turpin.  Specifically, the smirks given toward Mrs. Turpin and the grunts made when Mrs. Turpin speaks were the rude gestures from the teenage girl.  The increase of these rude gestures foreshadows a confrontation between the two, but the actual time of the confrontation is unclear.  In conclusion, symbolism and foreshadowing are two important literary devices used by O’Connor in “Revelation.”     

After analyzing how the author’s background, the plot, and the literary devices contribute to the development of the theme of “Revelation”, one understands why this story rates high on the literary scale of value.  “Revelation” was a doorway for Flannery O’Connor.  She used this doorway to reveal her beliefs and disbelief about mankind and the mysteries that it beholds.  O’Connor was influenced in many ways throughout her lifetime and it was her writing that helped her deal with the problems she faced and the things she believed in. 

“Revelation” was just one of her many stories that served as a translator of her past.  It was through this story that O’Connor revealed her outlook on prejudice and the effects that some people had on the human race. O’Connor achieved her purpose because she successfully portrayed her characters in the manner most suitable to convince her readers. O’Connor needed to express her concern and curiosity toward life and death, mainly death. 

She might have also been looking for a way to cope with death by writing her stories.  “Revelation” was her way of suppressing her anger toward people of lower standards.  She suppressed her anger by writing what she thought about them; therefore, releasing herself from the anger she felt.

1 Comment

  1. You seem to have completely missed the point of the story when you say that O’Connor wrote the story as a “way of suppressing her anger toward people of lower standards.” No, No, No! The story is about how a respectable, hard-working woman like Mrs. Turpin is humbled by her vision when she sees the people she finds trashy are at the front of the line on the way to heaven. All the externals such as skin color or cleanliness turn out to be of no consequence. Her own judgmental ways are turned inside out when she sees herself and Claud at the back of the line, and in a great use of irony, the vision is mystically provoked after she has washed out the pig pen and argued with God about how she could be singled out as the worst person in the waiting room. The question then is whether she herself will be “washed clean,” or ignore the message God has given her.

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