I’m doing a series with Dan deRoulet, author of Finding Your Plot in a Plotless World, on how to read fiction, a lesson I needed long ago. We are using Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation” (Collected Works) as our example, and this is part two. This post is by Dan.
Scot sells himself short on “not knowing how to read fiction.” After all, he and his colleagues such as Klyne Snodgrass teach their students about the parables of Jesus–some of the most difficult stories to read well. I’m in the midst of peddling a second book project called, Fear Not: Why the Church (and Everyone Else) Needs Dangerous Christian Fiction. Flannery O’Connor’s works are at the top of the list.
Scot correctly summarizes O’Connor’s “Revelation”– I’ll emphasize a couple of other plot points in a moment. A good way of reading short fiction is to look at and for a few key elements of a story’s structure:
its exposition (the opening scene where the setting, characters, and conflict are keys);
the crisis (where the story’s protagonist has his or her view of the world usually turned on its head);
and a following period of frustration and reflection leading up to the “epiphany“–the moment for the protagonist where the answer to the problem is made clear.
Jesus’ story of the prodigal son follows this pattern: exposition (conflict between the father, younger son and older brother); crisis (where the son, thinking all will be well if he could just exercise his will, leaves his father’s house in anger and wastes his life in riotous living); and epiphany (where the prodigal recognizes, as he communes with the pigs and lusts after their food, what he had and has given up by leaving his father). This parable, by the way, is not insignificant for O’Connor’s story.
So, Scot, two questions I would ask at this point are: which of Jesus’s stories is echoed by the exposition and crisis, and where does Mrs. Turpin end up after she leaves the doctor’s office for her period of reflection and eventual epiphany?
I’ll answer these questions tomorrow.