On Reading Fiction 3

On Reading Fiction 3 April 17, 2008

Dan deRoulet is my instructor in this series on how to read fiction. We are looking at Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation.” He’s asked me two questions — which parables do the exposition and crisis evoke, and where was Mrs. Turpin when she got her epiphany?

Your questions are good ones, Dan. They lead me to ask things I would not have asked of this short story.

The first parable that came to mind for me, in light of how the parable ends — with the right people going down into hell and the wrong people going up into heaven — was the parable of the workers in the vineyard, or the parable of the marriage guests because both of those parables are shocking instances of reversal of expectations. I can see those themes in Flannery O’Connor’s short story.

I will also admit that what came to mind for me when I read this story was Matt 23, Jesus’ intense excoriation of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes.

And, esp since you brought this up Dan — I hadn’t thought of it all, by connecting parable to where Mrs. Turpin is for the epiphany of her own soul, I went to the parable of the prodigal son for he also was in a pig sty when he realized the state of his own soul.

And, now that you bring me to see this Dan, I have to admit the scene in which she washes off pigs, with a little frustration, and comments on who she is — well, this is classic O’Connor “irony” — isn’t it? Mrs. Turpin needs the cleaning; she’s been called a “wart hog”; and here we finding her cleaning hogs; wondering how she could be called a wart hog. The irony is so thick I felt pity on the woman. “How am I saved and from hell too?” Wow, that’s potent stuff out of the woman. “… blindly pointing the stream of water in and out of the eye of the old sow whose outraged squeal she did not hear.” Strong stuff again.

Question: What does she mean by “Put that bottom rail on top. There’s still be a top and bottom!” Is this O’Connor anticipating eternal reversal? Or is this just Mrs. Turpin saying … what?

“She gripped the rail of the hog pen …” again. Wow.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ooooh, Scot, you’re gonna get hooked on Flannery O’Connor! I just know it. Welcome to the trip–and the “turn your world upside down” ride!

  • Aside: I really thought this series was going to be about “Why to read Fiction” (not How) and “Which Fiction to Read” — but How is okay, too. You have to start somewhere.

  • RJS

    I wish I had the book here to consult – but I didn’t see the ending quite the same way that you did.
    On the other hand – I had not made connection with the parable of the prodigal son until it was mentioned yesterday. There is a great deal in that connection. Does Mrs. Turpin move from older brother to younger brother in the course of the story?

  • I think Mrs. Turpin moves from smugly self-righteous sinner to chastened, least-of-all saint in the course of the story.

  • Are there hints of Saul of Tarsus and his Christ-encounter (Mary Grace knocking Mrs Turpin to the floor) and Mrs Turpin having ‘the scales fall from her eyes’?

  • i just wanted to relate to you guys a little string of events that seemed to “line up” yesterday – and your blog here, scot, was/is in the middle of it, especially the “reading fiction” posts.
    i go to a local barnes&noble occasionally to use free wi-fi and drink (too-strong) coffee. y’day morning, i stopped at the front door on the way in and read a sign announcing a discussion of the book “The Shack” tonight. i had a vague recollection of someone mentioning this book before – might have been in one of the “reading fiction” comments. something kind of said to me as i looked at the sign, “here’s some fiction you might want to read.”
    later y’day i was putzing around jesuscreed.org again and saw a couple of comments from a “peggy” that intrigued me – so i clicked on her name and went to her blog. i was kind of (not) surprised to see “The Shack” touted in ads and posts at her site…
    but wait – there’s more. so then i went to amazon to look at user reviews. if you click on the “(666 user reviews)” link next to the average rating, you’re shown two reviews side-by-side – one deemed the most helpful positive review, and the other the most helpful “critical” review.
    guess who did the “critical” review? tim challies! i laughed out loud. i was banned a month or so ago from challies.com (read “challies angels” at my blog if you want the story) over some emperor-has-no-clothes comments on a few of his posts! how funny is that.
    of course, this cemented in my mind that i just have to read “The Shack” now, and probably sit in on the discussion tonight.
    of course, tim would say this is all the work of Satan…
    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa

  • John

    I also didn’t quite read the ending the same way you read it. my understanding is that Mrs. Trupin isn’t headed to hell, but that she is headed to heaven only at the end of the line (the bottom rail on the top and the top rail on the bottom–the reversal you referred to).
    God’s strong love for Mrs. Turpin is communicated through Mary Grace as a messenger of God’s grace to Mrs. Trupin and in the gift of the vision. Both communicate God’s love for this wart-hog, and seem consistent with her end-of-the line salvation.

  • I read this story exactly once so I would be led by Dan back and forth into the text; that ending, as I just re-read it, is as Dan and some of you say: it is about both groups “making it.” In my memory it was about reversal.

  • Diane

    Perhaps in her rail comment, Mrs. Turpin is getting a glimpse of something beyond hierarchy or of the futility of the ranking system she has lived by. Now I’m going to have to pull out the story and get the context!

  • A story by Flannery O’Connor is like a Lay’s potato chip, betcha can’t read it just once.
    (If you can, I’d wager either you weren’t paying attention or your conscience has been seared with a hot iron. Maybe that’s a tad extreme, but I can’t think of a good alternative.)

  • RJS

    Scot,
    I think the ending is about reversal – just not quite so extreme a reversal. I was also struck by the statement about fire with respect to the so-called “proper folks” bringing up the end of the line.
    Mrs. Turpin goes in thinking she’s got it made and comes out with the realization of a need to be cleansed.

  • Mike #6,
    Like I replied to your comment on my blog…Divine Dominoes! 8)

  • Steve

    Right–the reason halleujahs are rising is because Mrs. Turpin gets it–she is properly at the end of the line–after the “trash.” Of course a pig pen is the right place to turn back towards God. Powerful. THanks for pointing us to this great story.
    Steve

  • I saw it as a reversal too. The last will be first and first will be last.

  • Michel

    Talk about ‘coincidences’: last week I ordered Flannery O’Conner’s Complete Stories to read during my upcoming holidays. The book arrived a couple of days ago, just before this series on reading fiction started. So of course, the first story I read was ‘Revelation’. 🙂 Fascinating how much one can put in such a short story! Btw, also just found out that Ruby Turpin is an anagram for ‘burn purity’. Seems somehow fitting…

  • 15. And Anna Madrigal is an anagram for “a man and a girl.” But Armistead Maupin is no Flannery O’Connor.

  • I am enjoying the series about reading fiction. Fiction has a way of introducing themes about life. Every story someone writes has some kind of philosophy or world view within the margins. I am huge fan of Sci-Fi and it is always surprising to see how they deal with Religious themes. Check out “The Gospel according to Science Fiction” an interesting read. Fiction writers are Theologians and Philosophers than we often over look.

  • Amy

    The procession at the end is not of some going to heaven and some to hell. It is of those Ruby had looked down upon – broken humanity – going to heaven, but first through purgatorial fire. “Even their virtues were being burned away” is complex, but what it means is that even our self-perceived virtues (of which Ruby thought she had many) can be an expression of self-love and aggrandizement. That’s exactly Ruby’s blind spot. She’s “good.”
    The other moment in the pigsty that is my favorite, but that is rarely mentioned, occurs when Ruby yells, “Who do you think you are?” …and it’s echoed back to her. “Who do you think you are?”
    And then the procession.
    O’Connor is all about the paradoxes of the Gospel.

  • Daniel

    Hey, Bob,
    I’m committing (on behalf of both of us…you’re welcome, Scot 🙂 ), to a final blog entry, after the story on why reading fiction is important. Great comments on the story, everyone.