As many of you know, we’re doing a series with Dan de Roulet, an English professor, about reading fiction and we’re using “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor to get to some of the issues in reading fiction. So, here’s Dan response to my last post:
Scot, there’s a lot in your questions and a lot going on in the story, so I want to back us up a little.
First, back to the waiting room. What’s going on here, I think, is a slow stripping away of Mrs. Turpin’s carefully built façade. The façade is so well built, indeed, that she believes it and has lost track of who she really is inside. O’Connor once wrote, in another context, the following. These lines precede those quoted in Bob’s comments on post #2 for this thread:
“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as unnatural to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural…”
In the waiting room, there’s a clear difference between Mrs. Turpin’s “good church woman” façade and the thoughts (distorted and repugnant) which are running around in her head. I think that Mary Grace sees this disconnection between the inner and outer confessing Christian, and it drives her to attack Mrs. Turpin and proclaim her “a wart hog from Hell.” This shock, the attack and pronouncement that turn Mrs. Turpin’s world upside down, results in two things.Reflection: she becomes pre-occupied with how she can be “from Hell and saved” at the same time. Also, the façade begins to break down. She is no longer polite, or even in control of her biting remarks. Her “Jesus talk” that is exhibited in the prayer just before the attack dissolves into brutal honesty—in the sense that she has lost her “filter.” What is on the inside (her hatred of Blacks, of “white trash”, of people with no social graces, her disappointment in her husband, her general anger at God and the world He has created) leaks into her speech.
This reaches its height in the pig sty, where Mrs. Turpin ends up, ironically as you point out, to be with her own kind. The language coming out of her mouth here is painful and honest. Who is she talking to, exactly? God. All her questions, and the reality of her condition, come pouring out like the stream of water she aims at the pigs. This transparent conversation has her asking God why, with all the “unacceptable” people in the waiting room to choose from, He selected her for criticism. She makes the statement you quote, which I’ll get to momentarily, which is “Put that bottom rail on the top. There’ll still be a top and a bottom!” Then she yells out, quite astonishingly across the fields at God, “Who do you think you are?” The answer she receives will be her epiphany, her “revelation.”
Scot, I’d like to hear how you and your readers read the rest of the story.
Next post: on Dan’s reading of this story.