Dan de Roulet now finishes up with an insightful interpretation of this story, and I have to say … wow, I didn’t see most of this at work; if I did, it was so inchoate I needed to see it like this to notice it. So, thanks Dan. Here’s Dan’s post:
Last time I asked about how readers are seeing the end of the story.
Here’s my take on what is going on. Mrs. Turpin, as she stands in the pig sty yelling at God, sees herself very much as a “Job” at this point in the story. Unlike the prodigal son, she has not yet come to her senses. She cries out, not so much asking for an answer as telling God off (much less eloquently than in Job 31:35), “Who do you think you are?” The cry goes out and echoes back at her, as if in answer, “Who do you think YOU are?” She is answered, so to speak, from the whirlwind. This answer addresses her initial self image that has been dissembled by the events of the story.
The vision she has of the bridge stretching from earth to Heaven, upon which the souls walk, I think answers your question, Scot, on what Mrs. Turpin means by “Put that bottom rail on the top. There’ll still be a top and a bottom!” Look carefully at the order of the souls on the bridge—who is in front, and who is at the back of the line. At the back are people who, it seems to me, are still allowed to enter Heaven, but by the skin of their teeth. Mrs. Turpin sees them as people like her—they after all, are the only ones who are even singing on key! But the shock she experiences is not that God has “leveled” the status of heaven’s citizens, but that he agrees with her. There is still a top and a bottom—it’s just that she didn’t expect herself to be part of the bottom rail.I’ll leave it to you and your readers to work out the theology of this. It’s interesting that O’Connor seems to be playing with the implications of the Lord’s declaration that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. The end of the story also seems to be echoing stories that Christ tells about those who have little here (the rich man and Lazarus) and the Beatitudes. The problem addressed, though, is coming to judge your worthiness by your material self (as opposed to your spiritual self) in this world.