My first experience with Flannery O’Connor came last night in our small group. I have to say that everyone that was in this group seemed to know her decently well exempt me, which was kind of odd because I probably read more books in general than most of the people in that room. As I wrote though, it was my first experience with her writing and found it to be quite interesting.
From what I have learned, Flannery O’Connor was a white woman from Georgia. Her father had died of lupus when she was a young girl of just 15. She entered Georgia State College for women and was later inducted into the Iowa Writers’ Worship. After she had accepted that position, she herself was diagnosed with lupus, only allowing her to live another 15 years. During her lifetime, she wrote several short stories and two novels. Though she was only 39 when she died, she left behind stories that have been read and studied. Even today, there are those who attempt a degree in literary writing and read her stories for inspiration and contemplation.
Last night, I read one of her short stories, “Revelation.” I felt as though there was not one word that was over used or a thought that was under developed. It challenged me to remain engrossed with her stylistic pros and helped me to reach outside of my rational box I seem to be comfortable resting in myself. Let me share why.
In this story, there is a woman named Mrs. Turpin who is talking with several strangers in a doctor’s office. A little girl named Mary Grace is engrossed in a book she had been reading called, “Human Development,” which Mrs. Turpin notices from afar. It is while Mrs. Turpin sits, she begins to realize how very lucky she is to be who she is. She sees herself superior to each individual within the doctor’s office and finds the words to express her gratitude to God. In essence, even though there are people who have money and are as common as she is, Mrs. Turpin cannot understand how these people exist; how these people are of a higher status than she is.
Eventually, Mary Grace cannot listen to Mrs. Turpin’s continued gabbing and chucks her book, “Human Development” at Mrs. Turpin. All the sudden, the little girl wraps her hands around Mrs. Turpin’s neck and begins to choke her. In a few moments, the little girl is given a needle to calm her down. Mrs. Turpin tries to regain herself emotionally. Mary Grace looks at Mrs. Turpin and says, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog!” Mary Grace’s words hit her hard. How could anyone call her that?
From O’Connor’s viewpoint though, she had painted Mrs. Turpin as the hogs in which she raised. Mrs. Turpin is saved because she is entitled to be so. Everyone can receive the grace of God. O’Connor smashes the woman’s understanding of grace. In essence, Mrs. Turpin is saved because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Not because she is kind to her black workers or because she helps out at the local church. No matter who you are, it is the blood of Jesus who has saved the black folk who worked on her farm, the “trashy people” who went to the doctor’s office and even herself.
One aspect that had gone under the radar was the character, Mary Grace. To me, she was a snotty little kid who was so individualistic and selfish, she just read her book. Realizing now that O’Connor was Catholic, I began to realize that perhaps “Mary Grace” was a picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in whom the Catholic Church called, “the mother of grace.” That gives an interesting spin on how we are to look at this character in the story.
The revelation Mrs. Turpin receives in the last scene of the book is one that has challenged me. In the end, everyone’s “good deeds” are burned away because they were done with human intentions. As she watches a vision of a parade going by, the last group of people who were bringing up the rear was people who she noticed were like her. She realized that everyone was entitled to the saving grace of God. Not just the people who did great “human” things with their time here on earth. She and her husband Claud were not any greater than the “white trash people” or the “black people” or anyone else. Salvation was an equal matter issue to God.
O’Connor’s story gives us a lot to think about concerning how we perceive people, our virtues, and the saving grace of God. I have found it to be a challenge to read not only because it was written so well but also because it was written during the time when certain words that described black people were used that is offensive to me. I struggled to read those words even though I understood why they were used.
I am not sure if our perception of how we view grace is truly the way God intended us to see it. What I do know is that O’Connor paints a picture of grace through a woman named Mrs. Turpin that is valuable and meaningful today. We are all in this grace thing together. I hope if you have not read any of her writings, you also will challenge yourself to read something that will bring you out of your own box and push you in all directions as her writings have for me. God bless.