Today we will be looking into the short story by Flannery O’Connor called Revelation. This is one of my favorite short stories by O’Connor. In it I see a picture of myself and through it I encounter the humbling grace of God, which burns as it heals. If you have not already read this story yourself I would highly recommend it. I will share some of my thoughts about the story, but be sure to comment below or message me with thoughts of your own.
Revelation is about a big white arrogant southern woman named Mrs. Turpin. Mrs. Turpin accompanies her husband to a doctor’s waiting room and spends half the story thanking God that she is better than most of the people she sees there. Yet, her inner self-congratulatory thoughts do not escape the notice of an ugly girl named Mary Grace. After Mrs. Turpin cries a final thanksgiving to Jesus, aloud for all to hear, Mary Grace proceeds to throw her book at the woman and start strangling her. When Mrs. Turpin is finally saved from the attack by the doctor’s staff, Mary Grace whispers a last remark: “’Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,’” (Revelation, Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories, pg. 500). Needless to say, this interaction has an effect on Mrs. Turpin, even though she does not believe that the words left by Grace fit a “respectable, hard-working, church-going woman,” (pg. 502) like herself.
Later that evening, when Mrs. Turpin is tending her heard of hogs in the light of the setting sun, she receives a revelation in the sky of a bridge leading to heaven, with a procession of saints ascending upon it, singing as they go. On the bridge is all those Mrs. Turpin looked down upon: the dirty and poor, the “freaks and lunatics” (pg. 508), the least and the lowest. Behind them she sees respectable people like herself, who alone were singing on key (pg. 508). Yet, she saw by their shocked faces “that even their virtues were being burned away,” (pg. 508).
I believe that the simple theme of this short story is the society crumbling, crashing and rumbling, hot-white grace of God. Mrs. Turpin begins the story by believing that she is a good respectable woman, but after her jarring encounter with the aptly named, Mary Grace, she comes to see herself as the rotten “old wart hog” (pg. 500) that she is. She spends most of the short story creating a social pyramid in her mind, placing herself near the top, but not quite at the top (pg. 491), leaving for herself plenty of people below her to look down upon. Grace’s words bring Mrs. Turpin’s world crashing down around her. In her later argument with God, it is interesting that she seems most upset that she was singled out as the wart hog among so many people who deserved the name more than she (pg. 507). She yells at God, “If you like trash better, go get yourself some trash then,” (pg. 507) and she cries in reference to her societal pyramid, “Put that bottom rail on top. There’ll still be a top and a bottom!” (pg. 507). Perhaps Mrs. Turpin did not know how right she was. In her vision of the bridge into heaven all the rungs of society have been turned upside down, leaving the last first and the first last (Matt. 20:16).
Personally, I don’t think we can be too hard on Mrs. Turpin. Who of us have not had similar thoughts as hers in our minds at one point or another? Don’t we also often write people off for how they look or smell or talk? It can be so easy to become self-congratulatory because of our good deeds, as if they have saved us from the muck of the rest of society. We go to church, we love our families, and we think that by this we are better than the homeless man flying a sign so he can pick up a few bucks to get high. When we do this we forget that Jesus loves trash.
We need stories like Revelation for they reveal to us the simple truth of the gospel; as Timothy Keller says we are more sinful than we could imagine, yet at the same time God loves us beyond comprehension. We too are trash, but by God’s grace we become something so much more. Mrs. Turpin learns the valuable lesson of Jesus that, “’the last will be first, and the first will be last,’” (Matt. 20:16b) and through her story we learn this lesson anew along with her. God’s grace turns this world upside down, putting the least likely of people at the top, those who are more readily apt to acknowledge their need for a Savior, but He makes room for us as well. Burning away all those things that we think make us special, in and by His grace, God saves us too.
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