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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hess

The Displaced Person: A Story By O'Connor

Grace hidden within the ordinary or the tragic are typical of many of O’Connor’s stories and this is no less true than in The Displaced Person. This story is about two women, Mrs. Shortly and Mrs. McIntyrs, and follows these women’s encounters with a family of Polish refugees, encounters that reveal the touches of beauty within the broken; strokes of grace shinning through pain. I will share my own thoughts about this story, but I would enjoy hearing yours as well. Be sure to comment below or send me a message.

Mrs. Shortly and her family are working as hired hands on Mrs. McIntyre’s farm when Mrs. McIntyre hires on a family of refugees who were displaced due to World War II. Throughout the story Mrs. Shortly and Mrs. McIntyre have polarizing perspectives about the newcomers. Mrs. Shortly sees their hard work and respectful behavior as a threat to her and her family’s position on the farm, but Mrs. McIntyre finds them to be the best hired hands she has ever acquired. However, this positive perspective drastically changes when Mrs. McIntyre learns that the Polish father is seeking to bring another relative into America by promising to give her hand in marriage to one of his African American co-workers. Mrs. McIntyre is so upset by this ensuing interracial marriage that she is determined to fire the father and send the family away. The story ends when McIntyre finally approaches the Polish father to fire him and witnesses the man’s death as a tractor accidentally runs him over and crushes his spine.

The Displaced Person brings much critique to the nominal Christianity found in O’Connor’s Southern culture as she calls the church to see themselves in the faces of the least and the lowest. This can be seen as the displaced Polish family acts as a disruptive force on the farm that calls into question stereotypes about the social place of both themselves and their African-American co-workers. The family's disruptive presences influences crises’ that cause both Mrs. Shortly and Mrs. McIntyre to realize their own displacement in a world that is not as neatly ordered as they once thought. In the words of the Catholic priest, and friend of the Polish family, “‘He [the Polish father] came to redeem us.’” Mrs. McIntyre and the Catholic priest come to see the Incarnation of Christ reflected in the face of the displaced Polish man. His death and last communion bring Mrs. McIntyre to feel his displacement in her own heart.

Just like Mrs. McIntyre, through this story O’Connor asks us to see ourselves in the faces of those on the lowest rungs of society. Yet, she also calls us to see the disruptive effect that comes from an encounter with Christ,[1] an encounter that destroys our stereotypes and “beautifully laid out”[2] plans, reminding us that in this broken world we are not at home.[3]


[1] Douglas Strong, “Civil Rights Movement/The 20th Century Ecumenical Movement,” Lecture, THEO 6080: Global Christian Heritage III (Seattle Pacific Seminary, Seattle, May 19, 2015).

[2] John F. Desmond, ”Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor." Christianity and Literature 60. 151.

[3] Douglas Strong, “Civil Rights Movement/The 20th Century Ecumenical Movement,” Lecture, THEO 6080: Global Christian Heritage III

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