Revelation by Flannery O'Connor

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"Revelation" is a short story by Flannery O'Connor. It was published in 1965 in her short story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge. O'Connor finished the collection during her final battle with lupus. She died in 1964, just before her final book was published. A devout Roman Catholic, O'Connor often used religious themes in her work.

"All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal."—Flannery O'Connor.

In reality, her writing is filled with meaning and symbolism, hidden in plain sight beneath a seamless narrative style that breathes not a word of agenda, of dogma, or of personal belief. In this way, her writing is intrinsically esoteric, in that it contains knowledge that is hidden to all but those who have been instructed as to how and where to look for it, i.e. the initiated. Flannery O'Connor is a Christian writer, and her work is message-oriented, yet she is far too brilliant a stylist to tip her hand; like all good writers, crass didacticism is abhorrent to her. Nevertheless, she achieves what few Christian writers have ever achieved: a type of writing that stands up on both literary and the religious grounds, and succeeds in doing justice to both.

Ugliness pervades Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation." Physical repulsiveness is used extensively to mirror the baseness and bigotry of characters. Thus, the story is populated with repugnant people; there are disgusting animals and objects. The word "ugly" itself appears seventeen times. Even the proper names signify the moral ugliness which the author exposes in this powerful piece of short fiction. The protagonist is Ruby Turpin, "a respectable, hard-working, church-going woman." In her own eyes, Ruby is a "good woman," and her self-satisfaction finds expression in the frequent exclamation, "Thank you, Jesus!" Yet, Mary Grace, the "ugly girl" in the doctor's office, finds her attitudes and appearance, her very respectability so loathsome that she strikes her with a book and calls her an "old wart hog." This climactic moment in the story fulfills the reader's yearning to do the same thing. Ruby's blatant racism, her smug complacency, her haughty bearing and cruel condescension have long since repelled us. Plump and pleasant though she may be outwardly, Mrs. Turpin is morally ugly inside. O'Connor's characters often have symbolic names (Martin 191-92). Some of them are based on the lives and legends of Christian saints (Jauss 76). In "Revelation" there are several important ones, all derived from Latin. The title, of course, means "to uncover or unveil," from revelare. In a sense, the names of individuals in the story "reveal" their nature. Both Ruby and Turpin come from Latin. The root rub-denotes "red"; the noun rubor means "redness," but it also may be translated "blush" or "shame." Turp- denotes "ugly or base"; the adjective turpis indicates "disgraceful or shameful." Mary Grace's second name, from gratia, is an unmistakable indication of the author's now-famous "moment of grace" theme in fiction (Dowell 235-39). It is noteworthy that the girl's two names are juxtaposed in the Latin devotional prayer: Ave Maria gratia plena . . . ("Hail Mary, full of grace . . ."). Even Ruby's husband, Claud, has his name from a Latin adjective, claudus, meaning "lame." He is not only actually lame ("he has an ulcer on his leg . . . a cow kicked him"), but he shares his wife's moral turpitude. He is less outspoken than she, to be sure, but he is nevertheless her partner in marriage and in morals. He discloses their shared outlook in the joke about "white-faced niggers." "Revelation" also abounds in ugliness besides that inner baseness suggested in the Turpins' names. Every paragraph seems to offer a disgusting object, a tangible...
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