A Critical Analysis of "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor

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A Critical Analysis of "Revelation"

by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor's background influenced her to write the short

story "Revelation." One important influence on the story is her Southern

upbringing. During her lifetime, Southerners were very prejudiced towards

people of other races and lifestyles. They believed that people who were less

fortunate were inferior to them; therefore, people were labeled as different

things and placed into different social classes. The South provided O'Connor

with the images she needed for her characters. Similarly, this can easily be

identified in her short story "Revelation." The characters in the story are

identified by physical characteristics and some are even identified with racial

terms. The main character in the story is actually prejudiced and makes many

statements using racial jargon. For example, Mrs. Turpin, the main character,

refers to the higher class woman as "well-dressed and pleasant".

She also

labels the teenage girl as "ugly" and the poor woman as "white-trashy".

When Mrs. Turpin converse with her black workers, she often uses the word

"nigger" in her thoughts. These characteristics she gives her characters

definitely reveals the Southern lifestyle which the author, Flannery O'Connor,

was a part of. In addition to her Southern upbringing, another influence on

the story is Flannery O'Connor's illness. She battled with the lupus disease

which has caused her to use a degree of violence and anger to make her

stories somewhat unhappy. The illness caused a sadness inside of Flannery

O'Connor, and that inner sadness flowed from her body to her paper through

her pen. Although she was sick, O'Connor still felt proud to be who she was.

By comparison, Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation" has a good disposition about

herself. She is far from perfect, yet she is happy to be who she is. Perhaps

the most important influence on the story is religion. In the words of Robert

McCown, O'Connor's writing was mainly generated by a most powerful

Christianity which was fed by her Catholic background (McCown, 256).

O'Connor was not only influenced by her own Catholic heritage but by others

as well. Like the other writers from France and England, she is curious about

the actuality of sin and the effect that it has on the presence of mankind. Her

stories and every characteristic about them was Flannery O'Connor's way of

showing reality and qualities that are determiners of fate and destiny. No

matter which path her stories took her readers, they mostly ended up finding

social truth. This background, together with a believable plot, convincing

characterization, and important literary devices enables Flannery O'Connor in

"Revelation" to develop the theme that sometimes people must look farther

than the surface in order to understand the actions of others.

To develop this theme, O'Connor creates a believable plot by using a

social conflict, the element of surprise, and an unhappy ending. The main

social conflict that appears in this story is not determined until a good portion

of the story has passed. There are, however, incidents that build up to the

actual conflict. The story "Revelation" has a major and a minor social

conflict. The minor conflict is between Mrs. Turpin and a white-trash

woman. This conflict is born because Mrs. Turpin believes she is in a higher

class than the white-trash woman. The white-trash woman is unintelligent

and uneducated, and Mrs. Turpin is repulsed when she speaks and interrupts

her conversation with someone else. The major social conflict is between

Mrs. Turpin and a teenage girl across from her. This conflict is built up over

the course of the story through rude gestures and facial expressions given by

the teenage girl. For instance, Mrs. Turpin makes a comment about a clock.

The girl looks at the clock and smirks which was followed by another smirk

toward Mrs. Turpin. Mrs. Turpin also acknowledges a look the girl gives her

as the "ugliest face she has ever seen anyone make" (O'Connor, 394). It was

like the girl has known and disliked Mrs. Turpin all her life. Another element

of plot which reinforces the theme of "Revelation", is the element of surprise

which actually brings the main conflict out in the open. O'Connor brings the

conflict out well because the incidents that built up to the actual conflict do

not give away what is going to happen. The action around the conflict is

completely surprising and unpredictable. We are aware the girl dislikes Mrs.

Turpin because of her previous actions. The girl never does anything other

than give dirty looks; therefore, we are not expecting any type of physical

violence between them. When the girl hits Mrs. Turpin in the face with the

book, Mrs. Turpin is conversing with another character and is not talking to

the girl. In this situation, a violent act by the girl is completely unpredictable.

Also, O'Connor uses an unhappy ending for this story. Mrs. Turpin, who is

happy being who she is, does not understand why the girl hated her. She

does not think she is a bad person, and she cannot comprehend why she is

not liked. O'Connor ends the story with Mrs. Turpin's questions unanswered

which leaves her with a sadness that is unsolvable. Through the use of social

conflict, the element of surprise, and an unhappy ending, a believable plot is


To further develop the theme, O'Connor uses consistent behavior, clear

motivation, and plausibility to create convincing characterization. The

protagonist, Mrs. Turpin, is convincing because she consistently curious and

involved in conversation. She is also consistently observant of the other

characters. Over the course of the story, Mrs. Turpin does not change;

therefore, she is a static character. O'Connor's characters are victimized and

are images of lower intelligence. Mrs. Turpin, however, does appear to be of

average intelligence. Her behavior in the story mirrors the Southern image

given to her by O'Connor. In the beginning of "Revelation," Mrs. Turpin is

a polite and outgoing individual, and these are characteristics that remain with

her. In addition to consistent behavior, Mrs. Turpin is convincing because

she is mainly motivated by her insecurity. Her motivation for appearing at the

doctor's office is clearly because her husband is injured. She also feels a

need to observe the other patients so she can draw conclusions as to why they

are there. Mrs. Turpin is a friendly and curious woman which explains her

continuous conversations with anyone who will listen. Even though she

notices the hatred given off by the teenage girl, she continues to act ignorant

of it. A possible motivation for her continued talking could be that she is

deterring from a confrontation. Another characteristic of Mrs. Turpin is her

plausibility. In this story, she is very plausible because her personality and

characteristics model those of a lifelike person. She is curious and observant

just like everyone else and she also enjoys a friendly conversation. O'Connor

makes Mrs. Turpin an average Southern citizen with an average Southern

attitude. With these characteristics given to her, Mrs. Turpin has become a

plausible protagonist in the story "Revelation." Through consistent behavior,

clear motivation, and plausibility, convincing characterization of the

protagonist is developed by O'Connor.

O'Connor's use of important literary devices such as symbolism and

foreshadowing allow her to reinforce the theme. Many think of O'Connor's

writing as humorous. In most of her stories, she uses a technique that is, for

the most part, comic. Humor is one way O'Connor masks what she is

actually trying to say. She was considered a tragic ironist which wasn't

understood by some people. O'Connor's stories also include much

symbolism like in her story "Revelation." In this story, there are several

points of symbolism. The teenage girl extremely dislikes Mrs. Turpin from

the beginning of the story to the end of the story. Her dislike grows

throughout the story and then erupts like a volcano. When her anger erupts,

she throws a book at Mrs. Turpin. This book symbolizes her hatred toward

Mrs. Turpin. It symbolizes her hatred because in a book, the plot develops

and builds up over the course of the book. This is exactly what her anger did

toward Mrs. Turpin. The book is not the only symbolism in "Revelation." In

the doctor's office, there are several types of people. These different types of

people symbolize the different types of social classes. For example, the

white-trashy woman represents the lowest class with uneducated intelligence,

the well-dressed woman represents a class of higher standards and

intelligence along with an educated background, and Mrs. Turpin represents a

middle, working class with average intelligence and educated background.

Another literary device O'Connor uses is foreshadowing. The facial

expressions and actions of the girl show a conflict between her and Mrs.

Turpin. Specifically, the smirks given toward Mrs. Turpin and the grunts

made when Mrs. Turpin speaks were the rude gestures from the teenage girl.

The increase of these rude gestures foreshadows a confrontation between the

two, but the actual time of the confrontation is unclear. In conclusion,

symbolism and foreshadowing are two important literary devices used by

O'Connor in "Revelation."

After analyzing how the author's background, the plot, and the literary

devices contribute to the development of the theme of "Revelation", one

understands why this story rates high on the literary scale of value.

"Revelation" was a doorway for Flannery O'Connor. She used this doorway

to reveal her beliefs and disbeliefs about mankind and the mysteries that it

beholds. O'Connor was influenced many ways throughout her lifetime and it

was her writing that helped her deal with the problems she faced and the

things she believed in. "Revelation" was just one of her many stories that

served as a translator of her past. It was through this story that O'Connor

revealed her outlook on prejudice and the effects that some people had on the

human race. O'Connor achieved her purpose because she successfully

portrayed her characters in the manner most suitable to convince her readers.

O'Connor needed to express her concern and curiosity toward life and death,

mainly death. She might have also been looking for a way to cope with death

by writing her stories. "Revelation" was her way of suppressing her anger

toward people of lower standards. She suppressed her anger by writing what

she thought about them; therefore, releasing herself from the anger she felt.

She was a Southern writer, and from this writing habit she rec