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Usually by the time she had fallen asleep all the classes of people were moiling and roiling around in her head, and she would dream they were all crammed in together in a box car, being ridden off to be put in a gas oven.
Yes, this is Flannery O’Connor, so I’ve come to expect that at some point I’ll end up gasping in disbelief at something she writes – like the above quotation from her story “Revelation”.
In “Revelation”, Mrs. Turpin and her husband, Claud, sit in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. In her head, Mrs. Turpin performs a detailed review of all of the other people waiting, determining for herself to which class of people each person belongs. It comes as no surprise to the reader that Mrs. Turpin puts herself in the better category and most of the others in something less.
Eventually, Mrs. Turpin provokes an incident in which an insult causes her to confront her arrogance. O’Connor’s creative brilliance makes Mrs. Turpin unlikable but relatable. If the reader is honest with themselves, they will realize that there is a little of Mrs. Turpin in everyone. In an unusual, but believable, twist, Mrs. Turpin takes the insult to heart as she understands there is some truth to it. She makes no admission of guilt to anyone but herself.
During her internal turmoil, Mrs. Turpin sees a vision that she grudgingly accepts as being from God (she does the proverbial fist-shake). She sees the saints go marching in to heaven; however, there is a different order to the march:
And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.
I read this story for Week 5 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project when I selected the Eight of Clubs. “Revelation” is included in my copy of The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.