The Changing of the South

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Flannery O’Conner uses the setting in the short story “Revelation” to showcase the attitude of a middle class southern white woman from the 1960’s. The protagonist or main character in the story, Mrs. Turpin, is used to express the thoughts and feeling of many Southern American’s from the 1960’s era. The main setting of the story is within a doctor’s office, where the set up for the plot twist or change in an attitude that comes from Mrs. Turpin and her “revelation”. O’Connor shows how Mrs. Turpin believes that she is better than, or from a higher social class than, others which was often the thought of many middle class white Southern Americans at the time. The antagonist of the story, the young girl, is a representation of the civil rights movement and the changing attitude of the American people. Mrs. Turpin shows how most middle class Southern Americans often believed that they were better than others and were often times narcissistic with their way of thinking and behaving.

Submitted: August 04, 2012

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Submitted: August 04, 2012

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Flannery O’Conner uses the setting in the short story “Revelation” to showcase the attitude of a middle class southern white woman from the 1960’s.  The protagonist or main character in the story, Mrs. Turpin, is used to express the thoughts and feeling of many Southern American’s from the 1960’s era. The main setting of the story is within a doctor’s office, where the set up for the plot twist or change in an attitude that comes from Mrs. Turpin and her “revelation”.  O’Connor shows how Mrs. Turpin believes that she is better than, or from a higher social class than, others which was often the thought of many middle class white Southern Americans at the time.  The antagonist of the story, the young girl, is a representation of the civil rights movement and the changing attitude of the American people.Mrs. Turpin shows how most middle class Southern Americans often believed that they were better than others and were often times narcissistic with their way of thinking and behaving.

Mrs. Turpin’s narcissistic attitude shows in the doctor’s waiting room as she begins to judge the other patients based on her first impression.  When a patient is called back to see the doctor Mrs. Turpin eases into the vacant seat which held her tight saying “I wish I could reduce”, but then quickly begins to pass judgment on “The ugly girl” sitting next to her as being fat (475).  The young girl, who was reading a book entitled”Human Development”, had a face that was “blue with acne” and Mrs. Turpin thought how “pitiful” to have “a face like that” at such a young age (475). Mrs. Turpin, while comparing her great deposition against the young girl would ask herself, which would she like to be white-trash a nigger or ugly.  Although she did have some pity for the girl she did think “it was one thing to be ugly and another to act ugly” (477).  As Mrs. Turpin scanned through the waiting room she next noticed “a thin leathery old woman in a cotton print dress”  the same print pattern as the “sacks of chicken feed”  kept in the pump house on her and her husband’s farm (475).  She then noticed a woman who had on a “yellow sweat shirt and wine-colored slacks, both gritty-looking” and her lips “were stained with snuff” (476).  Mrs. Turpin thought “white-trashy” and “Worse than niggers any day” (475-476).  She would often wonder to herself what choice she would have made, if she had been asked, who she would rather have been “a nigger or white-trash” (476).  Her reply to the question is always “make me a nigger then” but she does not want to be “a trashy one”.  She would rather be a “clean respectable Negro woman”.  It is here in her response that it begins to show some of Mrs. Turpin’s attitude towards other people.  By using the word “Negro” it shows that Mrs. Turpin does not like the term nigger and its stereotyped definition when it is being applied to her but she shows no remorse in using the term to describe someone that she feels is beneath her.

  With Mrs. Turpin being a narcissist, she would often lie in bed at night thinking about how much better her life is and how thankful she was that she was not someone else.  She would sometimes occupy her time naming the classes of other people in the community.

On the bottom of the heap were most colored people, not the kind she would have been if she had been one, but most of them; then next to them-not above, just away from-were the white-trash; then above them were the homeowners, and above them the home-and-land owners, to which she and Claud belonged.  Above she and Claud were people with a lot of money and much bigger houses and much more land.  But here the complexity of it would begin to bear in on her, for some of the people with a lot of money were common and ought to be below she and Claud and some of the people who had good blood had lost their money and had to rent and then there were colored people who owned their homes and land as well (476).

While doing her naming of the classes of people in society it shows that Mrs. Turpin considers herself in the upper middle class but also shows that she is not naïve enough to think that she is at the top of the socio economic class.  When talking to the pleasant lady in the waiting room she makes the comment that “‘If it’s one thing I am,’ Mrs. Turpin said with feeling, ‘it’s grateful’.  When I think who all I could have been besides myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting ‘Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is’ “(476).

During some of the conversations with the other patients in the waiting room Mrs. Turpin shows the narcissistic ideals of the South by how much she is bothered by having to carry on a conversation with someone that she thinks is below her socially.  While talking to the white trash women she is very short with her sentences hoping to end it because once someone like her gets a “leg in the conversation, she would be all over it” (477).  It is in the waiting room that Mrs. Turpin talks with the “pleasant woman” that she openly discusses her feelings about people in other social classes.  It was during one of these conversations that Mrs. Turpin was struck in the face by the young girl, with the book that she is reading “Human Development”, which leads to the change of Mrs. Turpin’s attitude towards other people in society (475). 

If Mrs. Turpin is the narcissistic people from the south then the young girl in the waiting room it the changing ideas of the rest of the nation.  The author shows the changing ideals with the young girl by allowing her age to represent the youthfulness of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  And her sitting in the waiting room “scowling into a thick blue book” as the new intellectual way of society that was sweeping the nation (475).  With the young girl having to sit in the waiting room listening to the racial remakes being made by the old southern lady, Mrs. Turpin, and her ideas of other people the young girl becomes very angry with every sentence or thought stated by Mrs. Turpin.  The girl who is going to college up north finally has enough and lashes out against Mrs. Turpin hitting her in the face with the book after some of the rude and judgmental comments that she has made. 

Mrs. Turpin shows how most middle class Southern Americans often believed that they were better than others and were often times narcissistic with their way of thinking.  Mrs. Turpin’s narcissistic attitude first shows in the doctor’s waiting room as she begins to pass judgment based on her first impression of the other patients. With Mrs. Turpin being a narcissist she would often lie in bed at night thinking about how much better her life is and how thankful she was that she was not someone else.  Mrs. Turpin shows how most middle class Southern Americans often believed that they were better than others and were often times narcissistic with their way of thinking and behaving.  If Mrs. Turpin is a representation of the narcissistic people from the South then the young girl in the waiting room is the changing ideas of the rest of the nation.

 


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