As I read O’Connor’s stories and did some research into her background, I found striking similarities between her and some of the points made in my previous post concerning Tennessee Williams.
Both were southern writers who studied at The University of Iowa. Both used their literature to illustrate the hypocrisy and destruction of the old southern ideals.
Anyway, Tennessee Williams is not part of the point.
O’Connor’s view of the south, rather southern people, is one that could only be brought to such life by a native southern. I felt like I had met the people in “Revelation” and “Parker’s Back.”
Beginning with “Revelation,” the central character of Ruby Turpin exemplifies the hypocrisy and ignorance many of O’Connor’s “cultured” southern ladies possess. As soon as she enters the waiting room, she begins to judge the people around her. She labels them in her mind in order to make herself feel superior or more comfortable (which is also done in “Everything That Rises Must Converge” ie: The Woman with Protruding Teeth). “The Pleasant Woman,” “The Pleasant Woman’s daughter,” “White Trash Woman,” etcetera. There is no charity in the thoughts of the woman who professes to be Christian. She seems to only care about the appearances of being a Christian, a well-mannered woman, and a good, southern lady. Secondly, the young lady who loses control and attacks Ruby is the only one educating herself, reading a “Human Development” text-book. Perhaps this young lady sees how many steps backward Ruby is taking for womankind and cannot bear the assault on her sex any longer. Regardless of the reasonings, this incident causes Ruby to believe she is receiving a message from God Himself, or a revelation. You see, she only TRULY looks to God when she’s in some kind of trouble. Otherwise, the word “Christian” is just another label that is self-applied.
Parker of “Parker’s Back” commits the same sin. Parker proclaimed that he was totally indifferent to religion, yet when he collided with the tree, he called upon God for His help. He is also as guilty of focusing on appearance as Ruby. In the same way that Ruby’s vanity lead to her being attacked, Parker’s dreams of another tattoo distract him long enough to crash into a tree, costing him his job. He, as well, wants to use Christian as a label quite literally. His dreams are of a religiously themed tattoo to be placed on the only naked skin left on his body, his back.
O’Connor has an unmatchable grip on southern hypocrisy. She exposes the culture that is supposed to be so friendly, faithful, educated, and refined, for the den of hypocritical, show-boating narcissists it is. Just as Jesus scolded the Pharisees for their deedless preaching, ostentatious and self-serving giving, and delusions of true grandeur, O’Connor scolds the ignorant, self-aggrandizing, two-faced southern people.