“A Temple of the Holy Ghost” Summary by Flannery O’Connor

“A Temple of the Holy Ghost” is a short story from Flannery O’Connor‘s 1955 collection A Good Man is Hard to Find. Here’s a summary of “A Temple of the Holy Ghost”.

“A Temple of the Holy Ghost” Summary

Two fourteen-year-old girls, Joanne and Susan, visit their aunt and twelve-year-old cousin on the weekend. They attend a convent school to their minds off boys. They change out of their uniforms right away. They jokingly refer to each other as Temple One and Temple Two. Their cousin, the child, views them as morons who can only talk about boys.

Her mother isn’t sure how to entertain her teenage guests. The child suggests getting Mr. Cheatam to come and show them around, which makes her double over with laughter. Mr. Cheatam is a rich old farmer who admires their boarder, Miss Kirby, a teacher. He visits every Saturday and brings a gift. The child’s mother chides her for her foolishness.

The two girls were driven to Mayville yesterday by Alonzo Myers, the only taxi driver they can get. He’s overweight and smells bad. The child suggests Alonzo could show the girls around, still laughing from her first joke.

A Temple of the Holy Ghost Summary by Flannery O'Connor
“A Temple of the Holy Ghost” Summary

The mother asks about the nicknames. Through many interruptions of laughter, the girls explain. Sister Perpetua, from the convent, told them if a young man behaved “ungentlemanly” toward them, they were to put a stop to it by saying, “I am a Temple of the Holy Ghost”. The child doesn’t see what’s funny about this, but likes the phrase.

After dinner, the mother is tired and desperate to get the girls out of her way. The child has another suggestion—Wendell and Cory Wilkins, old lady Buchell’s grandsons who visit her. They’re sixteen and have a car. Despite them only being farm boys, the mother thinks it’s a good idea. She makes the arrangements. They boys will come and take Joanne and Susan to the fair. The child heard they were going to be Church of God preachers because you don’t have to know anything.

The girls do their hair and the child describes the boys to them. She imagines saving them in a war and them both wanting to marry her.

Wendell and Cory arrive and they sit outside with the girls, while the child stands on a barrel nearby. One plays the harmonica and the other strums the guitar and sings religious songs. The girls giggle a bit and then sing a Latin hymn. They boys don’t know what it is, which makes the child shout insults at them and run off.

Supper is served outside, but the child takes her plate inside and eats with the cook. The cook asks why she behaves as she does and she says they’re idiots.

After supper, the two girls and two boys go to the fair. The child goes up to her bedroom in the dark. She can hear the music from the fair. She imagines the scene, remembering it from last year. She went during the afternoon set aside for children, when some of the attractions were closed. She had imagined something medical in the closed tents and wanted to be a doctor.

“A Temple of the Holy Ghost” Summary, Cont’d

Now she wants to be a saint, because they know everything, but she realizes she can’t be one. She’s lazy, rude, lies and is prideful. She could be a martyr if she was killed quickly. She imagines her martyrdom—the lions won’t eat her and she won’t burn, so the Romans have to cut her head off.

Eventually, she goes to bed. She tries to think of something unpleasant to put in the girls’ bed. She remembers to say her prayers, which are usually perfunctory but sometimes fervent. Remembering the boys, she’s thankful not to be in the Church of God, repeating her thanks until she falls asleep.

She wakes up when the girls come in at almost midnight. They enjoyed all the freaks except one. They can’t tell a child about it. The child says she’ll tell them about seeing a rabbit have babies if they tell her what they saw. The girls agree.

The men and women were separated in the tent. The performer talked to each group, saying they would show how God made them, warning if the audience laughed, they could be struck the same way.

The child thinks the performer had two heads. The girls say no, it was a man and a woman. The performer pulled up their dress to prove it. The child doesn’t understand. She tells them the rabbit spit the babies out of its mouth.

She lies in bed imagining the scene from the tent the girls described. She hears the call and response between the performer and the audience, adding the phrase “a temple of the Holy Ghost.”

The next afternoon, the child and her mother ride with the girls back to the convent school. The child rides up front with Alonzo Myers; she holds her head out the window because of the smell. In the back, the mother tells the girls about when she and their mother were at the school.

They arrive and are greeted by a big nun. They go to the chapel where everyone kneels. The child starts supplicating God for help with all her faults. The priest raises the monstrance with the Host, making the child think of the fair performer saying this is how God made me.

As she and her mother leave, the big nun hugs her. They get a ride back home with Alonzo. The mother asks him about the fair. He went but says it’s been shut down. Some preachers inspected it and called the police to close it down.

The child is lost in thought. She looks out the window. The sun is like the elevated Host drenched in blood.

I hope this summary of “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” by Flannery O’Connor was helpful.