Summary of “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor

“Revelation” is a short story by Flannery O’Connor that appeared in her 1965 collection Everything That Rises Must Converge. It’s about a vocal, self-righteous woman who draws the attention of a teenage girl while they wait in a doctor’s office. Here’s a summary of “Revelation”.

“Revelation” Short Story Summary

Mr. and Mrs. Turpin enter a doctor’s waiting room. It’s small and almost full. She directs her husband, Claud, to an empty chair. She talks loud enough for everyone to hear. There’s room on a sofa for Mrs. Turpin where a child sits, but he doesn’t make room and no one tells him to. Mrs. Turpin exchanges a look of understanding about the child with a well-dressed and pleasant gray-haired lady.

Claud has an ulcer on his leg and isn’t supposed to stand. He shows the swelling. The pleasant lady inquires about it, then suggests the boy might move over. He doesn’t. Mrs. Turpin thinks the waiting room should be bigger and that she would run it better.

A nurse calls the woman sitting next to Claud. Mrs. Turpin takes the empty seat, barely fitting in. She says Claud can eat anything without gaining weight but she can’t. The pleasant woman says a good disposition is the most important thing.

Revelation summary Flannery O'Connor
“Revelation”: Flannery O’Connor Summary (The picture is supposed to be a book flying through the air, by the way.)

Sitting next to the pleasant woman is a fat eighteen-year-old girl reading a thick book. She scowls at Mrs. Turpin, who pities her for all her acne. Mrs. Turpin identifies the child’s mother, an unkempt woman whom she considers white-trash. Mrs. Turpin notices everyone’s feet, as she always does.

At night, Mrs. Turpin sometimes thinks about who she would be if not herself. If Jesus said she had to be either black or white-trash, she would rather be black. She also tries to identify the different classes of people. Some people blur the lines between the classes, which complicates things. She and Claud are in the middle—home owners and land owners.

The fat girl smirks at Mrs. Turpin when she makes a remark about the clock. She’s obviously the pleasant lady’s daughter; there a resemblance. Mrs. Turpin pities her again, for being ugly and acting ugly.

The unkempt woman joins the conversation but Mrs. Turpin tries not to engage with her. The fat girl slams her book closed and looks through Mrs. Turpin, who looks behind her out the window. She continues staring at Mrs. Turpin. The nurse calls another patient in.

Mrs. Turpin talks about her farm. They have a little of everything. It’s hard to get people, black or white, to pick the cotton. The unkempt woman doesn’t like hogs. Mrs. Turpin says theirs are clean.

She says they found enough black people to pick the cotton this year, but it’s hard. Claud has to pick them up and bring them home, and she makes sure to be really friendly. The unkempt woman expresses her displeasure again, about black people and hogs. Mrs. Turpin and the pleasant lady exchange another look of understanding. She’s aware that the fat girl is still looking at her.

A black delivery boy enters the room with a tray from the drugstore. The secretary isn’t at the desk, so he waits. Mrs. Turpin tells him there’s a button he can press to alert her. The nurse comes out and they make the transaction. After he leaves, there’s silence for a while.

The unkempt woman says black people should be sent back to Africa. Mrs. Turpin says there are worse things than black people. The fat girl makes an ugly face at Mrs. Turpin, who can’t understand it.

Mrs. Turpin argues the point with the unkempt woman. They wouldn’t go because they have it too good here. They also want to marry white people to improve their color. Claud makes a joke that has everyone laughing except the fat girl and unkempt woman.

Mrs. Turpin’s philosophy is to always help people. She’s thankful Jesus gave her a bit of everything. She’s not black, white-trash or ugly.

The pleasant woman asks about the unkempt woman’s son, who’s nearly lying down now. He has an ulcer. Mrs. Turpin again thinks of how low class the woman is.

The fat girl makes another face and looks intently at Mrs. Turpin.

“Her eyes fixed like two drills on Mrs. Turpin. This time there was no mistaking that there was something urgent behind them.”

“Revelation” Short Story Summary, Cont’d

Mrs. Turpin decides she needn’t be intimidated. She calls attention to the book and asks the girl about college. She doesn’t answer. Her embarrassed mother, the pleasant woman, explains that Mary Grace goes to Wellesley, is doing very well and reads all the time. She thinks the girl should have some fun.

The unkempt woman brings the conversation back to her. Her son doesn’t misbehave when he’s sick, so she’d rather he was. She waiting for the doctor for her, not him.

The pleasant lady and Mrs. Turpin again talk about the importance of a good disposition. Claud makes another successful joke.

The pleasant lady thinks being ungrateful is the worst. She describes a girl with every advantage who just criticizes and complains. She can’t help her because she won’t take advice.

Mrs. Turpin is grateful to be who she is. She feels like shouting her thanks to Jesus, and she’s moved to do exactly that.

A book strikes her right above the eye. The fat girl lunges at Mrs. Turpin and chokes her. Mrs. Turpin is disoriented and the room is thrown into chaos. The girl is subdued and sedated by the doctor. An old man goes to call for an ambulance.

Mrs. Turpin is stunned and calls for Claud. He’s in a corner, holding his leg. Mrs. Turpin looks at the girl on the floor and asks what she has to say. She calls Mrs. Turpin a wart hog, telling her to go back to hell where she’s from.

The girl passes out. The doctor attends to her mother, Mrs. Turpin and Claud, who goes into the office with him. The girl’s mother sits on the floor by her and moans until the ambulance comes. The unkempt woman keeps her eyes on the girl. Mrs. Turpin looks straight ahead. The attendants arrive and take the girl and her mother.

Claud comes out of the office and the Turpins leave. At home, they don’t feel like eating. They lie in their darkened bedroom. Mrs. Turpin tearfully refutes the girl’s insult. She’s was singled out for this message when the unkempt woman would have actually been deserving of it.

She gets angry. Claud sleeps through the afternoon. She lies there scowling and thinking. Claud gets up at five-thirty to take the field workers home. Mrs. Turpin asks for a kiss before he goes.

When the truck comes back, she brings out some water for the workers. There’s three women and two boys, one of whom helps Claud with some hay. The oldest woman asks about the lump on Mrs. Turpin’s head.

She tells the story of how she was attacked at the doctor’s, and then insulted. The audience expresses disbelief, particularly at the injustice of this happening to someone with all Mrs. Turpin’s good qualities. Mrs. Turpin knows flattery from black people isn’t worth much.

“Revelation” Short Story Summary, Cont’d

She goes into the kitchen, then heads out down the road to the pig parlor. Claud is there hosing down the floor. She looks at the pigs, doubting there as intelligent as people say. She sends Claud to bring the workers home and takes the hose.

When he’s out of earshot, she asks why she was sent a message like that—how can she be a hog and herself, saved and from hell? Why her? She gives and works and is church going. Why didn’t the trash get the message instead? Why didn’t Jesus make her trash or black if that’s what he wants. She yells out a challenge to call her a hog again. She ends by asking, “Who do you think you are?”

She sees Claud’s truck in the distance. She stands there until she sees it returning minutes later. She looks at the pigs; they’ve all settled around an old sow in a corner. She stands there looking until the sun goes below the tree line.

It creates a purple streak in the sky. She sees it as a bridge leading to heaven full of souls—white-trash, blacks, freaks and lunatics. Bringing up the rear are people like her and Claud. They’re dignified but shocked. She grips the rail as the vision fades.

She walks back to the house. The crickets chirp. Mrs. Turpin hears in it the voices of the ascending souls shouting hallelujah.

I hope this summary of “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor was helpful. Reading a summary of a story doesn’t really capture the experience, but especially one like this. I hope you also read it in full. It’s difficult to capture Mrs. Turpin’s character in a summary.