A Violent Illumination of Salvation



A Violent Illumination of Salvation


Flannery O\'Connor uses violence to return characters to reality and prepare them to accept their moment of grace. The New Encyclopedia Britannica defines grace as the "spontaneous, unmerited gift of the divine or the divine influence operating in man for his regeneration and sanctification" (401). At any cost, a soul must find salvation. O\'Connor states, "In my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace" (qtd.in Bain 407). Dorothy Walters, Associate Professor of English at Wichita State University, believes O\'Connor\'s single theme is the battle between God and the devil "dueling for the human soul in the ancient clash" (105).
The illumination of salvation through violent means is essential because "both O\'Connor and her God are ironists [unyielding] . . . her heros are willful characters who must be humbled in learning that the will of God must prevail" (Master-pieces 497).
O\'Connor portrays two varieties of sinners who possess either excessive pride or aggressive evil traits. The price of redemption is high. O\'Connor violently shocks her characters, illuminates their shortcomings, and prepares them for redemption as seen in: "A Good Man is Hard to Find," "Revelation," "The River," and "The Lame Shall Enter First."
Walters reasons, "The instruction of pride through lessons of humility is, in each story, the means by which the soul is prepared for its necessary illumination by the Holy Spirit" (73). The grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and Rudy Turpin in "Revelation" is each convinced that she is a lady of elevated status. When threatened by superior beings, their self-imposed facades fall. Inherent human weaknesses are not tolerated and the faulty soul is damned or violently returned to reality (Walters 72). In The Habit of Being, O\'Connor emphasizes: "My devil has a name . . . His name is Lucifer, he\'s a fallen angel, his sin is pride, and his aim is destruction of the Divine plan" (456).
The grandmother is extremely prideful and identifies herself as a "lady" as O’Connor reveals in the clothing description:
The children’s mother still had on slacks . . . but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress . . . trimmed with lace . . . In case of an accident, any one seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady. (A Good 11)
When the grandmother\'s trivial scheming causes the family to leave the paved road in search of a misplaced plantation, they do have an accident. Her cat, Pitty Sing, which she insists travels with them, pounces on Bailey\'s shoulder and causes them to crash. Unfortunately, the grandmother seals the family\'s fate when she identifies their rescuer as the Misfit. While her family is executed, the grandmother pleads for mercy by appealing to the Misfit\'s moral, family and religious values. The grandmother finally releases her hubris and experiences compassion as she exclaims: "Why you\'re one of my babies. You\'re one of my own children!" (O\'Connor, A Good 29). This demonstration of selflessness is evidence that the grandmother has at last been admitted to grace. The Misfit says, "She would have been a good woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life" (O\'Connor, A Good 29). The grandmother’s life must be endangered to reveal that everyone is equal in God\'s eyes.
Like the grandmother, Rudy Turpin knows she is a lady. Confident in her conviction of inner superiority, she habitually categorizes people as "white trash," "niggers," or "homeowners" (Walters 110). In her nightly prayers, she thanks God for her elevated status in life (Walters 25). Turpin\'s neat little categories are first challenged by a hot-tempered girl, symbolically named Mary Grace. After witnessing Mrs. Turpin\'s inflated projected self-image, Mary Grace physically and verbally assaults Mrs. Turpin. Mrs. Turpin again questions her superior status when the black laborers dutifully sympathize with her anguish. "Mrs. Turpin knew just exactly how much Negro flattery was worth and it added to her rage" (qtd.in Walters 125). Beyond frustration, she challenges God in the pigpen, screaming: "Who do you think you