Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation": An Excerpt

THE doctor's waiting room, which was very small, was almost full when the Turpins entered and Mrs. Turpin, who was very large, made it look even smaller by her presence. She stood looming at the head of the magazine table set in the center of it, a living demonstration that the room was inadequate and ridiculous. Her little bright black eyes took in all the patients as she sized up the seating situation. There was one vacant chair and a place on the sofa occupied by a blond child in a dirty blue romper who should have been told to move over and make room for the lady. He was five or six, but Mrs. Turpin saw at once that no one was going to tell him to move over. He was slumped down in the seat, his arms idle at his sides and his eyes idle in his head; his nose ran unchecked.
Mrs. Turpin put a firm hand on Claud's shoulder and said in a voice that included anyone who wanted to listen, "Claud, you sit in that chair there," and gave him a push down into the vacant one. Claud was florid and bald and sturdy, somewhat shorter than Mrs. Turpin, but he sat down as if he were accustomed to doing what she told him to.
Mrs. Turpin remained standing. The only man in the room be¬sides Claud was a lean stringy old fellow with a rusty hand spread out on each knee, whose eyes were closed as if he were asleep or dead or pretending to be so as not to get up and offer her his seat. Her gaze settled agreeably on a well dressed gray haired lady whose eyes met hers and whose expression said: if that child belonged to me, he would have some manners and move over there's plenty of room there for you and him too.
Claud looked up with a sigh and made as if to rise.
"Sit down," Mrs. Turpin said. "You know you're not supposed to stand on that leg. He has an ulcer on his leg," she explained.
Claud lifted his foot onto the magazine table and rolled his trouser leg up to reveal a purple swelling on a plump marble white calf.
"My!" the pleasant lady said. "How did you do that?"
"A cow kicked him," Mrs. Turpin said.
"Goodness!" said the lady.
Claud rolled his trouser leg down.
"Maybe the little boy would move over," the lady suggested, but the child did not stir.
"Somebody will be leaving in a minute," Mrs. Turpin said. She could not understand why a doctor with as much money as they made charging five dollars a day to just stick their head in the hospital door and look at you couldn't afford a decent sized wait¬ing room. This one was hardly bigger than a garage. The table was cluttered with limp looking magazines and at one end of it there was a big green glass ash tray full of cigarette butts and cotton wads with little blood spots on them. If she had had anything to do with the running of the place, that would have been emptied every so often. There were no chairs against the wall at the head of the room. It had a rectangular shaped panel in it that permitted a view of the office where the nurse came and went and the secretary listened to the radio. A plastic fern in a gold pot sat in the opening and trailed its fronds down almost to the floor. The radio was softly playing gospel music.
just then the inner door opened and a nurse with the highest stack of yellow hair Mrs. Turpin had ever seen put her face in the crack and called for the next patient. The woman sitting beside Claud grasped the two arms of her chair and hoisted herself up; she pulled her dress free from her legs and lumbered through the door where the nurse had disappeared.
Mrs. Turpin eased into the vacant chair, which held her tight as a corset. "I wish I could reduce," she said, and rolled her eyes and gave a comic sigh.
"Oh, you aren't fat," the stylish lady said.
"Ooooo I am too," Mrs. Turpin said. "Claud he eats all he wants to and never weighs over one hundred and seventy five pounds, but me I just look at something good to eat and I gain some weight," and her stomach and shoulders shook with laughter. "You can eat all you want to, can't you, Claud?" she asked, turning to him.
Claud only grinned.
"Well, as long as you have such a good disposition," the stylish lady said, "I don't think it makes a bit of difference what size you are. You just can't beat a good disposition."
Next to her was a fat girl of eighteen or nineteen, scowling into a thick blue book which Mrs. Turpin saw was entitled Human De¬velopment. The girl raised her head and directed her scowl at Mrs. Turpin as if she did not like her looks. She appeared annoyed that anyone should speak while she tried to read. The poor girl's face was blue with acne and Mrs. Turpin thought how pitiful it was to have a face like that at that age. She gave the girl a friendly smile but the girl only scowled the harder. Mrs. Turpin herself was fat but she had always had good skin, and, though she was forty seven years old, there was not a wrinkle in her face except around her eyes from laughing too much.
Next to the ugly girl was the child, still in exactly the same posi¬tion, and next to him was a thin leathery old woman in a cotton print dress. She and Claud had three sacks of chicken feed in their pump house that was in the same print. She had seen from the first that the child belonged with the old woman. She could tell by the way they sat kind of vacant and white trashy, as if they would sit there until Doomsday if nobody called and told them to get up. And at right angles but next to the well dressed pleasant lady was a lank faced woman who was certainly the child's mother. She had on a yellow sweat shirt and wine colored slacks, both gritty¬ looking, and the rims of her lips were stained with snuff. Her dirty yellow hair was tied behind with a little piece of red paper ribbon. Worse than niggers any day, Mrs. Turpin thought.
The gospel hymn playing was, "When I looked up and He looked down," and Mrs. Turpin, who knew it, supplied the last line men¬tally, "And wona these days I know I'll wear a crown."


  1. In many ways, I identified with Mrs. Turpin. I have been in a busy waiting room many times. There are also times, to be honest, when I have thought that someone could move over and offer me a seat. I didn't realize the woman's racism until the last line: Worse than niggers any day, Mrs. Turpin thought.

  2. This poem is an almost everyday thing at many busy clinics and hospitals. I have seen, where many young people, would be sitting and don't even offer their sits to the eldery. Much over, I have seen where still white folks expect others to still feel inferior to them.

  3. You know this is like most doctor's office. I don't understand how they make so much money from the patients but yet they don't feel the need to make the patiens comfortable. This is irony at it's best. You want me to spend money in your establishment but you don't think enough of me to offer a clean environment.

  4. So when I started to read this I knew she was black. I dont know why, I did.. but I did. It is very typical that waiting rooms in doctors offices are indeed, packed mostly all the time. It is funny how you can get intrigued by any story doesn't matter the location.

  5. This story is less about the waiting room then it is about Mrs. Turpin and her ability to look down upon anyone. The waiting room only serves as a place where all the people of the white class can be together. Here Mrs. Turpin is able to judge each and everyone of them.
    This excerpt doesn't show it, but Mary Grace throws the book "Human Development" at Mrs. Turpin to show that Mrs. Turpin has to change. Finally she has a "revelation" about what it really means to be a good person.