Do you ever feel like the world is one big inside joke that everyone but you is in on?
As someone blessed with the ability to instantaneously halt any form of captivating communication upon entering a conversation, I can attest that this is an oft recurring, if not misleading idea. This idea is one that guides the thinker to reflect on the individuality he strives to attain. As a general rule, I believe that all people want to be different, unique from all others in a way that can ultimately distinguish and define them. What most people forget though, and that I also am sometimes guilty of turning a blind eye to, is that being different is fun, but being excluded is never fun. And just like being on the outside of an inside joke, feelings of envy and abandonment are never in want when we are neglected by those around us.
A step further; it doesn’t take a psychologist to see how an individual might take this independence and run with it. A simple thought of “they’re just not like me” or “I’m just a different person” only furthers the gap between a person and his peers. The danger of being singled out is not some major breaking point, but is a slowly fading change from independence to self- glorification. Such new attitudes affect every aspect of your life, as you consider those around as being beneath you, and therefore, no matter how nice a facade you display, your true thoughts and intentions reveal themselves in one form or another.
Mrs. Turpin, whose jovial laughter and unsettlingly judgmental attitude combine to give the reader an eerily familiar personality, subconsciously categorizes those in the waiting room with her, noting nuances indicative of potential faults and exploiting them. Manners dictate that she not address them publicly, but snidely allude to them. She counts herself better than the “white trash”, the “niggers”, or all the downright ugly human beings with whom she eagerly converses. In the case of Mrs. Turpin, Flannery O’Connor hits home by presenting not an over exaggeration of pompous character, but a wholly believable and frighteningly personal depiction of the subliminal degradation of others. The truth becomes evident to Mrs. Turpin when the ugly, pubescent girl, lashes out and calls her by what she truly is: “Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. ‘Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,’ she whispered.” (21) Unnerved and indignant, Mrs. Turpin eventually undergoes a massive change in her outlook on life and is counted among the worst when she later envisions heaven. Without digging too much into it, her pride caught up with her.
O’Connor knew her audience when she wrote the story; no, it wasn’t directed to the oppressed, or the evil, or the unlucky, but to you and me, the normal people with a normal tendency of degrading others to raise our self-esteem. While subtle, the truly scary message O’Connor relays is that all people are both capable and at times guilty of this seemingly small sin that in truth affects every part of a person’s life.
The startling truth is this: you can be different, but when you distinguish yourself by lowering those around you, your pride will inevitably catch up with you and thrust you at the feet of those you considered undeserving.