O’Connor and Swift–Revelation

Veteran's Day 080

View from the Craggy Gardens Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway where I went to think on Veteran’s Day, 2014

I’m preparing to teach on two of my favorite works, “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor and “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift  Both works have been extremely important in my life–humbling, formative, funny in such a strange, macabre way.

“Revelation” is the story of Mrs. Turpin, who runs a pig farm along with her husband. At the opening of the story she has brought her husband to a busy doctor’s office to have his infected leg treated. While in the lobby waiting, Mrs. Turpin voices her contempt for all those she feels are beneath her, which is just about everybody. An ugly girl, O’Connor’s description, not mine, gets fed up with Mrs. Turpin’s comments and has a rather extreme reaction, causing a needed change in Mrs. Turpin when she realizes she is indeed, “a warthog from hell.”

Everytime I re-read “Revelation” I am struck, just like Mrs. Turpin, by O’Connor’s big fat book of human development, realizing that I too am a warthog, for all my blustering arrogance. I remember her words that I repeat when I’m lecturing. When asked why she used such violence and grotesque characters in her work, O’Connor said, “To the hard of hearing you shout and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

Sometimes I do that. And it’s okay. As long as I stay humble and am willing to accept the fact that people don’t like it much when warthogs squeal.

Jonathan Swift shouted and squealed when he wrote “A Modest Proposal,” suggesting that the Irish problems of extreme poverty and famine be solved by eating Irish children. He even included recipes. Some people took his satire seriously and feared for Swift’s soul, others criticized him for his over-the-top style, just as they criticized O’Connor. Funny how the world remembers and studies those bold enough to shout.

So lesson for today–Realize you are just a warthog, then start squealing.

Today’s squeal–Every American who is willing to study hard and aspires to a profession that requires a four-year degree, not two years of technical training only, deserves an affordable way to obtain that degree without becoming overburdened with debt.

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