The Displaced Person Essay, Research Paper
Flannery O’Conner has again provided her audience a carefully woven tale with fascinating and intricate characters. “The Displaced Person” introduces the reader to some interesting characters who experience major life changes in front of the reader’s eyes. The reader ventures into the minds of two of the more complex characters in “The Displaced Person,” Mrs. McIntyre and Mrs. Shortley, and discovers an unwillingness to adapt to change. Furthermore, the intricate details of their characters are revealed throughout the story. Through these details, the reader can see that both Mrs. McIntyre and Mrs. Shortley suffer from a lack of spiritual dimension that hinders them as they face some of life’s harsher realities. Mrs. McIntyre struggles throughout the story, most notably during the tragic conclusion. Her lack of spiritual dimension is revealed slowly until we ultimately see how her life is devastated because of it. Mrs. Shortley, on the other hand, seems to have it all figured out spiritually – or at least she believes that she does. It is only in the last few minutes of her life that she realizes all she has convinced herself of is wrong.
Mrs. McIntyre is a divorced and widowed woman who has learned to depend only on her own strength during the day to day operating of her farm. She has created a comfortable world to exist in, and she fears change in that world. Mrs. McIntyre’s lack of spiritual dimension stems from this constancy of her surroundings. She has never been challenged by her circumstances and was thus never forced to examine her spiritual beliefs and their depth. We can see her fear of change when she speaks of the peacocks. She if afraid to let them all die off because she does not want her dead husband to be upset with the change on his farm. Though he died many years ago and she had two husbands after him, Mrs. McIntyre still strives to keep things the way they were when the Judge was around.
Mrs. McIntyre allows the priest to have unwarranted control of her because of her desire to preserve her farm. This allows him to persuade Mrs. McIntyre to do the unthinkable. She hires Mr. Guizac, a displaced person. Nothing could have caused a bigger change on her farm. He and his family come from Poland and bring with him many different cultural ideas. Normally, Mrs. McIntyre would never have undertaken such a drastic change. But because the priest is able to convince her that it will be best for the farm, she concedes. Soon, he comes to visit her regularly, attempting to both convert her and persuade her to bring yet another Polish family onto her farm. Mrs. McIntyre, who has heretofore been dependent only on herself for survival, has now come to trust the priest and turns to him for advice. She seeks his council about what to do about the possibility of the Guizacs leaving her because she cannot pay them enough. He responds, “ ‘Arrrr, give them some morrre then. They have to get along.’ ” (219). Mrs. McIntyre follows his advice, betraying her only friend, Mrs. Shortley, as well as planning to fire the best family she has ever employed. She soon discovers what an awful mistake this was.
As these changing circumstances on her farm, especially the loss of Mrs. Shortley, challenge Mrs. McIntyre, her lack of spiritual dimension catches up with her. Mr. Shortley, her hired man, is able to see physical changes in her. She is getting thinner and more fidgety. Her lips would move when she was not talking. The text states, “She looked as if something was wearing her down from the inside” (245). She is having nightmares about the Displaced Person kicking her out of her own home. All these things occur because she is unable to cope with the realities of her changing circumstances alone. A stronger sense of spirituality, or at least a more diverse spiritual perspective, would have given her somewhere to turn. Because she hasn’t developed spiritually, she looks to the priest.
Mrs. McIntyre obviously feels a sense of obligation to the priest. She sees him as a good “Christian.” One of the main reasons for her feelings of obligation is the fact that she wants to prove that she, too, is a good “Christian.” Unfortunately, Mrs. McIntyre has a warped definition of this word. To her, a “Christian” is not a follower of Christ. It is instead a person who lives according to general standards of decency and morality. And, to a person who lacks dimension spiritually and is thus ignorant of any religious practices aside from what she knows, who would set the standards for morality? Obviously his or her priest would fulfill this role. So, because of her attempt to prove her spirituality to this man, Mrs. McIntyre experiences feelings of extreme guilt when she wishes to fire the man who the priest worked to bring to her. This is clearly demonstrated in her dreams of the priest and his attempts persuade her to keep the Displaced Person. The priest, in her dream, reminds Mrs. McIntyre of the presence of Christ her Lord and how she must not offend Christ. In response Mrs. McIntyre says, “ ‘There [is]…no Christ our Lord’ ” (246). This reveals a vain attempt to relieve her guilt. As a result of the guilt that consumes her even more intensely after Mr. Guizac’s tragic death, Mrs. McIntyre comes down with a “nervous affliction” (251). She dies, blind, mute, and utterly alone – except for the faithful priest who visits her once a week.
Mrs. Shortley copes with her lack of spirituality in an entirely different manner. We see her lack of spiritual dimension almost immediately. She has an extremely condescending attitude toward religion. When she sees the priest (the man who brought outsiders to her home) for the first time, she was highly critical. The text states, “He was a[n]…old man with a…collar that he wore backwards, which, Mrs. Shortley knew, was what priests did who wanted to be known as priests” (197). Her disdain for religion is again demonstrated by her belief that religion is for people who don’t have the brains to avoid evil without it. Her perspective and circumstances have effectively limited any development of dimension spiritually as her ideas about religion show. We can also see a similarity to Mrs. McIntyre’s definition of a Christian in her statement about people who need religion being the ones who cannot discern evil for themselves. . To Mrs. Shortley, a Christian is one who does good, as compared to a non-Christian being one who does evil. She too makes the mistaken assumption that being religious is the same as being a Christian. Mrs. Shortley does not comprehend the true definition of Christianity, hence showing a lack of spiritual dimension.
Though Mrs. Shortley expression disdain for religion, she places certain esteem on religious or Christian practices. She believes a good man does all the right things. In reality, a man who has a right heart is a good man. She speaks of her husband saying that there is not a more Christian man then he. We see her pride as she speaks of her son, H.C., who is studying to become, of all things, a preacher. After stating before that religion is for those who cannot avoid evil without it, this pride is a severe contradictions, showing an absence of maturity and a closed mind regarding her spiritual outlook.
Finally, her lack of spiritual dimension can be seen when she turns to religion in the midst of her crisis. She has herself completely convinced that she is one of the strong ones (though she currently needs religion when previously she believed those who needed it were weak). She also believes that God has a special plan for her because she is strong. She begins to read her Bible with “a new attention” (217) in seeking a way to rid herself of the Displaced Person. She has a vision during which God calls her to prophesy. The fact that she believes all these things to be true, though Biblically unsound, demonstrates a lack of spiritual dimension because she does not know enough to prove them otherwise. Finally, however, she learns.
Mrs. Shortley comes to a realization of the truth. She is not one of the strong ones, appointed by God. She has been displaced by the Displaced Person. She lacks the spiritual dimension to continue on with life after she realizes that all she has believed is gone. A greater sense of dimension spiritually would have given her more to believe in, thus is would not have all been taken from her at once. Again, had she been more spiritually capable, the tragic end could have been avoided. Mrs. Shortley has a stroke after realizing the magnitude of her circumstances and her sheer inability to cope.
Both of these unfortunate women are not bad people. The reader is able to see their characters completely unfold before him or her as he or she reads the story of the Displaced Person. These women have just been lulled into a false sense of security and thus have not been able to built spiritual diversity that would have enabled them to face the harsh realities life threw their way.
O’Conner, Flannery. “The Displaced Person.” A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other
Stories. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1983.
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