exemplifying the prophet’s role, O’Connor uses the unlikely and reluctant O.E.
Parker to portray a nuanced, but more truthful, picture of the necessity of
mystery and truth in the experience of the divine. Free of “wonder” and described
as a “blind boy” who “did not know his destination had been changed” (513), he
is inspired by the radiant aesthetic of a tattooed man. However, Parker’s
desire to manipulate his body and thereby secure his own future is a far cry
from his real destiny secured by the mysterious God in his midst.
Parker’s fascination with secularism
is reminiscent of the mystery of the world in his midst, for the “arabesque of
men and beasts and flowers” serves to “have a subtle motion of its own” (513).
This instinctiveness to notice the intricacies of the world around him serves
to elucidate Parker’s role in the beauty and world he is mysteriously reveled
by – namely, a prophet chosen to see the unseen. Unbeknownst to him, the
physical is subsumed into the spiritual when his own secular tattoos lying
“haphazard and botched” (514) on his body spark Parker’s dissatisfaction with
the external in exchange for something transcendent to fulfill his soul’s
longing. Reluctantly revealing his name –
Obadiah Elihue – readers become aware of the destiny he is rejecting by covering
up the connections to Old Testament prophets – his roadmap for living into his
calling as God’s servant. Driving a tractor into a tree that both catch fire,
Parker realizes “a great change in his life, a leap forward into a worse
unknown” (521) signifying his early call as an image-bearer of Christ, for here
he desires another tattoo and dies to self. This “burning bush” parallels Parker
to Moses as each encounter the symbolic fire and stand barefoot in God’s midst.
Both seemingly reluctant and incapable, O’Connor situates these two narratives
together, exemplifying the principle of the faulty chosen and the fact that God
desires to use the unlikely to bring glory to Himself.
the Byzantine Christ tattoo upon his back for its “all-demanding eyes” (522) makes
his heart “beat again as if it were being brought to life” (522). This is as it
embodies the God he is both repelled by but also driven towards, in addition to
its placement as something not merely for himself but the world. The fascinating
eyes beckon his soul to life and he becomes an embodied participant in the
mysterious religion he has attempted to ward off.
So too does O’Connor
use Parker’s wife to exemplify the conflict between mystery and truth. Accepting
evidence by only what can be physically represented, Sarah questions his tattoo
and asks, “Ain’t I already got a real Bible?” (519). Undermining the role of
the prophetic, Sarah reveals an obsession with empiricism. The couple provides
an intricate juxtaposition, as she “thought churches were idolatrous” (518), denigrating
the holiness of a marriage ceremony, and lets her mind take over the necessary spiritual
transcendence embodied by Parker. Sarah is repelled by a mysterious imagination
and proclaims what she sees as mere truth: “‘You’re tempting sin'” (519), thus
totally missing out on an experience with the divine.
Returning home to
his wife, the “old O.E.” (528) is put off. Whispering his full name, “all at
once he felt the light pouring through him, turning his spider web soul into a
perfect arabesque” (528), Parker proves his acceptance of entering the prophet’s
role. Yet the spiritual truth is most important as O’Connor demonstrates the
inescapability of bringing about God’s presence in the here and now. The mysterious
eyes on Parker’s back embody the necessity of prophetic witness in a world – as
his wife demonstrates – that is caught up in truth without mystery. In this
way, Parker is both a symbol and transmitter of the mystery of God, arguing
through himself that truth is not enough without a proper union to a mystic