When I first read Flannery O’Conners “The displaced person”, I have to admit I wasn’t sure who was the owner of the house, and who was hired help. The way Mrs. Shortley is portrayed in the first paragraph made me assume she was the owner. She is described as how she sees herself I believe, as someone who is higher, than she actually is. She is a character who makes herself easy to dislike. She holds very many prejudices against the polish family the Guziacs, and the African american hired help, whom she refers to as Negros. Even though her family is also hired help.
Her description in the beginning of the story, portrays how she views herself. “She stood on two tremendous legs, with the grand self-confidence of a mountain, and rose up narrowing bulges of granite, to two icy blue points of light that pierced forward, surveying everything.” This description is a good overview of how her character is in this story. She views herself as above everyone else, and she casts a lot of judgment on others. We are never told her exact duties on Mrs. McIntyre’s farm, which is why it took me a little more reading to realize her family was hired help. We know her husband works for Mrs. McIntyre, but her role is never clarified.
Mrs. Shortley and Mrs. McIntyre seem to be close friends, they talk about the other help calling them “sorry people, poor white trash, and niggers.” If Mrs McIntyre viewed her as that way, they wouldn’t have talked about it together. What makes her any different form the other help, I don’t really know, but they are viewed as better than the others. She says ” They’re what is called displaced persons. It means they ain’t where they were born at and there’s nowhere for them to go-like if you was run out of here and wouldn’t nobody have you.” She herself is a displaced person, not any better off than the rest of the hired help. When she gets word that her husband is going to be fired, Mrs. Shortley packs up her family, and drives off with no destination. She has no destination, just as she described the displaced person wouldn’t have a place to go. She in fact is also a displaced person, but she doesn’t see herself as one. She takes her fear of displacement out on those she perceives as inferior to herself. She is a very entitled person, when she learns her husband is going to get fired in a month, she tells him ” You ain’t waiting to be fired!” So she tells him to pack up their car, and they drive off. She wears the pants in the family so to speak, her husband didn’t even ask where they were going until they were already driving away, she seems like the type of lady who has the final say, and this supports that. Not even her husband is willing to question her. Mrs. Shortley isn’t a religious woman, it says in the story ” She had never given much thought to the devil for she felt that religion was essentially for those people who didn’t have the brains to avoid evil without it.”
Mrs. Shortley shaped my whole view of the story. From the beginning I viewed Mrs. McIntyre as the one who followed beneath Mrs. Shortley. Her personality dominated while she was alive, and even after she had died. Her views of the Guziacs stayed in the narrative long after she did. Even once Mrs. Shortley died, she was still the one Mrs. McIntyre looked for when her husband arrived at her door. Even though Mrs. Shortley fled from her work obligations, there weren’t any harboring resentments. ” It took Mrs. McIntyre three days to get over Mrs. Shortley’s death. She told herself that anyone would have thought they were kin. She Rehired Mr. Shortley to do farm work though actually she didn’t want him without his wife.” This right here demonstrates just how much control she had over everyone. Her husband wasn’t the one who wanted to run from the farm in the first place, it was her. She essentially screwed Mrs. McIntyre over, yet she is the one Mrs. McIntyre favors. That sums up a good portion of her character, she was the one who’s personality dominated, yet nobody hated her for it.
Her character is so strong that Mr. Shortley returned to the farm to kill Mr. Guziac. She had believed that he was the devil, and her husband assumed he must be responsible for her death. Even after she is gone, she has a hand in someones murder. He effectively persecutes him by using him being an immigrant in the time of world war II against him. Mr. Shortley got on a large tracker and intentionally or not (that is up for debate) runs over Mr. Guziac, leading to his death. But neither him, nor Mrs. McIntyre did anything to stop it from happening, their silence isn’t up for debate. He wanted to kill Mr. Guziac, and he succeeded.
All in all, Mrs. Shortley was the dominant character in this story. The best word I can think of to describe her is sort of like their ring leader. She was the person with a lot of power, even though in society, she was no better than any of the rest of the characters. Even after she had died, people were still doing things based on what she had said. Her husband killed a man because of her beliefs. I would even go as far to say, that even though she wasn’t physically in the story long, she was the main character. She didn’t own the farm, the workers, or anything, but she did own this story.