Post six of my trip through Flannery O’Connor The Complete Stories concentrates on “The Turkey.” This piece is number five of six of O’Connor’s master’s thesis from the Iowa Writers Workshop and thus stands without the polish and pizazz that would make her famous, a fact that perhaps accounts for why the piece never saw print in her lifetime.
As with the other pieces in this section of O’Connor’s work, “The Turkey” seems to diverge slightly from the other thesis pieces, showing a different side to the writer, different subject matter, age groups, and events, while covering convergent themes. Here, we have what seems like to be a western style showdown at the start, a dual to end it all, but in actuality, we find the main character, a boy named Ruller facing not a man, but a turkey. Ruller, who often lives in and occupies a fantasy world, pursues the bird. The turkey, which walks with a limp, stands as Ruller’s goal—to catch the bird will mean respect and success, to fail will mean personal failure, failure that others may not discover, but will haunt him.
This prospect of failure rings true through much of O’Connor’s work. Her characters strive to find a place, a home, and a niche. Yet, it is this exact pursuit that pushes a Lucynell Crater into a roadside diner in “The Life You Save May Be Your Ow” or plagues Old Dudley of “The Geranium” as he focuses on a flower pot for safety. Everyone wants and needs a place, and the journey to get there can reveal one’s true character. Here, Ruller tackles the task to prove his worth, to make his friends understand that he is capable of monumental tasks: “He guessed they’d be knocked out when they saw him; he guessed they’d talk about him in bed” (O’Connor 44). Yet, Ruller lives in this dream world, not reality. Reality is he is a boy, one who doesn’t have a gun and haphazardly chases the bird. Reality is that he is driven by his hopes, slamming through hedges and into trees as he rips his shirt, scratching and scrapping his body.
Each setback, represents the fact that Ruller is further from his goal, not closer. The turkey can and will elude him just as he can and will elude the directions of his parents and his mother’s drive from him to refrain from taking the Lord’s name in vain. Regardless of how close he will come, Ruller will be haunted by the idea that his actions will never be enough, that his life will be partially empty, and that his scars will be his only prize in the end.
Favorite lines: “he strained his eyes to the ground to see if there was a stone near, but the ground looked as if it might have been swept” (42). Love the imagery in this one.
“He said them again but the laughing had gone out” (47). Great flow and ideas here.
Other posts on the The Complete Stories include “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “The Geranium,” “The Barber,” “The Wildcat,” “The Crop” “The Turkey” “The Train” “The Peeler,”“The Heart of the Park” “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” “Enoch and the Gorilla,” “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” “The River,” “A Circle in the Fire,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” If the book interests you, please use the link in the first paragraph or click the picture to support my efforts when you purchase the text.