The Displaced Person
by Flannery O'Connor
Mr. Guizac fled Poland with his family either during or just after World War II, and is trying to start a new life for himself in America. He seems to be talented, hard working, polite, and willing to try anything to keep his family safe.
He's called the Displaced Person, or the D.P., much more often than he is called Mr. Guizac. Incidentally, we never learn his first name. In the beginning of the story Mrs. Shortley claims that the name Guizac is unpronounceable, and that she and Mrs. McIntyre call the Guizacs, the Gobblehooks.
It's hard read the word "Gobblehook" without thinking of fish. Calling someone a Gobblehook is calling that person a fish, a caught fish actually. The fact that Mrs. McIntyre and Mrs. Shortley rename the Guizacs suggests a lack of respect for the family, and also expresses a sense of ownership. In general, a person tends to name the things he or she thinks they own. Since the Guizacs came to the United States by boat, this might also be an insult to immigrants – similar to calling a Mexican immigrant a "wetback."
As we discuss in "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory," fish can be symbols of Christ. The name Gobblehook is one of the first clues that O'Connor intends Mr. Guizac as a Christ figure. (We talk about this aspect of his character at length in "What's Up with the Title?" and "What's Up with the Ending?" Here we'll be mostly focusing on some other aspects of his character.) Finally, Gobblehook foreshadows his death – a fish on a hook is probably a dead fish.
This might seem to be an odd way to get at Mr. Guizac's character, but we don't have many clues to go on, so we need to take advantage of the hints that we do get from the story. We see Mr. Guizac through various eyes in the story but we never get inside his head the way we do with Mrs. McIntyre and the Shortleys. His character is developed by the observations of the other characters, and by our own feelings about immigration and our knowledge of World War II. As we demonstrate above, symbols can also be used to analyze his character. Another way to examine Mr. Guizac's role in the story is by asking questions about what we don't know. Below are a few to get you started.
Why is he toothless on one side?
O'Connor describes Mr. Guizac as both "toothless" on one side (1.288) and "a little sway-backed" (1.5). His description meets that of an elderly man, yet his children are only nine and twelve years old. Certainly he could have fathered them later in life, and that would explain why he has the physique of an older man. But, if he has been in a Polish prison or concentration camp – and probably subjected to hard labor, torture, and malnutrition – we can imagine that age is not why he lost his teeth. There is no concrete evidence for this in the story, but the possibility that he looks much older than his age is an issue worth considering.
The fact that we have to wonder about Mr. Guizac's past also tells us something about the other characters and what they might know about him. Presumably, Father Flynn knows the Guizacs' story. Since he's a priest, and bound by confidentiality, it makes sense that O'Connor doesn't let us in his head very much. But why don't the other characters tell us Mr. Guizac's story? Is it because they don't care enough about it to have asked in the first place? Is it because they just don't think it's important? Or are they prejudiced against him because he is not from the US? The sad thing about this kind of discrimination is that if they were to try to get to know him, they would see he's just like them, a human being with problems, joys, talents, and flaws. (For more on discrimination, see the theme "Foreignness and the 'Other.'")
What is Mr. Guizac's religion?
It seems that Mr. Guizac is a Catholic, but it's important to look at the facts and not to assume. Mrs. McIntyre calls him a Christian, but that might be at first because of his association with Father Flynn. But many churches try to reach out to people in need who may or may not share their religion. So spending time with Father Flynn doesn't mean that Mr. Guizac is a Christian, or a Catholic Christian for that matter. He might well be Jewish, or have no religion at all.
The one clue we do have, however, is that Mr. Guizac tells Mrs. McIntyre that his cousin just had her "First Communion," which is a Catholic practice. If his cousin is Catholic, he probably is, too. It makes sense that O'Connor's "Catholic novel" would have a Catholic protagonist, although here too, it's important not to assume too much.
Is he a nice guy?
As we said, Mr. Guizac seems to be a talented man who works hard and is devoted to his family. The fact that he is discriminated against by most of the other characters also helps to make him a sympathetic character. In other words, we sympathize with his situation, and don't want to see bad things happen to him.
However, there are two issues that might make him seem unsympathetic in the eyes of some readers. The first is the issue of racism. Mrs. Shortley brings it up when she's talking to Mr. Shortley:
"When Gobblehook first come here, you recollect how he shook their hands, like he didn't know the difference, like he might have been as black as them, but it when it come to finding out Sulk was taking turkeys, he gone on and told her." (1.84)
Mrs. Shortley is accusing Mr. Guizac of being hypocritical. In her mind if he liked black people, he wouldn't have reported Sulk. Another way to look at it is that Mr. Guizac doesn't judge by skin color, but by actions. Perhaps when Sulk steals Mr. Guizac feels a responsibility to inform Mrs. McIntyre. Or, Mr. Guizac might be afraid that if he doesn't tell, he'll be blamed for the theft. When he learns that Mrs. McIntyre knows and doesn't care that Sulk steals, he is puzzled.
Sulk probably isn't stealing food for fun, but because he is hungry. He is hungry because Mrs. McIntyre probably doesn't pay him enough. Instead of paying him more, she lets him steal, which is degrading, not to mention ridiculous. Mr. Guizac's reporting of Sulk's theft (as well as his impatience with Sulk and Astor on other occasions) probably has less to do with race than with Mr. Guizac's feelings about stealing, and about his job.
When we learn that Mr. Guizac has arranged for his cousin to marry Sulk, it's hard to imagine that he has racist feelings. He even calls Sulk "black" instead of the constantly repeated "nigger" used by the Shortleys and Mrs. McIntyre (2.63).
While the arranged marriage between Sulk and Mr. Guizac's cousin probably clears him of the charges of racism, it also makes many readers uneasy, which is probably what O'Connor intended. We first hear of the girl when Mrs. McIntyre sees Sulk with her picture. We are told that she is "a girl of about twelve" (2.43). We don't know how old Sulk is, but we can assume that he is not twelve, that he is probably an adult. So when we think that Mr. Guizac arranged for his twelve-year-old cousin to marry a man, we get the willies, and might begin to mistrust Mr. Guizac, just like Mrs. McIntyre does.
We were relieved to learn that Mr. Guizac's cousin is sixteen, which might be considered "too young to marry" in present day America, but was not unusual in earlier periods of American history. When we learn that Mr. Guizac's reason for arranging her marriage is to get her out of the Polish detention camp, we can probably put things into perspective and trust him again.
So, is Mr. Guizac a nice guy? We think so, but maybe you have a different idea. If so, this could be the start of an interesting essay. We might also ask, does it matter if Mr. Guizac is a nice guy? If he isn't, does that mean he deserves the treatment he received?