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Summary

The Displaced Person Section 1 Summary Page 1

  • The "Displaced Person" begins with the words "The peacock" (1.1).
  • This particular peacock is trailing Mrs. Shortley, a mountain of a woman, full of "self confidence" (1.1).
  • Mrs. Shortley has reached her destination, the hill.
  • It's afternoon, and the sun is trying to invade the territory of some clouds.
  • From the hill, Mrs. Shortley focuses her "gaze down the red clay road that turned off from the highway" (1.1).
  • The aforementioned peacock stands behind her, looking beautiful in the sunlight, looking off into the distance.
  • Mrs. Shortley sees a black motor vehicle slip in through the gate.
  • Nearby, Astor and Sulk have stopped working (1.3).
  • Mrs. Shortley can't see them because a mulberry tree blocks them from view, but she is aware of their presence.
  • Mrs. McIntyre meets the car, smiling but nervous.
  • The people coming are only workers, like the Shortleys and Astor and Sulk. Mrs. McIntyre, the owner of the farm, is all dressed up and making a big deal about the newcomers.
  • The priest gets out of the car first. He's older, tall and wears a white hat and black suit, and a "back-wards" collar (1.5).
  • Mrs. McIntyre thinks that priest wear their collars backwards so as to be recognized as priests.
  • (Mrs. Shortley is probably a Protestant, and the priest described here is Catholic. A protestant minister doesn't wear a distinctive collar. During this time in America there were more Protestants than Catholics, and there was much fear and mistrust of Catholics, especially Catholics immigrating to the US. Flannery O'Connor, the author of "The Displaced Person," was Catholic.)
  • The priest is responsible for getting the people in the car hired by Mrs. McIntyre.
  • He opens the back door for a young boy and girl, and their mother.
  • From the front of the car exits "the Displaced Person," a man with a bent back, wearing glasses with a gold frame (1.5).
  • Mrs. Shortley is surprised that these people aren't unusual looking at all.
  • She watches as the Displaced Person kisses Mrs. McIntyre's hand.
  • Mrs. McIntyre never would have let Mr. Shortley do that – not that he would have.
  • The boy is translating his father's Polish into English for Mrs. McIntyre, and Mrs. McIntyre's English into Polish for his father.
  • The priest has earlier told Mrs. McIntyre that the boy (twelve) was Rudolph, and his sister (nine) was Sledgewig. She couldn't pronounce or understand their last name, and, along with Mrs. McIntyre, had been referring to them as the "Gobblehooks."
  • The two women had been working hard preparing for the family's arrival – they had no possessions of their own.
  • They made curtains out of chicken-feed sacks, because Mrs. McIntyre said she couldn't afford to buy them curtains.
  • She also said that the people would be happy to get anything, so long as they could be here instead of their own country where things were going badly.
  • Mrs. Shortley begins thinking of a newsreel she saw, which showed piles of dead bodies and body parts. (These are images of the Holocaust.)
  • Mrs. Shortley thinks that things like this happen so frequently in Europe because Europe is not as "advanced" as the United States (1.10).
  • She imagines the "Gobblehooks" as dirty pests that would bring the dark ways of Europe to the US.
  • Maybe, she thinks, the foreigners would do to the Americans what was done to them in their own country.
  • At this thought, Mrs. Shortley begins walking down the hill, determined to check these people out.
  • Belly first, she moves toward them, stopping to make them see her by staring at the back of Mrs. McIntyre's neck.
  • Mrs. McIntyre is sixty, and has red hair and blue eyes. She has "buried one husband and divorced two" (1.11).
  • Mrs. Shortley respects her because no one has been able to take advantage of her – "except, ha, ha, maybe the Shortleys" (1.11).
  • Mrs. McIntyre introduces Mrs. Shortley and asks where her husband, the dairyman, is. She wants him to meet the Guizacs.
  • Mrs. Shortley notes that Mrs. McIntyre isn't calling them Gobblehook now. She responds that her husband, Chancey, is working, unlike "them niggers over there" [referring to Astor and Sulk] (1.12).
  • Mrs. Shortley stands back so Mr. Guizac can't kiss her hand.
  • Mr. Guizac smiles at her and she notices that all the teeth on one side of his mouth are missing.
  • She thinks that Sledgewig is prettier than her own daughters, Annie Maude and Sarah Mae (fifteen and seventeen respectively).
  • Rudolph, on the other hand, is not as good looking as her son H.C. who is in "Bible school" and plans to have a church of his own someday.
  • As Mrs. Shortley sees the priest, she remembers that the Guizacs (and the priest) don't "have an advanced religion" because "none of the foolishness had been reformed out of it" (1.13).
  • (As mentioned, Mrs. Shortley is probably a Protestant. The Protestant Reformation occurred in the 1500s when some members of the Catholic Church believed that that the Catholic Church needed to be reformed. They and their followers split off from the Catholic Church to form the Protestant church. )
  • The priest speaks English but with an accent to indicate that he has also immigrated (though we don't know from where).
  • He is instantly fascinated with the peacock standing behind Mrs. Shortley, and expresses admiration for its beauty.
  • Mrs. McIntyre says it's, "Another mouth to feed" (1.16).
  • Apparently, there were some thirty peacocks previously, but she let most of them "die off" (1.18).
  • The priest says the peacock's train is "full of suns" (1.18).
  • Mrs. Shortley exhibits disdain for the animal.
  • The two women exchange glances. Mrs. McIntyre's look says that she considered the priest to be senile.
  • With Mrs. McIntyre's encouragement, the priest drives the Guizacs to their shack.
  • Mrs. Shortley asks Astor, the older man, and Sulk, the younger, what they think of the Guizacs.
  • Astor asks her who they are.
  • She tells him they are from "over the water" and that they are "Displaced Persons" (1.24).
  • When he asks what that means, she tells him that Displaced Persons are people who can't stay in their own countries and have no place to go.
  • Astor reminds her that they do have a place to go, obviously, because they are here.
  • Mrs. Shortley is irritated by this statement, and example of what she considers, "[t]he illogic of Negro-thinking" (1.25).
  • She tells them that what she means is that they aren't where they should be.
  • Then she starts threatening Astor and Sulk, warning them that there are many more like the Guizacs, and insinuating that she heard Mrs. McIntyre saying she wouldn't need Astor and Sulk for much longer.
  • Then she orders them away.
  • She stares at the peacock but doesn't see that it looks like "a map of the universe" (1.36).
  • Mrs. Shortley is "having an inner vision," a vision of "ten million billion" people from overseas coming to America (1.36).
  • She envisions herself as "a giant angel with wings" kicking out the black people (1.36).
  • Feeling good about herself, she makes her way to the barn to see Chancey, her husband.
  • He's milking a cow with a milking machine. A cigarette is stuck between his lips.
  • Mrs. Shortley reminds him that Mrs. McIntyre doesn't like smoking.
  • Chancey pulls the cigarette into his mouth, closes his mouth, gives his wife a come-hither look, then spits out the butt.
  • Mrs. Shortley is charmed.
  • Apparently, this is his way of "making love to her" (1.41).
  • (A version of this trick is how he won her heart in the first place.)
  • She begins to tell him about the Guizacs, wondering if it's possible for a non-English speaking person to operate a tractor.
  • Chancey says he'd rather work with black people.
  • Mrs. Shortley says that the priest can get Mrs. McIntyre as many more Displaced Person as she wants.
  • He says he doesn't think they will last "three weeks" (1.51).
  • Three weeks later Mr. Guizac is going strong.
  • He can operate all the machines on the property with ease, and is incredibly efficient and clean.
  • Mr. Guizac is also a non-smoker.
  • He's impatient with the black people who don't work fast enough to suit him – he doesn't trust them. Last week, he caught Sulk taking a turkey from the pen. He attacked Sulk and forced him to appear before Mrs. McIntyre.
  • Sulk claimed he was only removing the animal from the pen to put some medicine on it.
  • After telling Sulk to replace the turkey, Mrs. McIntyre, using Rudolph to translate, explained to Mr. Guizac that "all Negroes would steal" (1.54).
  • Puzzled, Mr. Guizac had gone back to work.
  • Mrs. McIntyre now admires Mr. Guizac and says how glad she is to finally have some good people to work for her.
  • She is very tired of "poor white trash and niggers" who have "drained [her] dry" (1.56).
  • Mrs. Shortley doesn't mind hearing this because she doesn't like trash either and she knows that if Mrs. McIntyre considered her trash, she wouldn't be talking about trash with her.
  • Mrs. McIntyre keeps on muttering, as she often does, about her sorry financial state, her bills, and how hard it has been for her since "the Judge died" (1.57).
  • She blames every thing on the black people and the poor white people she hires.
  • But, she explains, now she has relief, in the shape of the Displaced Person.
  • Unlike the blacks and the whites she has hired, Mr. Guizac, she says, enjoys working.
  • Mrs. McIntyre says Mr. Guizac is her "salvation."
  • Mrs. Shortley suggests that this salvation is connected with "the devil."
  • This is the first time Mrs. Shortley has thought much about the devil.
  • She was of the opinion that religion was for people without the strength to stay out of evil's way on their own.
  • For her, the church was a place to get social stimulation.
  • If she had thought about it at length, she would have probably thought that the devil was the head of the church, and God the one in the inferior position.
  • Now though, since the arrival of the Displaced Person, she has to rethink lots of things.
  • Mrs. Shortley begins insinuating that she heard from her daughter, Annie Maude, who heard it from Sledgewig, that Mr. Guizac would soon need a raise.
  • Mrs. McIntyre states that because Mr. Guizac was making her a profit, he would be entitled to a raise, which Mrs. Shortley takes to mean that Chancey is not making her a profit.
  • When Mrs. Shortley suggests that the family would soon be able to buy a car, and then would undoubtedly take off, Mrs. McIntyre says she wouldn't pay them enough "to save."
  • Mrs. McIntyre also suggests that if Mr. Shortley grew ill (he's been sick for a few days) Mr. Guizac could take his place.
  • This causes Mrs. Shortley to defend her husband's work ethic.
  • Mrs. McIntyre is busy marveling over how much time Mr. Guizac is saving by using the tractor.
  • Mrs. Shortley thinks that now, because of tractors, mules are useless, and that black people will be the next kind of worker to become useless do to modern machinery.
  • She goes in the afternoon to share her insights with Astor and Sulk.
  • That night, she tries to tell Chancey about her fears that Mr. Guizac will plot to get rid of them, but he is too tired to participate actively in the discussion.
  • She tells him that she thinks the Displaced Persons understand everything they say, and that they will soon push out the black people.
  • Mrs. Shortley plans to support the black people when this moment arrives, for she prefers them to the Polish people. She isn't going to let the priest get rid of them.
  • Soon Mrs. McIntyre buys even more machinery to be used by Mr. Guizac. Her attitude begins to change as well, like a person "getting rich secretly" and she no longer tells Mrs. Shortley what's going on (1.90).
  • But, Mrs. Shortley knows something about Mr. Guizac that Mrs. McIntyre wouldn't like, but she doesn't tell anybody but her husband, who had expressed disbelief.
  • Mrs. Shortley blames the priest for it all.
  • The priest comes around fairly often, and Mrs. Shortley thinks he's trying to get Mrs. McIntyre to hire more Polish people. Mrs. Shortley worries that when the black people are inevitably fired as a result, that she and her husband would be outnumbered by the Polish families.
  • This realization inspires her to read the Bible in a way she never did before.
  • She thinks she is special, that God has special work for her. Until she finds out what that work is, she will keep an eye on the priest.
  • One Sunday she has a vision.
  • The clouds she is watching part, and a "white-gold" figure of no definite shape, with "fiery wheels with fierce dark eyes in them" appears (1.104).
  • She closes her eyes and the figure becomes red, with white wheel/eyes.
  • It says to her, "Prophesy!" (1.104).
  • Mrs. Shortley says out loud that "The children of wicked nations will be butchered" and born with their body parts in the wrong places (1.105).
  • Then she asks, "Who will remain whole?" (1.105).
  • Rather dazed, Mrs. Shortley walks, not happy to see the priest coming once again to talk to Mrs. McIntyre.
  • She hides in a place where she can hear them talk.
  • The priest is telling Mrs. McIntyre that the Guizacs need more money.
  • She says she's planning on firing some people around the place to be able to give it to them.
  • When he asks who will be fired, she says the Shortleys.
  • Mrs. Shortley immediately begins packing and explains to Chancey what is happening.
  • He has never doubted her vision, and doesn't start now.
  • All night and all afternoon the family loads their possessions into their car.
  • At 4am, around the time Chancey would normally begin milking the cows, they drive away.
  • Mr. Shortley asks Mrs. Shortley where they are headed and she has a bit of a breakdown, grabbing everything she can get her hands on, including her daughters, and the cat, in the tightly cramped car.
  • She suddenly looks surprised and stops her grabbing. "One of her eyes drew near to the other and seemed to collapse quietly and she was still" (1.128).
  • The girls thought their parents were playing some kind of game and continued to enquire as to their destination.
  • They weren't aware that their mother had "had a great experience" or that she "had ever been displaced" (1.129).
  • Mrs. Shortley's large body slumped back against the seat, "and her eyes, like blue painted glass, seemed to contemplate for the first time the tremendous frontiers of her true country."
  • (After you read Section 3, this moment will make more sense. We can't give it away now, though. You might consider the question, what is Mrs. Shortley's "true country"?)
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