Flannery O'Connor uses many themes that traverse the grounds of her many stories, whether it be racism, deformity, or displacement. But one of the largest themes that is present throughout many of her works is the theme of eyes. Particularly when the reader is given details about the eyes of a character, or when characters gaze into the eyes of other characters. The eyes are powerful, and sometimes the eyes are referred to as windows to the soul. Does this hold true in O'Connor's literature though?
In Revelation, Mrs. Turpin is held prisoner in the eyes of an ugly girl named Mary Grace. That name itself is full of O'Connor irony, because grace is nowhere to be found in her at all. Her eyes look "peculiar" to Mrs. Turpin though. "Her eyes were fixed like two drills on Mrs. Turpin. This time there was no mistaking that there was something urgent behind them" (O'Connor, 642). O'Connor makes these eyes seem like weapons that a predator would use to hold prey captive. And while humans can communicate through using their eyes, Mary Grace is using them as weapons. Earlier, the girl's eyes "seemed lit all of a sudden with a peculiar light, an unnatural light like night road signs give" (637). Mary Grace has eyes that have something unnatural about them, something that is bent and contorted. What type of people possess eyes that look unnatural? This girl possesses eyes that have a darkness stuck inside of them, because her eyes change after she attacks Mrs. Turpin and is given an injection. "They seemed a much lighter blue than before, as if a door that had been tightly closed behind them was now open to admit light and air" (645). Her eyes had doors in them before that were closed. Is this the work of a demon, or is it madness? The text leads the reader to believe that she is clinically insane, but either way, her eyes are the keys to gazing upon her soul, as Mrs. Turpin learns the hard way.
Eyes are also very important in Parker's Back. Parker is described as "the hollow-eyed creature" (666), which implies there is nothing behind his eyes, or a lack of substance there. The eyes of the Byzantine Christ pierce Parker's soul as he gazes upon the tattoo design. "Parker returned to the picture--the haloed head of a flat stern Byzantine Christ with all-demanding eyes" (667). This Christ is intense and soul-piercing; Parker has futile hopes that this will please his wife. This tattoo forever connects him with God though and disgusts his wife. In the opening paragraph her eyes are described as, "grey and sharp like the points of two ice picks'' (655). There is no kindness to be found in her eyes, only meanness. The artist saves the eyes of the tattoo for last, because they are the most important part for this particular tattoo; when he finishes the tattoo Parker is hesitant to look at it, but he does. "The eyes in the reflected face continued to look at him--still, straight, all-demanding, enclosed in silence" (670). The eyes consume Parker and in the end he is by himself crying on a tree. Eyes are a powerful tool in O'Connor's stories, and they play an important part in how the reader and characters view the other characters. One of the reasons that the peacock was O'Connor's favorite animal may have been because there are so many eyes on its tail. She also uses the sun as a fiery eye in many of her stories.