One of O’Connor’s most widely read stories “A Good Man is Hard to Find” written in 1953, without a doubt is also her most shocking. Yet is it through the story’s disturbing ending that O’Connor raises fundamental questions about good and evil, morality and immorality, faith and doubt, and the particularly Southern “binaries” of black and white and Southern history and progress (Link 126). Ever since the beginning of time, mankind has been searching for a higher power that will guide them through life, and show them the “true way”. Christianity is the largest religion in Western Society, and it has functioned as a guiding rule, helping Christians for centuries to decide what is right or wrong (Bethea 246).
In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” this theme is brought up in a rather controversial way: how should you really act as a righteous Christian, and is everything as black or white as it first may seem? According to Bryant, this is being pushed to the extreme in O’Connor’s work, where she makes it fully clear that everybody can change and eventually reach salvation, even though some people must encounter the most extreme situations, in this case, death, to reach enlightenment. At the very beginning of the story, we get to see one of the grandmother’s basic traits; she is manipulative, and she shows no hesitation when it comes to convincing people into doing what she wants them to do (301).
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As the story develops, The Grandmother starts complaining about going on a road trip to Florida; she would rather visit friends in east Tennessee. She worries aloud to the rest of the family, Bailey; her son, Bailey’s wife, June Star and John Wesley; their children, and the baby, about The Misfit whom she has been reading about in the newspaper. The Misfit is a serial killer who has escaped from the Federal Penitentiary and is on the loose (Link 137). The title of the story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, echoes Red Sammy Butts in his conversation with The Grandmother when the family sets out on the road trip. They decide to stop at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches, where the owner, Red Sammy Butts, and his wife wait on them. The Grandmother and Red Sammy commiserate about the current state of the world, complaining that you cannot trust anyone these days.
He tells a story about how he gave two men gas on credit; clearly, he has been taken advantage of and regrets his decision. The mistrust of others, in general, is a continuing theme throughout O’Connor’s short stories, and in her conversation with Red Sammy Butts, The Grandmother confirms her belief in this idea: “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you can trust” (O’Connor 116). This belief contradicts her Christian faith, of course, but in the end, her Christian faith results in the achievement of Grace. Grace, an important theme to O’Connor, is given to both The Grandmother and The Misfit, neither of whom particularly deserves it. As she realizes what is happening, The Grandmother begins to beg The Misfit to pray so that Jesus will help him. Right before The Misfit kills her, The Grandmother calls him one of her own children recognizing him as a fellow human capable of being saved by God’s Grace (Mitchell 212). Even though he murders her, the Misfit is implied to have achieved some level of Grace as well when he ends the story by saying, “It’s no real pleasure in life”. Earlier in the story, he claimed the only pleasure in life was meanness (O’Connor 16).
The glorification of the past is prevalent in this story through the character of The Grandmother, who expresses nostalgia for the way things used to be in the South. Her mistake about the “old plantation that she had visited in this neighbourhood once when she was a young lady” leads to the demise of the whole family when they get in a car accident while driving down the dirt driveway. Before she realizes that the plantation is actually not in Georgia but in Tennessee, she remembers “the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day’s journey”, imagining the beautiful scene she believes they will soon find (Bloom 1). Eyes are an important symbol in many of O’Connor’s short stories, and here they indicate a character’s mindset. The Grandmother’s eyes are bright as she listens to “The Tennessee Waltz” on the jukebox at The Tower.
As Bailey makes a single effort to argue with The Misfit before he is led into the woods to be killed, his eyes are described as “blue and intense”. After they hear the gunshots that signal the deaths of Bailey and John Wesley, The Mother and June Stars’ eyes are “glassy”. After he kills The Grandmother and removes his glasses, “The Misfit’s eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenceless-looking” (O’Connor 116). Racism is a minor theme in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find:” The Grandmother reveals her racism when she comments on the child the family observes out the window: “Little niggers in the country don’t have things like we do”, calling him a “cute little pickaninny”. Though she feigns compassion for the plight of blacks, her feelings toward them are clearly racist (Link 130). As in many of O’Connor’s stories, the sky is mentioned as an indicator of the character’s moods. Right after The Grandmother identifies The Misfit, he comments, “Don’t see no sun but don’t see no cloud neither,” implying that their fates have not yet been decided.
But after Bailey and John Wesley have been murdered, as The Mother and June Star are being led into the woods as well, The Grandmother notices that “there was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun,” and now it indicates that she has nothing from which to get her bearings: “there was nothing around her but woods.” There is no hope (Bloom 1). Flannery O’Connor saw herself as a prophetic writer and her authorial strategy was to shock; her fiction is intended as a rebuke to rationalistic, materialistic, and humanistic thought; the heresies of the twentieth century. She believed that people in the modern world were not following the true path and had to be made to see their condition for what it was; a wandering by the wayside. In “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” the family’s wayward lives are given direction in their final moments, and from O’Connor’s point of view they are at last on the right road (116).
- Bethea, Arthur F. “O’connor’s A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND.” Explicator 64.4 (2006): 246-249. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 Mar. 2012.
- Bloom, Harold. Flannery O’Connor. Chelsea House Publishers, 2009. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 17 Mar. 2012.
- Bryant, Hallman B. “Reading The Map In ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’.” Studies In Short Fiction 18.3 (2001): 301. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.
- Link, Alex. “Means, Meaning, And Mediated Space In ” Good Man Is Hard To Find.” Southern Quarterly 44.4 (2007): 125-138. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Mar. 2012.
- Mitchell, Mark T. “The Melancholy Tyrant: Democracy And Tyranny In Flannery O’connor’s “A Good Man Are Hard To Find..” Perspectives On Political Science 34.4 (2005): 211-216. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.
- O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” Atlanta 47.11 (2008): 116. MasterFILE Complete. Web. 17 Mar. 2012.