Essay on A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'connor
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Brutality, humor, religion, and violence are a few themes portrayed throughout many of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. In many of her short stories, O’Connor exposes the dark side of human nature and implements violent and brutal elements in order to emphasize her religious viewpoints. In the short stores “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Revelation”, O’Connor explicitly depicts this violence to highlight the presence and action of holy grace that is given to a protagonist who exudes hypocritical qualities. During the family trip in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” to Georgia, the grandmother attempts to exude a lady-like facade. The grandmother wears “white cotton gloves...a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets … a…show more content…
With the shock of coming face-to-face with death, she starts to let go of her power-hungry and deceptive behavior and decides to act out of love and humility. Her head has become clear, and more than ever she becomes aware of the situation. All her shallow and hypocritical thoughts seemed to have dissipated, and she sees the Misfit as a child of God just. The grandma notices a voice crack in the Misfit’s voice and thought he was about to cry; she murmurs, “Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children” (O’Connor 458-459)! The grandmother calls the Misfit one of her kids despite the crimes he has already committed; God’s spirit may have entered the grandmother and is attempting to offer redemption to the Misfit since she has now accepted it. The still figure of the grandmother is described as “her legs crossed under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky” (459). God has given the grandma salvation now, and her spirit has a journey to heaven via the cloudless sky. O’Connor shows the protagonist to be hypocritical, but the protagonist found salvation and appeared happy after accepting God and feeling love towards the Misfit; the Misfit appeared to reject God when he shot the grandmother in the chest after she was trying to lend him a hand. The grandmother was able to find salvation through the violence the Misfit brought. In addition to “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” O’Connor’s purpose in her use of violence can
SOURCE: "A Reasonable Use of the Unreasonable," in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969, pp. 107-14.
[In the following lecture given at Hollins College, Virginia, on October 14, 1963, O'Connor discusses the function of violence in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find. "]
Last fall I received a letter from a student who said she would be "graciously appreciative" if I would tell her "just what enlightenment" I expected her to get from each of my stories. I suspect she had a paper to write. I wrote her back to forget about the enlightenment and just try to enjoy them. I knew that was the most unsatisfactory answer I could have given because, of course, she didn't want to enjoy them, she just wanted to figure them out.
In most English classes the short story has become a kind of literary specimen to be dissected. Every time a story of mine appears in a Freshman anthology, I have a vision of it, with its little organs laid open, like a frog in a bottle.
I realize that a certain amount of this what-is-the-significance has to go on, but I think something has gone wrong in the process when, for so many students, the story becomes simply a problem to be solved, something which you evaporate to get Instant Enlightenment.
A story really isn't any good unless it successfully resists paraphrase, unless it hangs on and expands in the mind. Properly, you analyze to enjoy, but it's equally true that to analyze with any discrimination, you have to have enjoyed already, and I think that the best reason to hear a story read is that it should stimulate that primary enjoyment.
I don't have any pretensions to being an Aeschylus or Sophocles and providing you in this story with a cathartic experience out of your mythic background, though this story I'm going to read certainly calls up a good deal of the South's mythic background, and it should elicit from you a degree of pity and terror, even though its way of being serious is a comic one. I do think, though, that like the Greeks you should know what is going to happen in this story so that any element of suspense in it will be transferred from its surface to its interior.
I would be most happy if you had already read it, happier still if you knew it well, but since experience has taught me to keep my expectations along these lines modest, I'll tell you that this is the story of a family of six which, on its way driving to Florida, gets wiped out by an escaped convict who calls himself the Misfit. The family is made up of the Grandmother and her son, Bailey, and his children, John Wesley and June Star and the baby, and there is also the cat and the children's mother. The cat is named Pitty Sing, and the Grandmother is taking him with them, hidden in a basket.
Now I think it behooves me to try to establish with you the basis on which reason operates in this story. Much of my fiction takes its character from a reasonable use of the unreasonable, though the reasonableness of my use of it may not always be apparent. The assumptions that underlie this use of it, however, are those of the central Christian mysteries. These are assumptions to which a large part of the modern audience takes exception. About this I can only say that there are perhaps other ways than my own in which this story could be read, but none other by which it could have been written. Belief, in my own case anyway, is the engine that makes perception operate.
The heroine of this story, the Grandmother, is in the most significant position life offers the Christian. She is facing death. And to all appearances she, like the rest of us, is not too well prepared for it. She would like to see the event postponed. Indefinitely.
I've talked to a number of teachers who use this story in class and who tell their students that the Grandmother is evil, that in fact, she's a witch, even down to the cat. One of these teachers told me that his students, and particularly his Southern students, resisted this interpretation with a certain bemused vigor, and he didn't understand why. I had to tell him that they...