A Review of O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"

Debuting in Modern Writing l (1953), “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the title piece of O’Connor’s first collection of short stories, was published by Harcourt, Brace in June 1955. A comic story with a tragic ending, the story begins with a family traveling from Atlanta to Florida on vacation with their grandmother in tow. Along the way the unnamed grandmother convinces her son, Bailey, to take an unplanned detour to a plantation she remembers from her youth. Hearing the grandmother’s romantic tales about the house, the grandchildren grow excited and nag Bailey until he agrees to deviate from his intended route.

Moments later, the grandmother realizes they are nowhere near the plantation, which exists not in Georgia, but in Tennessee. Out of embarrassment, she fidgets nervously and disturbs Pitty Sing, the family cat she stowed secretly in a basket on the car’s floorboard.

Startled, the cat leaps onto Bailey’s shoulder, causing him to crash into a ditch.

Although the family walks away from the accident with minor injuries, the “Misfit,” an escaped felon, and his henchmen arrive and execute the family members one by one. While this plot sounds morbid, the story is filled with dark, grotesque humor created largely by the story’s many ironies. For example, in the first paragraph, the grandmother vows not to take her children near the Misfit, whose crime spree she has been following in the newspaper, yet her detour pushes the family into direct contact with the man she seeks to avoid.

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As do many of O’Connor‘s works, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” deals with good and evil and the action of grace. From a Roman Catholic theological perspective, grace is a gift freely given by God, but one that humans, by exercising free will, can and often do reject.

Her characters, who sometimes accept and other times reject salvation, often have a warped self—image, especially of their moral status and of the morality of their actions. Thus, on the surface, the grandmother professes to live a good life, yet the reader encounters her as a manipulative figure, one who is obstinate, inconsiderate, and determined to get her way. By telling the story from a third—person limited omniscient perspective, O’Connor enables the reader to question the grandmother’s words and actions, which rarely align. She says one thing but then does another. She belittles her grandchildren; chides her daughter»in- law; refers to an underprivileged black child by a racial epithet, as a “pickaninny,” revealing her prejudiCial view of race relations: and then proceeds to negotiate her life by both flattering the Misfit and attempting to make him feel guilty. On one level the story chronicles her movement toward grace, a movement that occurs in the final scene when she comes to terms with her own mortality and need for salvation.

The grandmother‘s final words signal the possibility of a spiritual awakening: she tells the Misfit, “You’re one of my own children,II a comment that causes the Misfit to recoil in horror “as if a snake had bitten him“ before shooting her three times in the chest. Were this the only way of interpreting the story, then “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” would be little more than a theological essay containing a dogmatic message. Even though told from the grandmother’s perspective, the story contains many voices, one of the most interesting of which is the Misfit’s, which echoes in the story’s ambiguous conclusion. For the Misfit, life is pointless. Although he seems to be a man of modest means, the Misfit philosophizes and theologizes as the story concludes. He weighs life‘s meaning and purpose. The Misfit begins his theological tract by commenting on the arbitrary nature of salvation, ruminating on the two thieves whose crosses stood next to Jesus: “Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain’t punished at all?”

This theological question is the same one that obsesses Samuel Beckett in Waiting for Godot, a play in which two vaudevillelike bumsiEstragon and Vladimiridebate why one thief is saved and another, without explanation, is condemned. Here the Misfit appears as a modern nihilist who views the ambiguity at the heart of human life as an indication that life has no meaning. When the grandmother, searching for words that will spare her life, pleads, “Jesus,” the Misfit exclaims, “Jesus thrown everything off balance,” comparing himself with the Son of God. According to the Misfit, Jesus’ actions create a theological quandary. “If he did what he said,” according to the Misfit, “then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him,” echoing Jesus’ command to his disciples.

While according to Christian orthodoxy this command to follow Jesus grants life purpose, for the Misfit this exhortation leaves all human life empty, leaving literally “nothing for you to do” but follow blindly, accepting that meaning and purpose lie beyond human understanding. The Misfit continues his philosophical reflection by commenting that ifJesus did not raise the dead, “then it’s nothing for you to do but to enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can—by killing somebody or burning down the house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.” This second proposition describes a world devoid ofJesus’ saving grace. By erecting these two equally nihilistic poles, the Misfit makes bold assertions about human limitations and about the uncertainty of the human condition. On one level, then, he may be seen to represent a questioning agnostic, someone who does not know whether God exists and discerns no relevance of God’s existence to a broken world.

On another level he may be viewed as a profound commentator on the nature of modernity, in which people endure without purpose or hope or belief or faith. Further complicating this issue, the Misfit may be seen an instrument of God, someone who induces the grandmother in her last moments to accept God‘s grace and surrender her life in love. The story ends with a number of puzzling points to untangle, Is it possible for good to come out of evil? Is the Misfit truly an evil man, or, paradoxically, is he really an instrument of God, one whose violent acts bring about change, a radical, life-changing reorientation to the nature of reality that a lost world needs? By withholding answers to these questions. O’Connor leaves the reader with serious interpretive challenges. While it may be easy to pronounce the story a theological message, O’Connor re-creates, through a fictive lens, philosophical issues that have plagued theologians for centuries and that occupy believers and nonbelievers alike‘ In this way the story comments on the difficulty offinding and defining goodness in a confused world, one where a good man is indeed hard to find.

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A Review of O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find". (2023, Apr 08). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-review-of-o-connor-s-a-good-man-is-hard-to-find/

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