English / A Good Man It'S Hard To Find

A Good Man It'S Hard To Find

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A Good Man is Hard to Find

To the inexperienced, the writing of Flannery O'Connor can seem at once cold and dispassionate, as well as almost absurdly harsh and violent. Her short stories normally end in horrendous, freak fatalities or, at the very least, a character's emotional devastation. In reality, her writing is filled with meaning and symbolism, hidden in a flawless narrative style that is not biased, dogmatic, or of personal belief. Flannery O'Connor is a Christian writer, and her work is message-oriented, yet she is far too brilliant a stylist to tip her hand. Nevertheless, she achieves what no Christian writer has ever achieved: a type of writing that stands up on both literary and the religious grounds, and succeeds in doing justice to both. Flannery O’Connor uses Christianity as a fundamental thesis in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The exploration for the meaning of the Christian faith in the story is based on O’Connor’s view that contemporary society was drastically changing for the worst. O’Connor, a fundamentalist and a Christian moralist focuses her powerful apocalyptic fiction on the South. O’Connor views the lifestyles of the “elite” Southern people to be a facade. “A Good man is Hard to Find” focuses on Christianity being filled with sin and punishment, good and evil, belief and unbelief (Driskel and Brittain 25).

Before trying to examine the various elements that make up the remarkable writing of Flannery O'Connor, a bit of biography is necessary. Mary Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia on March twenty-fifth, 1925 to Catholic parents Edward F. and Regina C. O'Connor, and spent her early childhood at 207 East Charlton Street. Young Flannery attended St. Vincent's Grammar School and Sacred Heart Parochial School. In 1938 her father got a position as appraiser for the Federal Housing Administration, and the family moved to North East Atlanta, then Milledgeville, where, three years later, Ed died from complications arising from the chronic autoimmune disease lupus. Flannery attended Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College) and State University of Iowa, receiving her MFA from the latter in 1947. In 1951, after complaining of heaviness in her typing arms, she was diagnosed with the same lupus that had killed her father. She went on, despite the disease, to write two novels and thirty-two short stories, winning awards and acclaim, going on speaking tours when her health permitted, but spending most of her time on the family farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, with her mother. She died of lupus on August third, 1964 at the age of thirty-nine.

The story contains persistent images of death and to foreshadow the ultimate end of the nameless family at the hands of the malicious Misfit and his accomplices. The grandmother is representative of godliness and Christianity which O'Connor apparently believed to be more prevalent in the Old South. The parents pay little attention to the grandmother and when they do, they are often quite rude. The unruly children are representative of the breakdown of respect, and discipline, and are consequently a forecast of future generations. The Misfit represents evil. At one point the Misfit likens himself to Christ, in that they both were punished for crimes they did not commit. Christ accepted death for the sins of all people, however, and not only did the Misfit not do that, but he also killed other innocent people.

The grandmother represents in her character many foreshadowing elements in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The story begins with the typical nuclear family setting out on a journey. Immediately the grandmother, who does not wish to travel to Florida, issues her first challenge to their plans. The entire family ignores her except for the little girl, June Star, who easily reads the grandmother like an open book. She notifies Bailey, her son, about the Misfit and his crimes and in doing so, she foreshadows coming events. From the beginning of the story, the grandmother makes many attempts to change the family’s plans. Suggesting the family go to Tennessee to visit relatives instead of Florida for vacationing represents but her first alteration. The grandmother supports this suggestion as she adds, “Here this fellow calls himself the Misfit is a loose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida...” (O’Connor 405) giving the reader the first clue the family will meet their doom before the end of the story (Martin 49). Overlooking the grandmother’s warning, the family decides to pursue their trip as planned. When the day

arrives for the family to depart on their road trip, instead of arguing, the grandmother climbs in the car before anyone else, just as June Star predicts. “She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’d miss something. She has to go everywhere we go.” (O’Connor 405). She dresses in a manner so that if anyone finds her dead on the highway, they shall characterize her as a lady. She wore a navy blue sailor hat with white violets on the brim, to match her navy blue dress covered with tiny white polka-dots. Her white organdy, lacy collars and cuffs completed the outfit. O’Connor added this information in order to represent the grandmother preparing for death (Driskell and Brittain 49). According to Friedman and Lawson,

“The graciousness of the grandmother is humorously described, but should be taken quite seriously. The description O’Connor gives of the grandmother’s outfit with her collar and cuffs, and lace and violet gives her a ‘southern geniality’ that is indeed ‘dressed to kill’” (Friedman and Lawson 131). But although she agrees to follow through with the excursion, she refuses to go with out her cat Pitty Sing. Afraid that the cat will accidentally asphyxiate himself on the gas stove if left behind, she secretly hides Pitty Sing in her basket.

Foreshadowing continues later on the trip as a sequence of events that happens gives us hints of the family’s impending doom. After driving down the road a while, the family passes a cotton field with five or six graves right in the middle of it. Coincidentally, five or six family members sit in the car: the grandmother, Bailey, the mother, the baby, June Starr, and John Wesley. Then, the family stops to eat at a restaurant named The Tower, run by a couple named the Butts. Mrs. Butts confesses her fear of the Misfit robbing her cash drawer while her husband Red Sammy talks about lending credit to two men in an old but decent car. These two symbolic occurrences serve as indications of the Misfit’s location (Driskell and Brittain 48). After eating at Red Sammy’s, they continue their journey to Florida. The grandmother drifts in and out of “cat-naps,” but awakens quickly when the family reaches the town of Toombsboro. When analyzed, the word “tomb” pulled out of the town’s name foreshadows how the family will meet their end (Friedman and Lawson 131). While passing through the town, the grandmother remembers a house from her past that she would enjoy visiting again. When the family resists, she gives the house an element of excitement, telling the children about a secret hiding place where the family stored their silver. Her exaggerations cause the children to become intrigued in the house as well (Driskell and Brittain 49). O’Connor continues to throw hints of the family’s fate in front of the reader after Pitty Sing causes Bailey to flip the car. As they gather themselves back together after the accident, instead of being frightened, the children begin to joke and play about their situation. They voice their disappointment that “no one was killed.” Instead of using the word “died,” O’Connor uses the word “killed.” Furthermore, while they wonder what to do next, a “big black battered hearse-like automobile” (O’Connor 405) tops the hill coming towards them, presenting the last clue before the actual killings begin to occur (Muller 288).

The “hearse” foreshadows how the family will be leaving the town, and carries the family’s murderers as well. When brought face to face with the men planning to soon take the lives of everyone in the family, aside from the cat, the conversation between the grandmother and the Misfit enormously affects the consequences soon to be brought on the family. As the Misfit’s accomplices escort the rest of the family to the woods, the grandmother exclaims that the Misfit should pray. She then makes clear the importance of prayer. She tells him over and over that if he would pray, Jesus would help him. She keeps repeating herself telling the Misfit that she knows he is a good man. These short, desperate comments show the grandmother’s realization of death. O’Connor gives a role similar to that of Satan to the Misfit (Grimshaw 44). But while engaging in conversation with the grandmother, this Misfit portrays his own foreshadowing when the grandmother asks him why he was sent to the penitentiary for the first time. He speaks about how he was put in jail for killing his father. The problem he has with the situation lies that he continues to deny that he committed the crime. Even though the government holds proof, he believes he did not do it; therefore, he believes he was “buried alive.” He describes the jail cell where he stayed, explaining how everywhere he looked, there was a wall. This description shows the Misfit’s “vision of the world” from a different point of view (Muller 288). When the Misfit’s men come back from murdering Bailey and the others, he brings the Misfit Bailey’s shirt. When the grandmother sees the shirt on the Misfit, she recognizes the article of clothing as her son’s, and realizes that the Misfit is also her child through God. In order for her to act as a true Christian, she must accept him and forgive him (Martin 51). She looks at him and exclaims, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children” (O’Connor 415). The Misfit replies to her outburst by shooting her three times in the chest, bringing the long awaited tragedy, the death of the grandmother, to a reality. Like the old woman’s children, the Misfit has been raised without spirituality; and without spirituality, as the Misfit remarks himself, one might as well "enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can -- by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him" (O’Connor 415). In effect, the Misfit has said that if a person is not willing to accept God, then he or she might as well throw propriety to the winds, and go out and become a serial killer. In O’Connor’s view, to reject God’s love in small ways is just as sinful as rejecting his love in big ones, because without God there is no value system left.

Flannery O’Connor uses strong imagery and symbolism to foreshadow the tragic events that occur at the end of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” She first gives her readers a taste of the ending by informing them of the evil ways of the mass murderer, the Misfit. She then proceeds to foreshadow many upcoming events through an epigraph, characterization, attention to details, sequence of events, and dialogue. But although informative in her writing, O’Connor remains careful not to give away the surprise ending too soon. On examination of the story’s details, readers can easily ascertain the ubiquitous sign posting of the tragic denouement of the nameless family.

Works Cited

Friedman, Melvin J. and Lawson, Lewis A., Eds., The Added Dimension: The

Art and Mind of Flannery O'Connor, New York, Fordham University

Press, 1977.

Grimshaw, James A., The Flannery O'Connor Companion, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1981.

Martin, Carter W., The True Country: Themes in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor, Kingsport, TN, Kingsport Press, Inc., 1969.

Muller, Gilbert H., Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque, Athens, GA, University of Georgia Press, 1972.

Driskell, L.V. and Brittain, J.T., The Eternal Crossroads: The Art of Flannery O’Connor, New York (1971)

O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Literature: An introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 8th ed. New York: Longman, 2002. 405-416.



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