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Analysis A Good Man Is Hard to Find

By Lilylayne Apr 20, 2014 2248 Words
Jillian Allen
Intro to Lit./Hobson
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
In reading “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” most think that it is a very cynical tale, or even a horror story. While to others, it may sketch a reality for Christians to interpret the mysterious ways in which God works. Through foreshadowing and characterization, Flannery O’Connor displays a theme that is unmistakably real. The experiences in life are oftentimes taken for granted, and people cannot find true happiness in the realities of life. Mary Flannery O'Connor was born in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia. She then moved to Atlanta with her family, but when her father was diagnosed with lupus, they moved to Milledgeville, Georgia. Three years after her father had been diagnosed, he died; she was only fifteen years old. O'Connor began her studies at Georgia State College for Women, and continued her love of writing that she developed as a child. Flannery O'Connor worked for the student newspaper, a literary magazine, and also wrote stories. The stories won her a place in the master's program at the University of Iowa's writer's workshop, and began developing her craft and began publishing fiction. At age 21, Flannery O'Connor published her first story, “The Geranium,” that earned an award and a contract for her first novel. In 1947, O'Connor received her degree and then began working as a teaching assistant at the University of Iowa (“Flannery O'Connor”). While working as a teaching assistant at the University of Iowa, O'Connor began writing her novel, Wise Blood. However, her publisher did not like the first drafts, and instead of starting over she found a new publisher and submitted portions of the novel for publication in well-known journals. At age 25, her health took a turn for the worse, and doctors diagnosed her with lupus like her father. Flannery O'Connor feared that she would only live a few more years as her father had, and she moved in with her mother on their Georgian dairy farm. She then found a love of birds and raised exotic breeds of all kinds, and tried to keep up with a difficult process of treatments for her lupus. She also wrote regularly and gave lectures about writing (“Flannery O'Connor”). In 1952, Flannery O'Connor published Wise Blood, which made fun of American religious life, and was criticized for offending Christianity. In 1955, she published her first collection of stories including “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, and in 1960, she followed up with a second novel, The Violent Bear It Away. Critics enjoyed her short fiction, but like her first novel, the second suffered. O'Connor continued to write, lecture, and teach until her death in 1964, at only thirty-nine years old. Her second volume of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge, was published in 1965, after her death. O'Connor won the National Book Award in 1972 for her Collected Stories (“Flannery O'Connor”). Flannery O'Connor's Catholic upbringing influenced almost all her fiction, often provoking criticism because of her harsh portrayal of religion. O'Connor's great-grandparents had been some of the first Catholics to live in Milledgeville, Georgia. Her family stood out in the mostly Protestant South. O'Connor attended parochial school and frequently went to mass with her family. Even though her stories were usually grim and violent, they are rooted in her belief in the mysteries of sanctity (“Flannery O'Connor”). In Flannery O'Connor's short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, the story begins with the grandmother complaining about going on a road trip to Florida; but would rather visit her friends in east Tennessee. She worries to the rest of the family; Bailey (her son), his wife, June Star and John Wesley, their children along with a baby, about The Misfit, and escaped convict, that she is reading about in the newspaper. The next morning, the family sets out on the road trip. They stop at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches, where the owner, Red Sammy, and his wife wait on them. The grandmother and Red Sammy chat back and forth about not being able to trust anybody in today's society. Red Sammy tells a story about trusting two men and giving them gas on credit and kicking himself for doing it, realizing that he had been taken advantage of. The family heads back out on the road, and the grandmother remembers an old plantation that she had visited she thought to be in the same area they were in. Bailey does not want to take a detour to find it, so the grandmother makes up a story about hidden treasure; this makes the kids, June Star and John Wesley, complain until their father agrees to turn around and drive down the dirt road in search of the plantation. After the family had been driving for a while, the grandmother realizes they are nowhere near it at all, causing the cat to jump on Bailey's shoulder, and he crashes the car off the road. The car flipped over and is in the ditch when another car approaches. Three men get out of the car, and the grandmother recognizes one of the men as The Misfit. When the grandmother makes the accusation of her realization, The Misfit answers, “it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn't reckernized me” (Booth 404). The grandmother begins to talk about how The Misfit is not normal people, and how he must come from good people, trying to please him. The Misfit calmly tells Bobby Lee and Hiram, the other two men riding with him, to take Bailey and John Wesley into the woods, and soon after, gunshots sound as they are murdered. The Misfit knows he is not a good man but he doesn't think he is the worst man either. He apologizes to the grandmother and the children's mother for not wearing a shirt. The grandmother asks The Misfit if he ever prays. The Misfit explains that he used to be a gospel singer, but does not pray now. He says he wasn't a bad kid but at one point went to prison for a crime that he could not for the life of him remember committing. The Misfit says that a psychiatrist told him that he killed his father but he knows he did not. The grandmother tells him to pray, repeatedly, and that Jesus could help him; he says he is fine on his own. Bobby Lee and Hiram come back from the woods holding Bailey's shirt, and they give it to The Misfit. The grandmother cannot remember where she has seen the shirt before. The Misfit then tells the mother to take the baby and June Star and follow the two men into the woods. Bobby Lee tries to hold June Star's hand but she refuses and says he looks like a pig. The Misfit and the grandmother are left alone. He explains to her that he thinks he is like Jesus, except Jesus did not commit a crime. He says he gave himself the name he is known by because the punishment he has received does not fit the crime he had supposedly committed. They hear another gunshot in the woods, and the grandmother begins to beg him not to shoot a lady. They hear two more gunshots and the grandmother screams for Bailey. The Misfit tells the grandmother that Jesus confused everything by raising the dead. He says that if what Jesus did was true, then everyone would have no choice but to follow him. If he did not actually raise people from the dead then all anyone can do is enjoy the time they are given on earth by indulging in “meanness,” because that is the only real pleasure (Booth 408). The grandmother agrees with him about Jesus not raising people from the dead. The Misfit says he wished he could know for sure. The Grandmother says that The Misfit is “one of my own children,” tries to grab him, and he shoots her point blank in the chest three times. Bobby Lee and Hiram come back and take a look at the grandmother. The Misfit says, “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life,” and “It's no real pleasure in life” (Booth 409). Throughout the short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, Flannery O'Connor uses foreshadowing and characterization to communicate the idea that life is futile. Early in the story we find out that the family is going to Florida and the grandmother is trying to talk the family into going to where she wants to go instead. O'Connor uses her first example of foreshadowing when the grandmother states, “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people” (Booth 397). She is not happy to go on vacation to Florida, but wants to go to see her friends in Tennessee. Even though we do not know what he did to “these people” we know that it is not good, but the grandmother is only saying it to get her way (Booth 397). Another example of O'Connor's use of foreshadowing throughout the story would be when the two children are talking about the grandmother just staying there and not going with them at all. June Star exclaims, “She has to go everywhere we go,” perhaps foreshadowing that she will be killed in the end along with the rest of the family (Booth 397). The children are not happy about the fact that their grandmother is going to vacation with them, but wish she would just stay home. The grandmother is thinking to herself as she gets the last things ready for the vacation. “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (Booth 398). This sentence surprises the reader because as people are getting ready for a trip, they do not begin to think of the most devastating thing, death; but the grandmother does. She is not afraid of anything but wanting people to know that she is a lady, and not worried that she is now dead, or that her family is all dead as well. Next, the reader examines more hints of death. “They passed a large cotton field with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island” (Booth 399). The five or six graves that are in the graveyard could represent the ultimate end, the tragic murder of the family: the grandmother, Bailey, his wife, two children, and a baby. Even though the children finally find something interesting that their grandmother has said they are not happy with just seeing the graveyard, but want to see the original plantation that no longer is there. Lastly, after the family wrecks the car, they find a car coming up the road. “It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile” (Booth 403). This “hearse-like automobile,” represents the people that have taken the lives of the family, even though at first sight the family thought the people in the car were there to rescue them. When the three men approach, the grandmother recognizes one of the men, and is stuck on figuring out who he is. When she finally realizes, she is not satisfied, and the grandmother must let everybody know that she knows, which ultimately leads to their death. Through characterization, O'Connor conveys that oftentimes people take life for granted, and are not happy with what is dealt to them. The grandmother in, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” thinks of herself higher class than the rest of the family. She criticizes her son Bailey for taking his family in the same direction as The Misfit. She criticizes the unnamed children's mother for not making her children show respect and to “be broad” (Booth 397). She also takes every chance she can get to judge people of the world that lack goodness. The grandmother never takes a look into herself to think of the selfishness she displays. She is never completely content with what is taking place and wants to change something about someone, except for herself. Whereas the grandmother is not happy with the people around her, The Misfit is never happy with himself. Even though he is a known killer, The Misfit spends the story questioning the meaning of life and his purpose in the world. He changed the name he was given to The Misfit because he did not think the punishment he received was not justice for the crime that he did, even though he could not remember the crime. Throughout the short story, Flannery O'Connor uses foreshadowing and characterization to convey the idea that people are never happy with what is originally given to them. I feel that O'Connor's upbringing in the Catholic Church showed her this philosophy in life. She felt that people were not genuine in their religion, and that they only put on a show that happiness could never truly be found here on earth. Sadly, many people feel just as The Misfit had in the last line of the story, “There is no real pleasure in life” (Booth 409).

Works Cited
Booth, Allison and Kelly J. Mays. The Norton Introduction to Literature, Portable Tenth Edition, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011. “Flannery O’Connor.” 2014. The Biography Channel website. Mar 03 2014,11:28.

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