"A Good Man is Hard to Find"
In Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find," O'Connor uses a gruesome and violent situation to reveal the true nature of her characters. In some cases, the natures of her characters are duplicitous to their initial descriptions in the first half of the story and in others, they stray very little from what is understood of them in the beginning. It can be argued that "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is duplicitous in its own right, beginning with a comical look at a manipulative, meddling grandmother and her family on what at first seems like a light-hearted story of a family road trip but that transitions into a horrific and deadly last scene (Stephens 360). At any rate, the Grandmother, Bailey and his wife, and even the Misfit are not thoroughly characterized until confronted with the last violent situation of the story. As O'Connor has stated before, "It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially" ("On Her Own Work" 340), and it is an extreme situation that in the end reveals the true depth, or lack thereof, in each of her characters. In the first half of the story, O'Connor uses verisimilitude in her characterization of Grandmother. Like many stereotypical grandmothers, she is talkative, proper, and often reminiscent of better times
"In my time
children were more respectful
People did right then" (O'Connor 600). When it comes to women, she values all things feminine. In a sentence following the description of her dainty clothing worn for the road trip that not only characterizes Grandmothers' views on women but also foreshadows events to come, it is mentioned that "In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once she was a lady." (O'Connor 599). She is quick to correct not only her spoiled, rambunctious grandchildren but also the parenting of her son Bailey and his wife. Through an act of attempted manipulation and also more foreshadowing, she tells Bailey of traveling to Florida that she wouldn't take her children in any direction with a criminal like the Misfit on the loose and that she could not answer her conscience for it (O'Connor 599). In all early incidences Grandmother, though often annoying and sometimes selfish, is not far from what the reader may know of their own grandmothers. It is through this use of realism in her initial description that the reader most identifies with her (Stephens 359). After the family's accident and the turning point of the story, true to her character, it is the Grandmother who makes the blustering comment that she recognizes one of the men that confronts the family after their crash as the Misfit. Right away, she becomes as lady-like as ever as she asks the Misfit as she cries, "You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?" (O'Connor 604) and she continuously explains to the Misfit how he must be "a good man at heart" (O'Connor 605). While her intentions may be unclear (whether she was trying to save her own life, the soul of the Misfit, or both) she continuously urged the Misfit to "pray, pray, pray, pray" (O'Connor 606). This urging by Grandmother for the Misfit to pray parallels with O'Connor's deeply religious Southern roots infused into many of her stories (Drake 347). As is the nature of many grandmothers to make people feel special and wanted, that's how Grandmother spent her very last moment, telling the Misfit that he was one of her "babies," one of her "children" (O'Connor 607) and reaching for him. In the face of such a dangerous situation, although partially her own fault, Grandmother remains ladylike and as poised as can be expected as her character fluctuates very little, remaining consistent with the qualities she was first introduced with, if not more likable and less troublesome. Certainly Grandmother identifies with the second of the two kinds of people her close friend Merton identifies her with writing about: "the rural kind: furious, slow, cunning,...
Cited: Criticism. Ed. Melvin J. Friedman and Beverly Lyon Clark. Vol. 1 Detroit: Gale
Research Company, 1990
"On Her Own Work." Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose(1969): 107-118. Rpt.
in Short Story Criticism, Ed. Laurie L. Harris and Sheila Fitzgerald. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale
Research Company, 1988
Stephens, Martha. "The Question of Flannery O 'Connor (1973)": 205. Rpt. in Short Story
Company, 1988. 359-363. 21 vols.
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