A Good Man is Hard to Find is one of the best-known short stories by the Georgia writer Flannery O’Connor, first issued in 1953. O’Connor was a staunch Catholic, and like most of her narratives, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” struggles with questions of good and evil. Moreover, it reveals the possibility of divine grace despite having false values. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to analyze the text and context of the story to determine why O’Connor used specific symbols to create the intriguing storyline.
The narrative incused many of the techniques and devices which are salient for almost every O’Connor’s story. The authoress was severely ill, which limited her ability to travel and she had to go on short and rare trips outside of the farm. Thus, she learned to use the tools at hand to plot her stories. She managed to collect information from everyday resources including people around her, readings, different books, and periodicals that were availabe in Andalusia. Most notably, her source of inspiration was the newspapers and articles. Hence, her works were influenced by the regional and local press.
Furthermore, the story is propped by the historical background of O’Connor. She lived in the South of the state where slavery was abolished a long time ago; yet, the society remained divided based on race and social status (Fowler 307). The existing laws proclaimed that black Americans still had almost no freedom of choice despite no longer being enslaved. The disparity between landowners and their workers and between blacks and whites presumes to fight for the Old South (Fowler 310). Religion was also an indispensable element of Old southern people who claimed that a religious person could not be vicious. Therefore, these events impacted O’Connor’s writings, where faith and social status go against human nature.
Most of the protagonists were the author’s interpretation of some existing people she had accidentally heard about. Flannery O’Connor created a character named Misfit, a pathological killer whose identity was based on newspaper reports of two delinquents committing crimes in Atlanta in the 1950s. Another hero, Red-haired Sammy Butts, resembled a local good boy who has managed to succeed and who returned to his hometown to celebrate his birthday at a banquet hosted by other people. Therefore, O’Connor deeply embedded the images of residents in the appearance and tempers of her characters.
O’Connor’s attitude toward the characters of the story is specific since she considers a human being as a fallen creature. O’Connor intended to display the disrespect and disagreements that characterize family relationships with each other. The Grandmother’s vanity and selfishness are evident from the very beginning of the story. Instead of agreeing to organize the family’s trip to Florida, she craves to meet some of her “acquaintances” in East Tennessee.
She is eager to visit that state to see the grounds where she spent her childhood, even though she knows those places were long destroyed. The Grandmother forces her children to go with her scaring them that a murderer was wandering along the streets of their town. Yet, they barely respond to her pressure which demonstrates total disrespect to the older generation. Such behavior is a condition by the idea of the younger generation’s new outlook on life: they prefer not to stick to the past and be present at the moment.
Nevertheless, they all reluctantly leave for Florida, not being aware that death awaits. O’Connor creates the events leading up to the accident scene to point out the family’s weaknesses and create apprehension. On their way, they pass the Stone Monument carved with the heads of dead heroes symbolizing the doomed Confederacy (Rea 179). The Grandmother acts as a driver and a tour guide giving directions at the back seat. As they drive past the ramshackle shacks, she spots a black kid with no pants and contemptuously mentions whites’ privileges over blacks, which reveals the narrative’s historical context.
Later, a reader is presented with the images of life and death from the children’s comics which demonstrate the contrast between the old wrinkled face of a grandmother and a soft, bland baby’s appearance. Moreover, the author decides to depict the old graves as a symbol of the soon characters’ deaths and the relicts of the Old South (Ismai 37). Yet, the Grandmother continues to recollect the past, stating that she always pursued material resources despite her pious and benevolent nature.
The other significant scene happened at The Tower café, which is a premise to condition people’s good intentions to cover their lack of concern towards others. It is designed to emphasize how the Grandmother is obsessed with pretending to be a virtuous person yet, hiding her self-interest for gaining profit. The Grandmother and Red Sammy debate the evilness of the times and state that no decent men left in this society even though they claim themselves to be good.
They proclaim that Europe is to blame for everything that happens to them now, trying to elude any liability for the human conduct (Ismai 39). Additionally, O’Connor’s religious inclinations can be observed in the scene where children play with a gray ape. Christians typically used monkeys as a token of sin, lust, and deception. This symbol was chosen intentionally to emphasize the blind self-centered nature of the characters.
Once the family is back on the road, they meet the Misfit and his companions. From this point, O’Connor commences revealing the true temper of the Misfit and the Grandmother. During their confrontation, the Grandmother attempts to persuade the Misfit that he is a decent man whilst the other criminals violently shoot other family members in the woods. Yet, the delinquent denies her words, and the Grandmother tries to use religion as a method to escape death.
This scene reveals her superficial values which in reality are ridiculous and far-fetched (Rea 173). This may be the Grandmother’s moment of grace – her chance for redemption. In turn, the Misfit who openly rejects Jesus sees that she is spiritually naked and may be facing the divine truth. Regardless, he murders the Grandmother since he is not trying to be a good man but instead seeks pleasure in power.
In conclusion, O’Connor’s story should be analyzed in terms of historical and religious contexts due to her personal background. A Good Man Is Hard to Find is an embodiment of the false values and past events into human life, leading them to the inevitable – death. Holding to the past and pretending to be gracious brings people to the crisis point where they are supposed to either die or reevaluate their perspectives.
Fowler, Doreen. “Death, Denial, and the Black Double: Reading Race in Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction.” The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3, 2016, pp. 303-326.
Ismail, Sezen. “Humor and Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” International Journal of Education & Philology, vol. 1, no. 1, 2020, pp. 35-40.
Rea, Robert. “Flannery O’Connor’s Murderous Imagination: Southern Ladyhood in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Southwest Review, vol. 102, no. 2, 2017, pp. 168-181.