A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
In A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor we have the theme of fear, appearance, nostalgia, selfishness and grace. Taken from her collection of the same name the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and very early on in the story the reader realises that O’Connor is delving into one of the main themes of the story, the theme of fear. The main protagonist, named only as the Grandmother is afraid to go to Florida, fearing that she may encounter a criminal called The Misfit who she has read about in the newspaper. In many ways the Grandmother’s reading of the article about The Misfit acts as foreshadowing because later the reader becomes aware that the Grandmother does indeed encounter The Misfit and it is through this encounter that O’Connor will further explore the theme of fear.
O’Connor also looks at the idea or theme of appearance early on in the story. The reader is aware that the Grandmother has put on her best clothes so that ‘in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.’ This is significant as it suggests that the Grandmother, through appearance, looks at herself as superior to others. This is not the only time in the story in whereby the reader senses that the Grandmother views herself as superior to others. There are further examples which suggest she believes herself to be superior to others. When she sees the young black child on the road she tells John Wesley and June Star that ‘Little niggers in the country don’t have the things we do.’ Again the Grandmother is judging by appearance or by material possession and may be suggesting that she and her family are more superior to the black child. Also when she is telling John Wesley and June Star about Edgar Atkins Teagarden (one of her suitors when she was younger), she defines him as successful because he bought shares in Coca Cola, again the reader aware that material things or appearance are more important to the Grandmother than a person’s character.
The reader gets a further insight into how the grandmother thinks when the family stop off at The Tower restaurant. Red Sammy Butts (owner of The Tower) tells the grandmother about the time that he sold some gas on credit to two men but that they never returned to pay him. This leads to the grandmother telling Red Sammy that he is a good man because he was kind to others. However the reality of Red Sammy’s generosity is that it was an act of blind faith (or foolishness) rather than him being the kind person the Grandmother is asserting him to be. The Grandmother also talks to Red Sammy about the past and how difficult it is to find a good man today. This sense of nostalgia is important because later in the story O’Connor returns to the idea of forgotten times when the grandmother is talking to The Misfit.
The Grandmother’s conversation with Red Sammy is also important for another reason. It again highlights to the reader how judgemental she is. As she is talking about goodness (her definition of goodness) to Red Sammy she tells him that she blames Europe for the way the world is. This may be significant as the Grandmother may be suggesting that Europe or Europeans in general may have been ungrateful for the assistance that America gave during WWII. It may also suggest that the Grandmother considers herself to be more superior to Europeans.
O’Connor explores the idea of nostalgia further after the family leave The Tower. The Grandmother recalls the plantation house she visited as a younger woman. Symbolically the house may be significant. The Grandmother has incorrectly assumed that the house she is thinking about is in Georgia and through this mistake O’Connor may be suggesting, as the family travel along the dirt road to the house (which isn’t there), that the Grandmother may also be on the wrong path in life.
O’Connor also appears to be using symbolism after the car accident. As the family are sitting in the ditch, O’Connor mentions that behind the ditch ‘there were more woods, tall and dark and deep.’ This may be significant as later it is in the same woods that Baily and his family are shot. Also the car that The Misfit is travelling in is described as ‘a big black battered hearse-like automobile.’ Again this may be significant as the car acts in some ways as a foreshadowing device. After all Bailey, his family and the Grandmother are killed by The Misfit and his two accomplices.
The idea of selfishness is also explored near the end of the story. At no point does the Grandmother plead with The Misfit to spare Bailey or his families’ lives. Throughout her engagement with The Misfit she is focused on securing her own safety. It is also noticeable that the Grandmother begins to change her long held religious beliefs telling The Misfit that ‘maybe He (Jesus) didn’t raise the dead.’ This may be significant as it suggests that the Grandmother is prepared to say (and possibly do) anything in order to save her life.
There is however a moment at the end of the story in whereby the reader becomes aware that the Grandmother achieves Grace. This occurs when the Grandmother suspects that The Misfit is about to cry and she rises to her feet and tells The Misfit ‘why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children.’ This connection with The Misfit is important as for the first time in the story the Grandmother is showing compassion and understanding to another person. Unfortunately this connection with The Misfit does not save the Grandmother’s life. The reader finding that The Misfit after the Grandmother reaches to touch him ‘sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest.’
While there is a sense that the Grandmother achieves Grace, some critics also suggest that the Misfit may also have achieved Grace at the end of the story. After Hiram and Bobby Lee have come back from the woods, The Misfit tells Bobby Lee ‘It’s no real pleasure in life.’ Gone is his idea of pleasure in meanness, which had previously driven him. In the end The Misfit too has the possibility to change, just like the Grandmother.