O’Connor says that people should never expect anything good from someone because a good person is not easy to find from the very title of his story. In the work, the author raises the topic of the confrontation between good and evil and how absurd it can sometimes seem when people turn to religion at critical moments. The main character is O’Connor, an older woman who has lived all her life with the belief that she is a decent person, but woman’s views changed dramatically when she was on the verge of death. This change is due to the fact that old lady’s beliefs were based on superficial values. To further understand the story, an Reader-Response Criticism was used to show how much the opinion of the public and critics affects the understanding and success of the work.
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A Good Man is Hard to Find is the most famous short story by Flannery O’Connor included in a collection of ten tense stories, filled with supernatural horror and fraught with the explosion, filigree combining realism and absurdity. Those accustomed to a more optimistic view of surroundings, the obligatory “happy ending”, and positive characters found O’Connor’s short stories perhaps too gloomy. Some lovers of eccentric prose were not satisfied with the strict simplicity and accessibility of the style of the author’s works. The use of grotesque techniques to display the traits and explain characters’ actions helps convey the main idea of the work about the absence of only good in people.
The main and most tenacious hero is the grandmother of the Bailey family. The author vividly presents this heroine and not always from the best side. Initially, this woman does not want to leave her home and gives children instructions to love their small homeland and their parents. However, in the course of the story, she lies, manipulates her relatives, and commits several acts without thinking about the possible consequences (Ismail and Macedonia 35). The grandmother’s behavior in the last part of the story received completely mutually exclusive interpretations in American literary studies.
Only when faced with the threat of death, an elderly woman changes her mind. Due to the fact that most people, according to the author, consider death as something abstract and distant, they do not pay enough attention to this aspect of life. Perhaps, the most famous line in all of O’Connor’s work is Misfit’s observation: “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor 12). On the one hand, this is an accusation against grandmother, who always considered herself a good person. However, it acts as definitive evidence that she was a worthy person for this brief insight at the end of the story.
According to one point of view, it was the grandmother’s selfishness that caused the tragedy (Ismail and Macedonia 36). It first appeared when she forced her son to change the route of the trip, taking a cat with her, which later became the cause of the accident. When all the relatives were killed, the selfish grandmother tried to bribe the criminal to save her life. Because she did not keep irritating the criminal with her words and told the bandit that she recognized him, she made everything worse. Her words, “You are my son, one of my children,” in this context seem as false as the previous manipulation of grandchildren through fables about fictional treasures (O’Connor 10). These words show that the woman understood that people are connected because there is no such definition as a good person since everyone has both a good and an evil beginning.
Children also play a significant role in the character system. In the story, they are reproached with dislike and a lack of respect for their elders. However, they have nowhere to take an example to follow, as their parents themselves, in turn, do not treat their grandmother in the best way. The older woman’s son does not consider her opinion and refuses many whims, and his wife ignores her completely. They behave disrespectfully not only to their elders but also to each other. They are cruel and do not feel sympathy: “Only no one was killed,” June Star drawled in frustration…” (O’Connor 10). By showing such behavior, the author destroys the image of a friendly family.
It should be noted that the application of the theory of criticism gives a new look at the work and understanding of its meaning. In the Reader-Response Criticism, the readers’ role is the main one in understanding literature (Tyson 78). The public’s reaction to the author’s work is the aspect that brings meaning to the text. How author’s stories affect the imagination of readers, says at least the fact that the book of O’Connor’s stories “ is one of the most famous examples defining Southern Gothic Fiction and one of her most well-known and anthologized short stories” (Ismail and Macedonia 35).
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On the other hand, the cruelty, the evil in a person, the lack of a cheerful ending are the distinctive features of O’Connor’s prose, which cannot be typical for most writers. Simultaneously, there is no hint of a dark, inconsolable atmosphere in the writer’s stories, as it might seem. Perhaps these features and the skillful use of language in the works have attracted so much attention from readers and critics.
At the heart of O’Connor’s grotesque is the “strange,” but this strange is in a deep, sometimes hidden, but always real connection with “oddities”, deviations from the norm in the surrounding world. The grotesque nature is determined in the author’s work by the increasing anomaly, the inferiority of the human character in bourgeois society (Ismail and Macedonia 37). Various grotesques and images of their actions in the works of the author represent an emotional charge sent to awaken the reader from indifference and apathy.
This charge should return the lost idea of the absolute values of human existence, love, the consciousness of brotherhood with people, selflessness, and humility. In order to convey this to the reader, a kind of shock therapy is used. That is why in the story, the way the characters act is physical violence, causing horror and puzzlement. The writer’s task for O’Connor is to make society see the deformities that it used to consider something quite natural. Therefore, the writer has the right to resort to intimidating means of influence to convey his vision to society.
Flannery O’Connor’s short story A Good Man is Hard to Find became a model of the writer’s prose. The work has all the characteristic features of the author’s style: the contrast of violence with carefully written characters’ humor and unique religious philosophy. Despite the rather sad ending that was not so common among many writers, the story is of considerable importance in the twentieth century’s literature. O’Connor’s works inspired the idea that people should never expect pity from anyone because a good person is not easy to find.
Ismail, Sezen, and North Macedonia. “Humor and Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s a Good Man is Hard to Find.” International Journal of Education and Philology, vol. 1, no. 1, 2020, pp. 35-39.
O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man is Hard to Find. Faber & Faber, 2016.
Tyson, Lois. Using critical theory: How to read and write about literature. Routledge, 2020.