“A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a short story written by Flannery O’Connor in 1953 and is mostly known for its controversial and grim ending. O’Connor, being a Southerner, has been mostly using a Southern Gothic style in her writings; this genre is usually referred to as macabre and ironic, filled with dark romanticism and mysticism, where characters often have questionable morality and doubtful sanity (“Genre: Southern Gothic”, par. 2-4). Flannery O’Connor’s works, especially the collection of short stories of the same name, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, have become the exemplary pieces illustrating the style, and as I have always wanted to learn more about Southern Gothic, it became a pleasure for me to begin my acquaintance with the abovementioned short story.
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The plot of the story is somewhat twisted, although the intrigue is not too complicated and the major part of it is being revealed by the middle of the story; however, the main issues and attractions of the story are not the plot itself, but the underlying emotions and the amazing language used for the narrative and the voice of each character. Casey N. Cep, an author of a book review about O’Connor’s life, agrees, that she creates “exceptional characters, living in every story and breathing on every page of her prose, are always cold and dark; their inner lives, like their creator’s, are considered unworthy, impenetrable subjects” (par. 4). Indeed, while none of the characters in any way calls forth a desire to be identified with (except, perhaps for Pitty Sing, the cat), their speech, behavior, and motives look relevant, although sometimes insane, and their descriptions are consistent, the author makes sure that none of them act out of character. For example, the criminal calling himself The Misfit speaks in a certain way that allows to distinguish him as an uneducated, simple man who tries to be pretentious; he is using fancy and polite figures of speech which he mangles and wears “silver- rimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look” (O’Connor 146), but no shirt or socks. This character is a good example of the grotesque depiction of reality, which is part of the technique, often used by O’Connor in her writings. Another outstanding writing strategy is the use of allegory in an ironic sense and sardonic humor with which she narrates the story. The dramatic and the situation irony of the story is noticeable in the plot twist when the family is consistently following the path leading them to a meeting with the feared criminal and their deaths at his hand, and in the sarcastic narrative, the author uses to describe the appearance and the actions of the characters.
This work made me think of the paradoxical issues of spending one’s life without any sense and the ways of searching and finding grace, which constitute the key in O’Connor’s works. John McDermott, the researcher of O’Connor’s writings, supports this idea: “irrational paradox … is the cause of the story’s varying interpretations ….this time-controlled paradox that has led to many false starts. The paradox steeped in mystery complements the intractable blindness of both the Grandmother and The Misfit.” (1). While according to the name of the story, a good man is hard, almost impossible to find in the twisted reality presented by the author, however, arguably, the grace of understanding is eventually bestowed on the protagonist and the antagonist (Ochshorn 113-117), although in a specific manner Flannery O’Connor has chosen to depict it. Grandmother, moments before her death, acknowledges her wrongdoings and searches for kinship in the man who murdered her family in a final attempt to save her life. The Misfit, a grim and weathered criminal who believes that there is no pleasure in life, acknowledges as well, that the old woman could have been a good person, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” (O’Connor 156), thus noting that a person can only keep virtue under constant supervision and surveillance, living “at gunpoint.”
I believe that O’Connor’s absurdist and sardonic story teaches us to see the social and cultural issues behind the awkward setting of the Gothic South and to reveal the critical evaluation of modernity hidden by the ironic narrative. In a book named “The Companion to Southern Literature: Themes, Genres, Places, People, Movements, and Motifs” can be found another statement, concerning O’Connor’s works, with which I agree wholeheartedly: “Stories can be read without full awareness of their theological overtones, and their comic context and realization of the appropriate Georgia scene in terms of locale, language and manners are also worthy of full appreciation” (Flora, McKethan and Taylor 299). Indeed, the writing strategies and the style she uses makes readers think of familiar issues in a completely different way, looking from a completely different angle, and while it is rather difficult to identify oneself with the events described, eventually the reader may begin to develop some understanding of the characters in the story, their motives, and behavior; in the end, it may even become possible to grow fond of these weird and clueless fictional individuals.
Cep, Casey N. “The Artist as Invalid.” The Oxonian Review 9.1 (2009). Web.
Flora, Joseph M., Lucinda Hardwick MacKethan, and Todd W. Taylor. The Companion to Southern Literature: Themes, Genres, Places, People, Movements, and Motifs. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2002. Print.
Genre: Southern Gothic 2004. Web.
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McDermott, John V. “Flannery O’Connor’s Validation of the Unreasonable in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 40.1 (2010). Questia. Web.
O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works: A Good Man is Hard to Find. New York, NY: Library of America, 1988. Print.
Ochshorn, Kathleen. “A Cloak of Grace: Contradictions in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Studies in American Fiction 18.1 (1990):113–117. Print.