Flannery O’Connor: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

Introduction

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” was published in 1953 and may be considered a compelling narrative about the importance of personal religious and moral integrity. Flannery O’Connor, the short story’s author, remains an influential American writer who honed a uniquely grotesque style that brought to life realistic and flawed characters, making them both relatable and horrifying to the unexpecting reader (Whatley 2). The narrative of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” focuses on a Southern family’s journey from Georgia to Florida, which culminates in their murder after they crash their car and meet a violent fugitive (“A Good Man is Hard to Find”). Analyzing current literary perceptions of O’Connor’s style, themes, and characters that the author presents in her unique way allows reaching a better understanding of the story’s meaning, which stretches beyond the short-lived plot.

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The Style

O’Connor’s writing style could be best identified as Southern Gothic. Descriptions of graveyards, derelict houses, odd encounters, and ghastly natural scenes, for example, when “the line of woods [that] gaped like a dark open mouth,” force readers to feel unease before the unexplainable (“A Good Man is Hard to Find”). Thus, these elements, which the characters interact with, are considered supernatural because they are painfully “experiential, real, and partake of the eternal,” unrelated to the understandable nature of modern life (Piggford 117; Shaw 137). Therefore, it may be argued that the eerie descriptions, dysfunctional characters, and a reproach for anything contemporary help researchers trace the antimodernist undercurrent of O’Connor’s Southern Gothic style.

The Main Themes

Southern Christianity

Religion may be considered one of the cornerstones of Southern culture that may be recognized as altered from the original message of Jesus. Researchers agree that O’Connor alludes to this ongoing debasement of Christianity, particularly by initially omitting religious terminology, which she only introduces when the grandmother uses the name of Jesus “as if she might be cursing” (“A Good Man is Hard to Find;” Desmond 332). Making her characters “fall down, often into pits, before being lifted into the light” is O’Connor’s way of attracting attention to the effects of spiritual emptiness, making the audience sympathize with Christian beliefs (Shaw 134; Wilson 17). Thus, it may be possible to conclude that O’Connor perceives modern religiosity as something that is wrongly showed-off, per her depiction of the Misfit and the rest of the family.

Morality

Researchers agree that O’Connor highlights the derelict state of morality without religion and the soul-saving kindness that can originate from people’s self-reflection. Wilson argues that good and evil exist in all of O’Connor’s characters, but what leads them morally astray is their unwavering belief in their own goodness (15). Thus, the Misfit may be said to retain his potential for grace due to his recognition of his true nature (Whatley 3). Therefore, even though the dichotomy of good and evil may be hard to perceive in O’Connor’s work, her short story harbors a sustaining theme of positive self-reflection and the evils associated with self-deception.

Death

Death is another often highlighted by researchers theme within O’Connor’s work. The nihilism of a world without grace, such as when the grandmother wants to paint a picture of a naked black boy instead of granting him sympathy for his condition, makes humanity self-serving and coarse (“A Good Man is Hard to Find;” Desmond 329). However, the readers are reminded that all people will face death regardless of social and economic standing, “especially the so-called good guys,” which makes O’Connor’s work profoundly religious and violent but also urging kindness (Wilson 132). Thus, the death that O’Connor shows through her characters’ behavior is the death of God himself, which decides their demise.

Why O’Connor’s Characters Have to Die

No character is flawless in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” as dictated by the Southern Gothic style. Researchers agree that the father and the mother are irresolute, the grandmother is egoistical, and the flaws of their parents burden the children’s future, and the Misfit’s life is characterized by violence (“A Good Man is Hard to Find;” Wilson 66). However, Whatley argues that none of the characters may be outlined as either wholly benign or evil, which may be considered a characteristic feature of O’Connor’s work (9). Thus, all of O’Connor’s characters can achieve heavenly grace, but choose to do so only in life-threatening situations, for example, “if it had been somebody there to shoot [the grandmother] every minute of her life” (“A Good Man is Hard to Find;” Desmond 332-333). Therefore, those characters that cannot retain simple, old-fashioned kindness may find only suffering, discord, and, eventually, their death, per the author’s harsh antimodernist sentiment.

Conclusion

Researchers agree that O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is the author’s commentary on the pitfalls of secularism. Her main themes of faux religiosity, wrongful morality, and unavoidable death all link together to form a trinity that should both warn and elicit sympathy from a non-religious audience. Thus, those studying O’Connor’s work categorize this short story as both antimodernist and Southern Gothic, set apart by its violent descriptions of events that may be contextualized only by recognizing a supreme supernatural entity’s existence. Therefore, the reviewed literature impacts the story as it provides background information for O’Connor’s inspiration. Doing so places “A Good Man is Hard to Find” on par with the works of other poignant authors, making it a story that sheds light on the reasons for humanity’s failure to be good.

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Works Cited

“A Good Man is Hard to Find.” American Studies at the University of Virginia, Web.

Desmond, John F. “In Defense of Being: Flannery O’Connor and the Politics of Art.” A Political Companion to Flannery O’Connor, edited by Henry T. Edmondson III, University Press of Kentucky, 2017, pp. 327-348.

Piggford, George C. S. C. “Flannery O’Connor, Friedrich von Hugel, and ‘This Modernist Business.’” A Political Companion to Flannery O’Connor, edited by Henry T. Edmondson III, University Press of Kentucky, 2017, pp. 101-125.

Shaw, Russell. Catholics in America: Religious Identity and Cultural Assimilation from John Carroll to Flannery O’Connor. Ignatius Press, 2016.

Whatley, Sue. “The Thin Blue Line of Theodicy: Flannery O’Connor, Teilhard de Chardin, and Competitions between Good/Good and Evil/Evil.” Religions, vol. 9, no. 5, 2018, pp. 1-10, Web.

Wilson, Jessica Hooten. Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2017.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, June 5). Flannery O’Connor: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/flannery-oconnor-a-good-man-is-hard-to-find/

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Flannery O’Connor: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”." June 5, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/flannery-oconnor-a-good-man-is-hard-to-find/.

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