Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) is an American novelist and a prolific author. She developed and finessed the Southern Gothic style and went down in the history of literature for her captivating short stories.
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In this story, O’Connor describes a family trip from Georgia to Florida for a summer vacation. The parents and the grandmother know that a convicted criminal nicknamed The Misfit is running amok and attacking people, but this knowledge does not stop them from traveling. At some point, they have to make a stop by the roadside after an accident, and this is when The Misfit and his gang find them and murder them all. This cause and effect essay will discuss the issue of moral codes in the short story and provide the author’s background to clarify her motives.
O’Connor’s Concepts of Goodness and Spirituality
O’Connor saw the purpose of literature in showing life as it is and telling the truth. She argued that no matter what religious, political, or moral beliefs a person holds, it is inevitable that they will find a reflection in his or her art (Hatch 78).
In her letters, the writer admitted that she took inspiration from Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas about convergence in God. In almost each of O’Connor’s stories, the narration reaches the point where the characters are tested by violence or certain death (Cofer 163). In the face of adversity, they can seek spiritual insight and receive grace. However, it does not necessarily mean that her stories should be strictly analyzed from a religious standpoint. Instead, they are open to interpretation and can speak to anyone interested in the topics of morality and moral codes.
The Grandmother’s and The Misfit’s Moral Codes as the Causes
At the very beginning, the grandmother might appear to be the most moral, decent person in the novel. Nonetheless, as the narration unravels, it becomes clear that her moral code is based upon the characteristics that would make her look good as opposed to being genuinely good. For example, she dresses like a lady solely for the purpose to be recognized and remembered as one if she suddenly dies. Further, when she hears the story of a restaurant owner, Red Sammy, who let two sketchy customers buy gasoline on credit, she calls him a good man and laments that one is hard to find. Her relationship with religion seems to be strong: she accepts Jesus as her savior and does not question her faith.
The Misfit, on the other hand, seems misguided: he holds nihilistic views on morality and humanity. His moral relativism leads him to reject the idea of any action being objectively right or wrong. Hence, he does not see anything wrong with committing crimes. To The Misfit, religion is pointless, and he openly doubts the existence of God and the miracles that Jesus accomplished.
The Effects of the Moral Codes
When The Misfit and the gang attack the family, every character’s real face is revealed. It turns out that the grandmother has caused the tragedy inadvertently: she lied about the fact that she was mistaken about the location of the house, which made the son choose this route. Moreover, she sneaked her cat into the car, and the agitated animal caused the accident. When the gang starts threatening the family, the grandmother never begs them to spare the children or the grandchildren. Instead, she pleads for her own life and expects The Misfit to recognize her moral code and not kill a lady. Her beliefs prove to be flimsy and inconsistent: despite being a Christian, she does not value anyone but herself.
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For this reason, she spends her last hours not in dignity but in dishonesty and total lack of self-awareness. The Misfit, on the other hand, is steadfast in his views no matter how violent or controversial. He follows through with his plans easily and murders the entire family. Moreover, he even convinces the grandmother of the faultiness of her religious convictions. Right before death, the woman doubts Christ and agrees with The Misfit.
O’Connor left her footprint by creating macabre, grotesque characters and often toying with controversial topics such as transgression of morality, death, genocide, and racial discrimination. A short story A Good Man is Hard to Find was written during her so-called mid-period when her style refined and matured, and Gothic undercurrents commenced to have primacy. This relationship between O’Connor’s background and the works she created is interesting to examine in terms of cause and effect. The writer herself was no exception to that rule: as a devout Catholic with a conservative upbringing, she translated her views into her prose.
In A Good Man Is Hard to Find, O’Connor masterfully outlines the striking difference between the grandmother’s and The Misfit’s moral codes. The grandmother is religious and cares about her social status whereas The Misfit rejects faith and does not limit himself to what is ethical. When the two worldviews clash, the grandmother’s system of values proves to be shallow and crumbles. The Misfit, on the other hand, is true to himself, and strangely enough, in this story, he is the true believer.
Cofer, Jordan. “The Gospel According to Flannery O’Connor: Examining the Role of the Bible in Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction.” Religion & Literature, vol. 47, no. 3, 2015, pp. 162-164.
Hatch, Derek C. “”Even when Christ Is Not Recognized”: The Thomistic Mediation of Divine Grace in “The Violent Bear It away.” Religion and Literature, vol. 46, no. 1, 2014, pp. 75-92.