Similar to the case of painting, a talented writer manages to convey his or her message and emotions without creating idealized and flawless images and characters. In her most famous literary work published in 1955, A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor tells the story of an ordinary family that gets murdered as a result of an unfortunate occurrence. This essay aims to reflect on the links between the short story’s essential components and the grandmother’s internal conflict. The language and the structure of the short story enable the reader to see the grandmother’s selfishness and superficial goodness and the conflict between her alleged and actual values.
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At the beginning of the story, the great difference between what the grandmother says and does is not extremely obvious, and she looks like a neutral character and even a good person. As a typical woman of her age, the grandmother appears to be an unaccommodating person. Her disagreement with the others concerning their plans seems to demonstrate that she forms her own opinion in any situation and desires to be an independent thinker all the time.
In the very first paragraph of the work, the reader learns that the family is going to spend time in another state, and the main characters have disagreements concerning the location to visit. The entire family has decided to go to Florida, whereas the grandmother would like to go to East Tennessee since she is interested in visiting her acquaintances. The main character uses “every chance to change Bailey’s mind” when they are planning the trip (O’Connor 1).
This includes telling Bailey, the grandmother’s only son, the most recent news about a dangerous fugitive from justice, the Misfit, who is supposed to be near Florida. Apart from discussing this very fact with her son, the old lady aims at demonstrating her caring nature and goodness. She does it by saying that she would not expose her children and grandchildren to such threats if she could make the decision herself (O’Connor 1). At first sight, the character can be perceived as a caring grandmother and an altruistic person, but further events and conflicts demonstrate her flaws.
The narrative structure of the short story is not based on unexpected time slips, and all events are in the correct sequence. Therefore, when starting to read the story, the audience is not supposed to make preliminary conclusions about the character in question-based on how she behaves and changes in the teeth of death. Instead, the reader is expected to get acquainted with the events as they are and perceive the characters’ responses to external threats as new strokes in the picture.
In the rising action of the story by O’Connor, the development of the conflict between the grandmother and her son gives the reader additional hints at the discussed character’s hidden selfishness. Knowing that her son would not allow her to do so, the grandmother hides her cat in her luggage instead of leaving it at home (O’Connor 2). Since her family did not agree to travel to East Tennessee, it would be possible for the grandmother to stay home with her cat. Instead, she decided to travel with the family and, probably, demonstrate that people should not ignore her will.
The description of the grandmother’s travel outfit given by the author is another detail pointing to the character’s superficiality. In preference to comfortable and sensible clothes, she chose “a navy blue hat with a bunch of white violets,” “a navy blue dress,” decorated with cloth flowers, and white gloves (O’Connor 3). In her description, the author pays close attention to the tiniest details of the grandmother’s outfit, which can be an attempt to demonstrate this character’s thoroughness when it comes to exploring opportunities for effective self-presentation. Based on the author’s remarks, when choosing the outfit, the grandmother was thinking about dying in a hypothetical car accident and her last chance to demonstrate her being a lady (O’Connor 4).
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It is worthy of note that the only thing that she considers is what those retrieving her dead body from the car would think about her. Her reflections on her family members’ deaths and suffering are not mentioned at all, which also points to her selfishness.
Throughout the journey, the grandmother makes multiple attempts to demonstrate that she is a good person, but her understanding of goodness seems to be very specific. Being good involves committing good actions when being guided by truly positive intentions and the willingness to benefit others. At the same time, the grandmother seems to emphasize superficial things commonly associated with “goodness,” and the narrative structure helps this fact to become more evident. She complains about people since they are “certainly not nice like they used to be” before (O’Connor 7). For her, being good is virtually equal to behaving like a nice person and properly presenting herself.
In the climax of the story, the character’s internal conflict becomes even more evident as she does not leave her attempts to demonstrate being good even when facing a threat to life. For instance, when the Misfit is about to kill her family, she seems to be more focused on her survival and highlights that she is “a lady,” hoping that the criminal respects the laws of honor (O’Connor 15). Next, in her desperate attempts to gain the Misfit’s favor, she demonstrates superficiality by drawing links between being good and a person’s descent. In particular, she says that the Misfit does not seem to “have common blood” and must “come from nice people,” which reveals her elitist moods (O’Connor 15).
As the threat intensifies, the grandmother becomes even more active in her attempts to be perceived as a good person and ask for mercy for herself, not her relatives. For instance, she suddenly remembers about faith and encourages the criminal to pray even though she does not remember the texts of prayers.
Apart from the language and the narrative structure, the point of view is another important element that helps the reader to see differences between the character’s intentions and the way that she presents herself. The author makes use of the third-person point of view, thus acting as an independent and unprejudiced observer. Without her remarks concerning the grandmother’s thoughts, it would be much more difficult to understand this character’s internal conflict and notice its manifestations throughout the story.
To sum it up, the literary work’s structure, language, and the use of the third-person point of view enable the reader to understand the grandmother as a complex character. As the story progresses, the main character’s attempts to present herself as a nice old lady and benefit from it become more evident due to a difficult situation that she finds herself in and the author’s attention to details. Together, different elements of the story can give food for thought and encourage the readers to reflect on their definitions of being good.
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” In A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1955, pp. 1-23.