A Good Man is Hard to Find
"You've got good blood! I know you wouldn't shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I'll give you all the money I've got!" (OConnor). In the final minutes of the grandmothers life it is ironic that she suddenly became such a devote Christian. This newly belief she holds only became apparent when she was face to face with her killer and on the verge of death. Many writers, Jenn Alves-Jackson, Brenda Brandon, and Gary Sloan, agree with this irony that takes place between the grandmother and the Misfit. They argue the fact that a good man is truly hard to find. This essay will focus on the different character flaws and ironic situations that are present within A Good Man is Hard to Find. Also, the essay analyzes how Jackson portrays the grandmother, her actions, and the character flaws that she represents throughout the story. Furthermore, it details Brandon and Sloans depictions of the verbal, situational and religious irony and how it relates to the character flaws within the story.
The grandmother's attitude reflects that of white American Southerners during the time in which the story was written (Jackson). The story takes place during the time frame where African-Americans were no longer enslaved and were now fighting for equality. It is quite obvious that the grandmother lived most of her days with no respect for the black community and only viewed them as slaves. Grasping the idea of equality between Whites and Blacks could have been troublesome task for the grandmother. In A Good Man is Hard to Find the grandmother makes various subtle but rather cruel remarks. The first one that is present is when she said, Oh look at the cute little pickaninny! She said and pointed to a Negro child standing in the door of a shack. Wouldn't that make a picture, now?'" (OConnor). The term "pickaninny" stemmed from the days of slavery where it was used to refer to slaves in numbers, as if they were animals in a litter (Jackson). Even though short, this remark illustrates how the grandmother viewed African-Americans. She seems to show no remorse for the poor little black child whose skin color has probably caused him much pain throughout his short life. Jackson writes how the grandmother displays a sense of excitement when looking at the black childs situation, almost as if the child is some kind of distraught animal that holds no real value in life. Commenting on the idea of Jackson, OConnor gives these attributes to the grandmother to represent the callous but realistic attitude of the Southern people at this time. Many Southerners wrongly believed in the best interest of everyone blacks should remain enslaved.
The next reference of racism occurs when the grandmother conveys a story of another little black child that could not tell the difference between the word eat and someone who had the initials E.A.T. It is understood that many black Americans at the time lacked almost all literacy skills, but this short story grandmother shares with the children illustrates to the reader another important character flaw that exists with the grandmother. Jackson views this story as a cruel situation where the grandmother is inadvertently teaching her grandchildren that it is alright and almost in a way noble to demean black Americans and their struggles with striving for equality. There is credibility to Jacksons assumption due to the fact that the grandmother continually uses the word nigger which is definitely known to be a derogatory term to African Americans in that era. The use of the word nigger is implying that it is acceptable among the grandchildren to repeat this type of language. Even in the midst of these continuous acts of racism from the grandmother the biggest character flaw that she displays is not recognizing her harmful remarks, but instead believing that she should be considered good old lady from the south. Due to her inability to recognize her wrong doings, the stage is set for a dramatic ending involving the grandmother facing the repercussions of her actions.
In Brenda Brandons The Price of Distortion, a critical analysis of A Good Man is Hard to Find Brandon states that OConnor utilizes the literary devices of irony and foreshadowing to convey and emphasize the concepts that are followed in reality, however skewed, through the unique sometimes morally-distorted lens of individual perception. The first form of irony that Brandon writes is in OConnors choice for the characters names. June Star, who, as the reader can easy see, is no shining star of a little girl. We readers realize immediately that this girl fancies herself a little princess, but we also see how her perceptions about herself are way off target (Brandon). She is selfish, uncompassionate and only cares about how cute a little princess she is. At the Red Sammys Barbeque she says, "I wouldn't live in a broken down place like this for a million bucks" (OConnor). On the other hand it is interesting to see who OConnor does not give a name, the mother and grandmother. Brandon believes that OConnor left out these two ladys names for the purpose of having them take the role of the general Southern women in their time rather than a specific person. I believe that this is an important ironic tactic that OConnor is using, letting the reader almost fill in the blank with whomever fits the mother and grandmothers description.
The story overflows with situational irony along with the foreshadowing of the death of the family. Understanding the occurrences of foreshadowing can appear difficult due to the illuminating personalities within each character which seems to pull in the readers attention most often. The first noticeable sign occurs is in the first paragraph where the grandmother does not want to go to Florida because of The Misfit character who has escaped prison. Another more intriguing and detailed situation is when the author describes the attire of the childrens mother. The author goes on to discuss how if the mother was in an accident that became the causality of her death someone would instantly know she was a lady. The grandmother obviously does not believe that she will actually be dead on the side of the road, but this ironic comment gives the reader something to ponder while reading the short story. In a way the author prepares us for the events to come but, unless we read this story closely, we may fail to see this significant point. (Brandon) The playful attitude seems to grab the readers attention and focus it on the spirit filled family rather than the more than obvious darkened irony. The author paints a vivid image of a family environment when he describes the children eating and playing games with the clouds in the sky. I believe that the by painting this type of friendly atmosphere the author wanted to give the reader a feeling of shock as the story played out. Another key point where situational irony takes place arises when the family is driving down the dirt road near the end of the story. This wrong road they have taken is a product of their distorted perceptions about life, and is a symbol of the fact that they have been traveling toward destruction over their skewed value systems for quite a long while. (Brandon) This should be seen as the grandmothers primary character flaw. As aforementioned the grandmother clearly demonstrated her incapability to recognize her mistakes, and finally gained this knowledge of her mistakes when she was near death. This provides the audience with another form of situational irony because the grandmother failed to identify that she was driving on the wrong road until it was too late and the car had crashed. This parallelism between the grandmothers life and the familys road trip is an interesting aspect that OConnor adds to her story. When the Misfit shows up irony comes about because the grandmother must now suffer the consequences for driving down the wrong road and living this sinful life. The grandmother tries to plead her case with the Misfit and in doing so inserts verbal irony for the reader as she continues with the lies she has been living by for so long. She tells the Misfit, . . . Youre from good blood and I just know youre a good man. We recognize that she is lying since she had precious information of the Misfit character who was considered a serial killer that had escaped from prison. Once the grandmother realizes there is no use in trying to convince the Misfit to let her live she seems to have an epiphany.
Sloan writes that the grandmother, a nominal Christian who, before her encounter with The Misfit, has proceeded on the assumption that the examined life is not worth living. The final irony in this story comes as the grandmother has an epiphany, and she senses a new awareness. When she sees the Misfit wearing Bailey's shirt, she suddenly realizes that the Misfit is one of her own children, or more simply put, that he and she are children of the same God. (Brandon) In dealing with this epiphany Brandon believes that OConnor is in a way trying to convey the darkened meaning that although salvation can be obtained, it can only be obtained with an exorbitant cost such as death. Brandon believes that the grandmothers death is used to also create a more tolerant spiritual awareness; a valid reason, perhaps, for living with hope (Brandon). It appears to me that OConnor reasoning to give a drastic consequence to the grandmother after receiving her salvation is to bring awareness that every individual needs to look thoroughly at the reality within themselves, and how we are living out each of our lives.
Whether OConnor intended for it or not A Good Man is Hard to Find displays an in-depth theme of religion which is shown through the literary devices of irony in the repercussions of the familys decisions. O'Connor gives the reader the aspects of good and evil, but even more so, presents the reality that most people stagger through life on a less than righteous path. The main scene where religion becomes a factor is at the end where the grandmother is trying to convince The Misfit to spare her life. She constantly informs The Misfits that he is a good man from common blood, and that all he needs to do is just pray. In the Misfits response he informs the grandmother of his belief that Jesus threw everything off balance, and if he did what he said, then there is nothing for you to do, but throw away everything and follow him. The Misfits response involves verbal irony because allows the audience to assume the Misfit, who is labeled a killer, knows more about the Christianity than the so called Christian grandmother. The Misfit also voices to the grandmother that if Jesus did not do what he said (which he believes) then there is nothing for you to do, but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody, burning down his house, or causing some sort of harm to him. Sloan writes that The Misfit responds this way because he wants to continue a life of crime without the fear of divine retribution. Sloan thinks that The Misfit ends up shooting the grandmother when she calls him one of his babies because of the grandmothers sense of humanness. The murder is perhaps a vicarious attempt at self-slaughter: He seeks to destroy his compulsion to believe [in God] because, in his moral computations, belief cannot be squared with pleasure. (Sloan)
Thoroughly analyzing the short story another form of verbal irony emanates when the Misfit argues with the grandmother, The Misfits argument with the grandmother involves his claim of how he was not there when Jesus was alive, so in result he denies the existence of Jesus based on the lack of evidence. This kind of irony shown by the Misfit is actually a bit comical to a person with an understanding of religion. The whole basis of a religion is to have faith, or trusting in something, someone, or someones larger than this earth without proof of existence. To have this kind of eyewitness proof that the Misfit is debating, is kind of overdramatic and impossible standard for any religion. Therefore, since The Misfit disagrees with the validity of Christ he believes in not abiding by any rule and considers it his right to live how he pleases, even if that means killing innocent people. The Misfit proves this when he informs grandmother that he plans to kill her. Another important aspect when looking at the religious theme of this story is how salvation can be attained though faith. Jesus taught that we are all able to repent and receive forgiveness for our wrong doings through the acceptance in the Lord and Savior because we have all fallen short of the glory of God. It is interesting seeing the contrasting lifestyles between the grandmother and The Misfit. Given they both had made mistakes in their past, when the grandmother reaches out and calls The Misfit one of her own children she receives was likely to forgiveness for the things she has done wrong and ultimately becomes the Good Man that was hard to find.
OConnors story uses the literary devices of irony and foreshadowing to shed light onto racism, religion and certain flaws in each character. The grandmother, who had lived a life of racism, lies and hypocrisy, paid the ultimate price for her actions. In the beginning of the story the grandmother is more worried about looking like a Christian than actually being Christian. We see many of her mistakes through the verbal, situational and religious ironies that OConnor integrates throughout the story. The dominating point in the grandmothers sinful life is the grandmothers transformation with one final act of grace when she accepts her wrong doings and dies with a smile on her face. This divine grace that the grandmother receives and the struggles she faces in her life are important lessons to be taken away from the story. I believe that OConnor leaves the reader with a sense of shock when the grandmother is shot in the ditch for the purpose of bringing to fruition that everyone at times has certain unnoticed character flaws. OConnor is not saying claiming that one day we are going to be looking down a barrel of our killer, but she does gives the reader a chance to reflect on their own life and expand their perceptions about themselves. Although the kind of racism that existed in the grandmothers lifetime is not as prevalent, A Good Man is Hard to Find can be applied to todays society. The grandmother continually degraded other people and neglected to reflect on how she was treating others. We need to take time and exam our own life, even though we might think that our lifestyle is without fault we must represent a selfless attitude and be dedicated to being true to our beliefs and show respect towards other people as well. In doing so, unlike the grandmother and her family, we will be able to finish the road trip we have started, and in the end become become officers of character motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.
Alves-Jackson, Jenn. Good Examples of Racism are Easy to Find in O'Connors "Good Man" Armstrong Atlantic State University-Languages, Literature, and Philosophy. Web. 23 November 2010.
Brandon, Brenda. The Price of Distortion The Flannery O'Connor Repository 2003
Web. 21 November 2010
O'Connor, Flannery.A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Stories. London: Women's, 2001. Print
Sloan, Gary. OConnors A Good Man is Hard to Find. Explicator; Winter99, Vol. 57 Issue 2, p118, 3p. EBSCOhost 15 March 1999. 23 November 2010. Web.
I received help from C3C Yasmin Sarmeinto on editing my paper for grammar mistakes.
I also received help from C3C Sean Alexander on the organization and flow of my paper.