The Grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”:
Flannery O’Connor, the American writer, is oftentimes called a Southern voice of American literature. Indeed, the little girl that was born in 1925 and raised in American south turned to a talented author with deep understanding of human morality. Her individual interpretation of faith, humility, compassion, weakness, stupidity, and many other features of human mind led her novels and short stories to obtaining recognition all over the world. However, O’Connor’s texts oftentimes aroused rather controversial reaction in both critics and readers for very complex interaction of human qualities in her characters. One of her most criticized works was the short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” that Flannery O’Connor wrote in 1955. This story presents an ideal example of deep investigation of human mind and morality.
The story in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” takes place in Georgia in the fifties. In the beginning of the story the author describes the members of a family drawing some demonstrative details of their characters. The family plans to go for vacation to Florida. We see the Grandmother, her son Bailey, his wife, and two children in very realistic scenes of family life. Grandmother offers to go to Tennessee instead of Florida, but other members do not want to change the initial plan, and the road to Florida begins. The readers’ attention is concentrated on the Grandma as a central figure in the story, perceiving events from her standpoint. On their way the Grandmother gives notice about some murderer in a loose in Florida, however Bailey does not pay attention. Therefore, in a small town the family fortuitously meets the criminal, The Misfit, and his gang. This meeting is fatal for all of them. The criminal has a conversation with Grandmother that plays an important role in the whole narrative. They speak about faith, Jesus, and fate, depicting a surreal diversity in understanding these ideas. In the culmination of the story The Misfit kills the family.
“The Good Man is Hard to Find” caused an ambivalent response in audience. It was rather logical considering elements of violence and religious motifs in the story. Critics tried to observe numerous hidden ideas drawn in the text behind the obvious storyline, oftentimes exploring theological, psychological, and even political implications. The most demonstrative viewpoint on the story that reflects the opinion of majority of critics and readers is to my mind the article of Sharon White, the American essayist. She explores the most important ideas of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, expressing her view from the standpoint of Christian faith and human morality. Concentrating on two major characters of the story, Grandmother and The Misfit, the author analyses the process of development and change in their attitudes to moral values. Sharon White draws a parallel between these drastically different people, exploring their perception of good and evil and projecting it onto the reader.
According to Sharon White analytical article, Grandmother is an unpleasant person with firmly settled habits, outlook, and attitudes to the world around her. She demonstrates folly, obstinacy, fuss, and many other qualities that draw the image of annoying old woman and are familiar to most of the readers. The most important quality of Grandmother, however, is her perception of Christian religion representing an old Christian value system. That is why Grandma is oftentimes dissatisfied with modern views, comparing them to the morality of earlier times when people showed more respect and faith. The Grandmother personifies the category of people who believe in God because the Bible tells that it is good, not because she loves God. The change in her understanding of faith occurs when she talks to The Misfit. The old lady forgives the murderer, even starting to love him at the end. This change is probably one of the most important ideas in the whole story.
Comparing to the critical article described above, I have my personal view on the image of Grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. I agree with majority of critics and in particular with Sharon White that O’Connor tried to picture the family of rather unpleasant people, focusing on annoying and obnoxious character of Grandmother. Most of the readers indeed feel dislike to the old woman from the beginning of the story. Later, in the end of the narrative, Grandmother changes her viewpoints on some aspects before she is killed, and this sudden change in her behavior arouses respect in readers. However, during most of the story the old woman seems rather unpleasant character.
Probably because of my attitude to old people in general, my personal view of Grandmother is different. I did feel the irritation towards the family members, but not to Grandmother. Her annoying behavior is a result of many years of experience, and this experience itself must be a ground for respect. We, young people, oftentimes underestimate the views of old people, not taking them seriously and being annoyed at their constant displeasure. Unfortunately, this attitude is usual for modern youth, and it is a true tragedy to my view. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” the Grandmother, despite her resentment, has a deep intuition, which is a result of the old person’s life-experience. She had a foreboding in the beginning of story that something terrible would happen, when she dresses up in her better garment so that “…they know I was a lady if we die…” Moreover, she has a premonition of the tragedy when offering a family to go to Tennessee instead of Florida. However, the family does not pay attention to thoughts of grandma. If they had listened to her, they would not have been killed. Besides, even if the old person sounds ridiculous, inconsistent, and annoying, nobody has a right to ignore or scorn them. To my firm conviction, the idea of disregard towards old lady and her views is as important in this narrative as the idea of Christian faith described in most critical works on this short story.
Apart from my opinion described above, I agree to most of the thoughts of Sharon White as for the motifs and messages in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. For example, The Misfit’s misunderstanding of faith is rather distributed mistake among people. He thinks that a sinner can not be redeemed, and continues to commit crimes. With other words he does not believe in salvation and in God’s blind love to all human beings. Grandmother’s attempts to convince him of the power of Jesus and pray to God do not lead The Misfit to understanding. On the other hand, Grandmother’s perception of God is also distorted. She demonstrates the pious religion, not the faith. These are very different terms, and grandma eventually understands the meaning of true sincere faith when she said to the criminal “You are one of my own children!” At this moment she forgives and loves him, as Jesus did to his executioners, and The Misfit kills her. The Grandmother accepted death with a spirit of God in her heart, and this is the most crucial moment of the story.
Despite all critique, the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” presents a useful impulse for thinking about morality, humility, and faith. Being a representative of Southern Gothic genre with grotesque images and situations, Flannery O’Connor was a true expert of short stories. That is why the annual Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction is considered a significant prize for literary talent among American writers.
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