Flannery O’Connor,“A Good Man is Hard to Find”
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” O’Connor brings into question the nature of morality. She challenges the notion that by being Christian, one is automatically a “moral” person. Throughout the last section of O’Connor’s short story, religious imagery is used to highlight the dichotomy between a murderer and a Christian. By using stereotypical character types and putting said characters into situations that extend the limits of their morality, O’Connor is making the assertion that morality cannot be compartmentalized. She takes two extremes, the murderer and the kindly, Christian grandmother, and flips their roles. When O’Connor does this, she shocks the reader into questioning what is moral and the implications that these stereotypes have in society. By comparing the two, it is difficult to differentiate whose morals are truly superior. When the author plays upon stereotypes about religion, she asks the reader to consider their own biases about morality.
When the hypocritical grandmother is alone with The Misfit, the story elevates itself from one of sequential events to one of esoteric discourse over morality. The Misfit questions whether Jesus was helpful for humanity by remarking that, “Jesus shown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me” (O’Connor 12). By saying that The Misfit and Jesus are the “same case,” the author asserts that there is an underlying sense of morality in him, despite his “character type.” O’Connor is more broadly saying that there is a sense of humanity in anyone, despite what society sees. The Misfit also acknowledges that there is proof he committed his crime because, “they had papers on me.” When he acknowledges the fact that there is concrete proof for his crime, he is held accountable. O’Connor clearly wants the reader to draw a parallel between The Misfit and the grandmother in terms of accountability. While The Misfit is held accountable for his crimes, the grandmother is not. She, arguably, committed the same crime as The Misfit by drawing her family into a death trap, yet the grandmother never acknowledges her mistake, nor is she held to the same standard as The Misfit. She is in a state of denial when she cries out her son’s name after he had been shot, much like The Misfit failing to acknowledge that part he played in his father’s death. The ignorance of both characters is mirrored in this instance. This further plays into O’Connor’s point that these two characters are much more alike than society would like to see. The dichotomy between The Misfit and the grandmother in this passage plays on the idea that presentation is everything and the line of distinction between the two characters is blurring.
The difference between these two characters continues to blur when the grandmother cries out to The Misfit that he is simply, “one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” When the grandmother utters this line to The Misfit, it is because she is trying to save her own life, while attempting to redeem his. However, to readers this signifies the fact that these two characters are in some deeper sense related. By using such an endearing term as “children,” the grandmother is acknowledging that there is enough good in this man to be considered kin. The grandmother sees that there is good in him and realizes that even within “the bad” there is potential for moral growth. At the same time, when she acknowledges that there is “good” within the bad people, she must realize that there is “bad” within the good people. The grandmother uses this line as one of self-actualization. In some sense, she is finally redeemed and held accountable by discovering that morality is a “gray area.” However, when she has this epiphany, it leads to her death. Symbolically, O’Connor is trying to say that with this epiphany that “morality is much more complicated than it seems,” is not accepted. It is much easier for society to look at people as either good or bad, and anyone who defies that tradition will be marginalized. By turning her own characters into symbols of good and bad, O’Connor is allowing the readers to place themselves on the spectrum of morality.
O’Connor uses stereotypes and religious imagery to question whether a person is “all good” or “all bad.” Through her character’s own realization and desperation she helps readers see that morality cannot be compartmentalized. By highlighting “the bad” in a sweet, old grandmother, O’Connor shows that appearances cannot save you or your family. And conversely, by showing that there is hope for redemption in a murderer, O’Connor reiterates that there is always potential for growth. The author ends on an ominous tone. By having the character die after this epiphany, she shows that society thinks it’s easier to compartmentalize morality, than to look past appearances.