character with reference to main themes of the short story, ‘A good man is hard to find’ by Flannery O’Connor. Grandmother occupies the most important place in the story along with the Misfit. She is quite a manipulative woman whose real character surfaces when she is closest to death.
Good Man is Hard To Find’ good man is hard to find’ is not exactly the kind of story that you would want to read again and again. This is because there is certain air of evilness surrounding the entire plot and the ending is pretty grotesque. The characters are all rather bleak and death seems to prevail over every scene and conversation. Symbolism has been used effectively to accentuate the presence of death and homicide. Though there appears to be nothing extraordinary about the story, the only thing that really attracts the attention of the readers is close to perfect development of characters. The most interesting character is that of grandmother who doesn’t have any other name in the story. She is the central figure who is full of life and thus least prepared for death. In the beginning of the story, we notice that she is slightly reluctant to go to Florida for a vacation because she has heard about a killer who is on the loose. This shows that woman is scared of death and at the same time she doesn’t want to be left alone at home. While many critics have shown an inclination for calling this woman mad or evil, the truth is that this character is slightly eccentric because it is quite out of touch with reality. In my personal opinion, the character was created by the author to show how even the ones who are supposedly closer to death are afraid to die and how her verbal reiteration of religious beliefs contradict with her inner values. This is because had she been a truly religious person, she would have been more prepared for death especially it could be so strongly felt in the air.
Thus I maintain that while this character is negative to certain extent, its negativity doesn’t originate from its lack of compassion or love but from the conflict that exists between grandmother’s verbal and true inner beliefs. We notice that from the very beginning, she is constantly talking about Jesus, grave and death but none of those beliefs seem to have really sunk in. Her character is full of consciously created contradictions and this is exactly what gives it a negative shade. It is apparent from the way Grandmother reacts when she sees the Misfit, she instinctively recognizes him as if there was something common between them. Notice what the writer says when grandmother finally gets to meet the Misfit, “The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him au her life but she could not recall who he was. He moved away from the car and began to come down the embankment, placing his feet carefully so that he wouldn’t slip. He had on tan and white shoes and no socks, and his ankles were red and thin.” (146) This is what would make the readers say, ‘it really takes one to know one’.
We can’t say that grandmother is exactly an evil person, but she is definitely not a very compassionate person and would manipulate everyone to save her life. True, this is how most of us would behave when faced with a death but her behavior makes us think that all she is really worried about is her life and not that of her children. “You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?” The grandmother said and removed a clean handkerchief from her cuff and began to slap at her eyes with it. The Misfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the ground and made a little hole and then covered it up again. “I would hate to have to,” he said. “Listen,” the grandmother almost screamed, “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!”… Yes, it’s a beautiful day,” said the grandmother. “Listen,” she said, “you shouldn’t call yourself The Misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell ” (147)
This is truly strange that she would call the Misfit a good person. It appears the woman uses these words without even realizing their true meaning and this explains why there was a deep conflict between her inner and outer beliefs. I get a feeling that she would have given up her children too if that could save her life. Why the author created such a negative character for a grandmother is beyond me but this is exactly what generates interest in the otherwise predictable story. We also notice that this story makes use of violence, which plays a dominant role in revealing the true character of the old woman. Her so-called god-fearing soul is extremely afraid to die when she had been the one who was talking the most about Christianity and her beliefs throughout the trip. It is violence that finally helps the reader see the grandmother in true light.
Commenting on the use of violence in this story, the author herself said, “With the serious writer, violence is never an end in itself. It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially, and I believe these are times when writers are more interested in what we are essentially than in the tenor of our daily lives. Violence is a force, which can be used for good or evil, and among other things taken by it is the kingdom of heaven. But regardless of what can be taken by it, the man in the violent situation reveals those qualities least dispensable in his personality, those qualities which are all he will have to take into eternity with him; and since the characters in this story are all on the verge of eternity, it is appropriate to think of what they take with them.”
Grandmother and Misfit both occupy a central place with the former dominating the latter because of the fact that the Misfit was placed only to accentuate the weaknesses of grandmother’s character. It is through the Misfit’s encounter with the family that we notice how selfish, self-centered and manipulative this woman could be. Secondly, we also come to understand that all her life she probably didn’t even know the true meaning of a ‘good man’. For this reason she completely fails to see that some good people actually existed around her, like her own son. But she associated this term with the Misfit who is anything but a ‘good man’. The Misfit can however see beyond the woman’s fake exterior and thus refuses to pay attention to her constant babble. “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Death was the moment of grace for the old woman but unfortunately she fails to understand what the real purpose of this grace was: Critic Carter W. Martin explains, “Most of the short stories are constructed in such a way as to dramatize the sinfulness and the need for grace…” And there are two ways grace works, “prevenient grace- which moves the will spontaneously, making it incline to God — and illuminating grace, by which God enlightens men to bring them nearer to eternal life.”
In short, we notice that the central figure in this story fails to live up to her own religious beliefs and turns out to be a highly conceited person who is concerned only about herself and no one else. Even at the moment of grace, she cannot become a worthy recipient because her heart is filled with contradictory beliefs and selfishness.
Martin, Carter W., The True Country: Themes in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor, Kingsport, TN, Kingsport Press, Inc., 1969
Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners edited by Sally Fitzgerald and Robert Fitzgerald, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969, pp. 107-18
Grimshaw, James A., The Flannery O’Connor Companion, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1981
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