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A Good Man is Hard to Find by O’Connor

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The oeuvre of Flannery O’Connor consists of two novels and thirty-two short stories that deal with very important social and ethic issues. She explores the ideas of religion, fate, morality, compassion, and many other crucial concepts. O’Connor is not generous in inhabiting her works with positive characters and in most cases she focuses on the analysis of human weaknesses, errors, and sins. The short story called A Good Man is Hard to Find is not an exception. To show the depth of moral degradation and skewed interpretation of ethic values, O’Connor skillfully combines specific symbolic setting of the story with a rather sarcastic tone. Such complex and multidimensional narrative is formed around the character of grandmother that is used by the author to strengthen and intensify the message about the ambiguity and controversy of a “good man” concept.

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The story starts with a family discussing their plans related to their trip to Florida. The family consists of an old woman, her son Bailey, his wife, and their three children with one of them being a small baby. The grandmother tells the rest of the family that she read about the Misfit, a dangerous criminal escaping the prison. The next morning they seat into the car and start their trip. Some time later they stop for a snack at a café called The Tower where they talk to the owner of this place, Red Sammy, and his wife. Some hours later, when the family continues their trip, the grandmother remembers an old plantation house and makes the rest of the family to turn off their route and visit this place. When they turn off the road, the grandmother suddenly remembers that the house was “not in Georgia but in Tennessee” (O’Connor, n.d.). At this moment their car flips over and falls into the ditch. The family members are hurt, but all alive. Waiting for someone to help them, they face the Misfit with his minions. He orders to take all members of the family to the forest and the grandmother hears shots. However, she tries to talk with the Misfit about God and persuade him to pray. At the end of the story he shots the old woman.

The story is written from the third person, but the grandmother is the character the readers receive most information about. All other characters, except probably the Misfit, are represented by O’Connor in only a few lines and it requires much imagination to understand what kind of people they are as it is necessary to reconstruct many different aspects on the basis of very scarce description. However, the grandmother seems to be the central character of the whole story. She appears from the first sentence of the story that says, “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida” (O’Connor, n.d.). Therefore, the first thing the readers learn about the grandmother is related to her wishes. Moreover, this phrase implies that the grandmother’s plans and desires are opposite to the wishes of her relatives. The second sentence proves this assumption and shows that the grandmother in this story is a skilled manipulator. O’Connor (n.d.) writes, “She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind”. However, the grandmother is so obsessed with the idea of making everybody obey her wishes that she does not seem to understand that her son is her only relative she can live with and if he refuses to support her, she would probably have a difficult life.

In addition to grandmother’s constant wish to manipulate others, the most thought-provoking element of this character is the way she defines the concept of a “good man”. Although the phrase that becomes the title of this short story “A good man is hard to find” is pronounced by Red Sammy, the owner of the filling station and a café, this philosophy perfectly reflects the grandmother’s way to treat all other people. She thinks that it is enough to dress smartly and wear an elegant hat to be called a “lady”. Her primary reason for dressing in that way is explained by the following sentence, “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor, n.d.). The character of the grandmother helps the writer communicate the idea about growing moral shallowness of people. The grandmother does not care about true values, but is completely focused on the external manifestation of the status. Moreover, her moral degradation is clearly seen is the scene when she talks to the Misfit. The grandmother is very quick in calling others “good men” when it brings her some profit. She calls Red Sammy a “good man” as she wants to produce impression on him and seem a decent old lady to him, but, at the same time, she is not afraid to call the Misfit in the same way. She says to him, “You shouldn't call yourself The Misfit because I know you're a good man at heart” (O’Connor, n.d.). It is especially important to remember that she pronounces this phrase when it becomes clear that the criminal is ready to shoot the whole family. Therefore, at the beginning of the story, she exerted every effort to persuade her son to go to Tennessee by scaring him with the prospect of meeting the Misfit and a day later she does not only tell the Misfit that he is a good man, but she seems to believe in that herself. After the Misfit killed all the rest of the family, she is still able to tell him, “Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!” (O’Connor, n.d.).

To intensify the ideas of moral degradation, O’Connor uses a very specific setting that symbolically reflects human inability to distinguish good and evil. When the writer describes the place where the car turned off the main road for the family members to have a look at the house that the grandmother wanted to see, she writes, “The dirt road was hilly and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on dangerous embankments” (O’Connor, n.d.). By including such adjectives as “dirt”, “sharp” and “dangerous”, O’Connor makes the readers anticipate that something very bad may occur to the family. This setting is also a metaphor to people who turn off the good road of high moral values and deepen into the “dirt” of moral degradation. The writer also mentions “woods, tall and dark and deep” that were located near the ditch where the car flipped over (O’Connor, n.d.). These woods eventually become the place where the Misfit kills all the family except the grandmother. O’Connor is very careful in choosing the place where the events of the story take place as the setting should support the analysis of the main themes and intensify the ideas that the writer tries to communicate to the audience.

O’Connor uses many symbols in her short story. For example, at the beginning of the text, the author says that the grandmother wears “a bunch of white violets on the brim” of the hat (O’Connor, n.d.). According to the grandmother’s perspective, such outfit and especially this elegant hat should tell everyone that she is a lady and, as a result, should be respected. However, the further development of the events is rather ironic as when the car crashes, her looks change to rather bad – “the violet spray hanging off the side” (O’Connor, n.d.). The bunch of artificial violets proves to be of no help in persuading the Misfit to let her live. Another important symbol that tells the readers about the moral degradation of the people is represented in the O’Connor’s description of the cloudless sky that is frequently mentioned in the text. One of the most distinctive features of the sky is its emptiness as there is nothing there (neither clouds, nor the sun or the stars). The state of being empty here corresponds to the general moral condition of modern people. They lost all ethic landmarks and confused standards, so they appear to find themselves in the situation when the concept of a “good man” becomes too vague and deprived of any true value.

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To conclude, A Good Man is Hard to Find is an example of a short story that deals with very important moral and ethical issues. The writer focuses on the impressive and thought-provoking description of moral degradation of people in the middle of the twentieth century and shows that the concept of a “good man” has lost its primary meaning and is used by people when they wish to manipulate others. To communicate these ideas to the audience, O’Connor makes the character of the grandmother the central figure in the story that helps the writer convey the main philosophical ideas. In addition, O’Connor relies on the metaphoric meaning of the setting she chooses for her story and includes a number of very important symbols that play a crucial role in the narrative.

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