Explication Essay on Flannery O'Connor "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"
In Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” the grandmother and the Misfit become the main focus even though the other characters are involved in the story. Throughout the entire story, The Misfit is portrayed as the symbol of evil because he was in jail; he escaped from jail, and he committed murders. The grandmother believes to be greater than the people that she are around because of the “good” that she portrays. The conventional meaning of good, or possessing or displaying moral virtue, is not the particular good that the grandmother is trying to portray throughout the story. They don’t have any sympathy for the lower class, and this shows that they are of a higher class.
The Misfit seems like an unlikely person to have morals, but he has a deep thought process that other characters seem to lack. The Misfit may be a reprobate with perverted morals; he is consistent and sticks by them. The Misfit is very aware of himself, telling the Grandmother “I’m not a good man, but I’m not the worst either” (374). With this consistency and self-awareness, the Misfit can rely on his moral code, however twisted, to guide him in his life. This is really shown in the end of the story when Bobby Lee suggest that is must have been fun to shoot the Grandmother, in which the Misfit replies “it’s no real pleasure in life to kill anyone” (377). He knows he must kill her and sticks with it. This is in sharp contrast to the Grandmother, who fails to live by her own moral code throughout the story. The values and morals that people have make up their character. Moral codes are nothing more than a set of beliefs that a culture believes to be right. The Grandmother thinks that values are based on how you look and where you come from. Despite thinking of herself as a lady, she manipulates and deceives those closest to her. Although the Grandmother sets herself to a high standard, she lacks compassion and self-awareness. The Misfit’s moral code, although twisted, is strong and consistent, allowing him to live his life by it. He is true to himself and does not lie about who he is, unlike the Grandmother. A good man is really hard to find in this story. When Red Sam tells the Grandmother the story about him getting swindled for the gas, she calls him a good man. She then tries to tell the Misfit he is a good man because she believes he would not shoot a lady. What she fails to realize is that she is not calling people good because they are moral, but because their values are the same as hers. The only good man to be shown throughout the story is the Misfit, because even though he has a twisted and perverted moral code, he is the only one that sticks to his principles.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” centers upon two themes: selfishness, and individualism. Essentially the grandmother’s insistence on achieving her own selfish ends results in the death of her entire family, as well as the loss of her own life. This essay analyzes the story’s thematic message in regards to selfishness, individualism and its effect on the family as well as the larger community, as represented by The Misfit. O’Connor identifies the main character – the grandmother – only by role, while all of the other character she provides with names. Despite having no name the grandmother’s character reveals itself early and profoundly; she is obsessed with appearances, connected to a vague Southern past, and concerned with propriety and the value of being a lady. O’Connor describes her “navy blue straw sailor hat,” her “collars and cuffs [that] were white organdy trimmed with lace” and “purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet” that the grandmother pins at her neckline to ensure that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor 2). Behavior wise the grandmother is a selfish woman who deliberately manipulates her family to suit her own purposes unapologetically and with impunity. She intentionally misinforms her son Bailey about her cat, Pitty Sing, which she smuggles into the car underneath her “big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus,” even though Bailey has expressly forbid the cat to share the motel room with them (O’Connor 1). Pitty Sing later brings about the deaths of the whole family following the car accident and ensuing encounter with The Misfit.The old lady began to cry and The Misfit reddened” (O’Connor 8). When The Misfit’s fellow criminal Bobby Lee returns from the woods with Bailey’s yellow shirt full of parrots, a moment happens wherein The Misfit, by donning the dead man’s attire, acquires his identity for a moment (Gresham 18). He, like Bailey, views the grandmother’s idiotic obsession with decorum as “selfish, superficial, and condescending,” yet unlike Bailey, he remains free to take action to condemn her (Kinney 1)
Overall, the story A Good Man is Hard to Find demonstrates a conflict between or surrounding the two main characters, the Grandmother and The Misfit. The Grandmother presents herself in a manner that is, in a way, above everyone else and is swift to pass judgment on everyone else but herself. The Misfit, however, possesses an understanding principle that sets him aside from the Grandmother, thus, allowing him to pass judgment on the family as a whole.
Gresham, Stephen. “Things Darkly Buried: In Praise of A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Shenandoah 60.1-2 (2010): 17-18. Web.
Hooten, Jessica. “Individualism in O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The Explicator 66.4 (2008): 197-198. Web.
Kinney, Arthur F. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Overview.” Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. 1-2. Print.
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing: Custom Edition. Eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2011. 1-12. Print.