The short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor takes the reader down a country path plagued with indecision but leading to a promised, silver-filled destination. There are many forks in this road where characters must choose a path. Good or evil, right or wrong, faith or apathy, and guilt or innocence; these are a few of the street names from which they must choose. From crossroad to crossroad, decision after decision, our convictions falter and are worn down until we no longer remember what state we are in: time to turn back. O’Connor drags readers along this path of moral uncertainty until we question our faith in God, humanity, and ourselves. This reduction of the reader to a feeling of emptiness is precisely what O’Connor had in mind. She takes the reader down to this level of intellectual and moral uncertainty so she may clearly point to Jesus Christ as the only lifeline in this cruel and unforgiving world. Just as a personal crisis is often necessary to draw someone to faith in Jesus Christ, O’Connor writes a dark, disturbing short story to make readers realize that they need to have a true relationship with God to transform their lives and make them one of the few “good men.”
By denying us a morally upstanding character to root for, O’Connor makes us question humanity. The main character of the Grandmother, the person with whom the reader should identify, portrays qualities that we do not want to recognize within ourselves. She is a manipulative person who does not care for how she affects others as long as she gets what she wants. This manipulation starts in the beginning of the story when the Grandmother tries to change the destination of the trip from Florida to Tennessee. At first she tries to use scare tactics and even a guilt trip to get her way; “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did” (O’Connor). From her first words, the Grandmother establishes herself as a person who would question her son’s abilities as a father and even questions his concern for his children’s well-being for her own selfish agenda. Upon reading the story for the second time, this remark from the Grandmother carries a much heavier weight. It appears as a curse on Bailey for not giving her what she wants, and she even goes so far as to blame him for the tragedy they go through later in the story. However, the whole reason the family is put into its predicament was in fact a result of the Grandmother’s selfish desires and her deceptive ability to get what she wants. During the car ride, the Grandmother “craftily” says, “There was a secret-panel in this house, and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through but it was never found . . .” O’Connor specifically uses the adverb “craftily” to show that the Grandmother knows exactly what is going to happen by mentioning unfound family silver. Just as she plans, the kids immediately erupt into a cacophony of demands to see the house. She manipulates the children to use their unattractive qualities for her benefit and plays off of the weakness of Bailey to deny the children what they want. For whom is the reader left to care? The Grandmother who tricks her own family, the father with no control over his children, the kids who have no manners at all or respect for their elders? There is no one. Each character has major flaws that prevent the reader from connection with them. These characters remind us of our own negative qualities, and we don’t want to recognize that these bad qualities may make us as unattractive to others as these characters are to them. The last hope that we cling to is that before we die, we will rid ourselves of these imperfections and become the “good men” that we have always wanted to be. But even this last lifeline is cut by O’Connor.
O’Connor shows that each character maintains their flaws even with the prospect of eminent death to remind us that we too remain sinners and apathetic in our faith though we may die at any time. Each family member goes off to his or her death after a clear display that they have held onto their faults. Bailey announces to the family, “Everybody shut up and let me handle this!” and then proceeds to do nothing. He has for the last time shown the lack of patience he has for his family and his inability to control a situation, just as he has never been able to control his family. His daughter, June Star, also can’t manage to change her ways as proven by her comments, “I don’t want to hold hands with him… He reminds me of a pig.” She has no respect for her elders, and, worse than that, no recognition of her situation. Her father and brother have just been shot, but she is too self-absorbed to think past her own desire to not hold hands with an ugly man. Soon, only the Grandmother is left to prove herself in these final moments. In her conversation with The Misfit, the Grandmother poses the question, “Do you ever pray?” because she thinks that by reminding the Misfit of the eternal consequences of his actions he will show her mercy, not because she is a religious person. She resorts to her manipulation, just as the rest of her family resorted to their own flaws. The superficiality of the Grandmother’s faith comes through in their conversation. The Misfit shows that he explored his faith deeply and has powerful convictions on what could have been if he had been there to witness Jesus’s miracles whereas the Grandmother is a broken record, demanding prayer. Through this conversation O’Connor tells the reader that one cannot be complacent in faith and accepting of faults. She portrays the difference between the Grandmother’s factual knowledge that Jesus died for our sins and the Misfit’s complete belief that “If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him.” O’Connor calls for, just like the Misfit does, a complete decision with a sense of urgency. She calls for an end to “lukewarm Christians”; either transform your lives to be in a true relationship with God or let go all pretenses of moral values.
O’Connor proves that by choosing to have real faith in Jesus Christ one can become a “good man” through the Grandmother’s final action on this earth. The Misfit’s emotion on the effect Jesus Christ has on his life finally breaks down the Grandmother’s false faith. Whereas she previously stood over The Misfit, condescendingly looking down on him, she now “sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her” and found the humility of a real disciple of Christ. By admitting, “Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,” the Grandmother acknowledges that she has never had true faith in Jesus and that this is the first time that she really ponders what it means to be a Christian. Through humbling herself, she is able to have a moment of clarity, the moment when God redeems her life. She then portrays God’s greatest commandment of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” in her final moments by visibly reaching out to help the man who should be her greatest enemy. This act of unconditional love shows that the Grandmother is now a truly unselfish disciple, the complete opposite of the self-absorbed manipulator we previously see. O’Connor proves that the one way we can truly transform our lives is through Jesus Christ. She doesn’t, however, give a false illusion that a true relationship with Jesus will spare us the suffering that comes in this life. We all suffer and die on this earth, but the difference in the eternal lives of those who followed Jesus Christ is made clear.
After showing us that Jesus Christ is the answer to transforming our lives, O’Connor clarifies that a true “good man” is one who lives a complete life filled with Jesus, not just a few dying moments. After shooting the Grandmother, the Misfit reflects to himself out loud, “She would of been a good woman … if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Through this final reflection, the Misfit shows that he recognizes the transformation for the better that occurred in the final moments of her life, but he also sees that it was only the pressure of knowing that she was going to die that led to the complete turnaround of her life. Through the Misfit, O’Connor tells us that we must live every day of our lives with eternal life in mind. If we live out the rest of our time on earth like the Grandmother lived in her last few breaths, then we will be “good men.”
O’Connor challenges us through this short story to start a true relationship with Jesus Christ, casting aside the faults and flaws that we embody daily and instead expressing unconditional love to all people including those who hurt us. Though we can never completely rid ourselves of our flaws, we can follow in the footsteps of the one true good man, Jesus Christ. Although He most verily is “hard to find,” the journey of faith that leads you to Him will redeem your life and finding Him is the key to the Gates of Heaven and eternal happiness.
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