In her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” Flannery O’Connor’s seems to portray a feeling that society as she saw it was drastically changing for the worse. O’Connor’s obvious displeasure with society at the time is most likely a result of her Catholic religion and her very conservative upbringing in the ‘old south.’
She seems to depict her opinion in this particular story by using the character of the grandmother to show what she saw was happening to the times. Evidence of society’s “demise” is woven into the story, and presented through an interesting generation gap between the grandmother and her family.
The grandmother is representative of devoutness and Christianity which O’Connor apparently believed to be more prevalent in the “glamorous” Old South. Attention to prim detail separated the grandmother from the rest of her family who seemed to be living in a different world than she. As she organized herself in preparation for the trip, her family was described as rather common people living in a frustrated middle class world.
O’Connor described the old woman as she settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collar and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace, and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet.
In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once she was a lady. The parents pay little attention to the grandmother and when they do, they are often quite rude. The unruly children are representative of the breakdown of respect, and discipline, and are consequently a forecast of future generations.
They constantly demean the grandmother and at one point, June Star even complains that her grandmother has to go everywhere they go right to her face. O’Connor seems to be illustrating not only how times are changing, but how the future generations have no respect for their precedents. The Misfit represents evil. At one point the Misfit likens himself to Christ, in that they both were punished for crimes they did not commit.
Christ accepted death for the sins of all people, however. The Misfit is in a constant battle against his fate that he sees himself being punished without any cause. Although he resists this Christ-like existence he has, he kills other innocent people not to save them, but because “it’s the only real pleasure in life.” Near the end of the ordeal, the grandmother recognizes the shirt the Misfit has put on as her son’s shirt. Upon observing this image, she realizes that to be truly Christlike, she is going to have to forgive the Misfit and accept him as a child of God. At this point, the Misfit also has a revelation.
His lesson, however, is that by killing the grandmother, he helped her find God and therefore realizes that he does have a purpose in the world, that he will have to answer to a higher power sooner or later. Flannery O’Connor was deeply concerned with the values and the direction of the youth of her time. She believed that Christ was no longer enough of a priority to the people of her generation. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is representative of Flannery O’Connor’s concern for the priorities and values of the 1940s.
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