Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Reading Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

If you want to hear O'Connor read the story, click here.

In Flannery O'Connor's “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the reader is presented with another in a line of aged, pretentious protagonists. These individuals haunt O’Connor’s pages, digging into our souls and presenting us with the awkward reality that arises with generational friction. Yet O’Connor doesn’t mean to poke us with generational divide as much as she seeks to expose the true, haunted nature of southern United States.

In this piece, the grandmother grates on her son and his family. Her grandchildren seemingly detest her, frustrated at her wants and needs, unable to deal with the demands of a fading soul who can no longer exist in a new, more modern world. In fact, as the story’s famous lines state, “‘She would of been a good woman,’ The Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life,’” no person can tolerate her (O’Connor 133). Her star has faded, and despite her efforts to be classy, to set a distinguished example, in the end her life will end at the point of a gun, at the hands of The Misfit, an escaped convict. Exacerbating her demise is that the actions come from her—she forces the family to venture off the beaten path, down a dirt road, and ultimately into their demise.

From the start, her grandchildren John Wesley and June Star mock her, playing on her pride, and attacking her sensibilities. The grandmother is a fossil not unlike Old Dudley from “The Geranium” and thus she strafes against what the world has become, repeatedly butting heads with her son’s children: “‘In my time … children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else” (119). Her time has come and gone, the world has changed, despite her and her regions attempts to the contrary. Thus, she is the type of woman who dresses for the occasion, even if that occasion is a car ride to Florida. So the grandmother must look like a lady, wearing her Sunday best, just in case she encounters her potential death: “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know she was a lady” (118). Even from the get go, one knows something is coming for her, something is lurking around the fringes ready to pounce on her and challenge her sensibilities. O’Connor pushes the button when, after lunch, the grandmother takes them on a diversion to see a plantation house that is not there.

The grandmother sends them down a dirt path, a road away from safety and into her past. She recalls an age were pavement didn’t exists, where everything was simpler and close to home: “The grandmother recalled the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day’s journey” (124). Yet these roads bring danger, and traveling down such a path, the woman realizes she was wrong, the plantation house was not actually where she thought it was. In her internal embarrassment, or in spite of it, she unleashes what will be the family’s fatal blow, a stowaway house cat that springs from within a picnic basket, and in shock, causes the car to wreck, rolling over in the ditch. Victims to the grandmother’s pride, the family rests stranded in a gulch on a rarely traveled Georgia road. Does she admit to her faults and give in? The answer is no.

As hinted at from page one, The Misfit arrives, but he does so in the guise of a menacing savior. What the family views as aid, becomes the truth, people are not always good. In fact some, have no want or reason to be. Later, The Misfit will lecture the grandmother in the spirit of the world, providing her religious instruction that only a cold blooded killer can know and understand. Perhaps he would have ignored the family, maybe just taken their car, but the grandmother calls him out, eschewing common intelligence, and declares that he is The Misfit. In revealing The Misfit’s identity, the grandmother errs once again. In doing so, she dooms her family, bringing the metaphorical predicament she had placed her family in prior, a situation where she was sucking away at the life of her kin, into action. Now they to actually be killed, executed roadside, all over an old woman’s pride and a house that was never there.

While overt, the actions cut down to the bone and haunt the reader, as somebody is there to shoot them the rest of their life.

Favorite Lines:

  • “‘Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground,’ John Wesley said, ‘and Georgia is a lousy state too” (119).
  • “‘A good man is hard to find,’ Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible.’”(122).

Other posts on the The Complete Stories include “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “The Geranium,” “The Barber,” “The Wildcat,” “The Crop,” “The Turkey,” “The Train,” “The Peeler,”“The Heart of the Park,” “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” “Enoch and the Gorilla,” “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” “The River,” “A Circle in the Fire,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find. If the book interests you, please use the link in the first paragraph or click the picture to support my efforts when you purchase the text.

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