A Look at Flannery OConnors A Good Man is Hard to Find
In the short story A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery OConnor uses many different tactics to accurately portray the south in the 1950s. OConnor uses her style, themes, and point of view to tell a story of a family outing gone wrong. The story involves a grandmother, her only son and his wife, and their two bratty children, June Star and John Wesley. On their way to Florida, the grandmother convinces the family to detour to see an old house, and while heading towards their destination, the car overturns. The much-feared criminal, The Misfit, an escaped murderer, encounters the family, and offers to help them. The Grandmother immediately notices the man as The Misfit, and verbally acknowledges that fact. Youre The Misfit! she said. I recognized you at once! (p. 687) The Misfit has the husband and son killed relatively quickly, and even after much conversation and pleading, he kills the rest of the family.
A Good Man is Hard to Find includes a lot of character development, a unique point of view, and the use of foreshadowing. OConnor does this through her characters, setting, and details in the story. The grandmother is a classic old southern woman, who is eccentric and who may come off as a racist. However, the woman may not be racist, but rather just naive and too set in her ways to deal with the changes present at the time. As the grandmother said, Oh look at that cute little pickaninny! Wouldnt that make a picture now? (p. 681) When OConnor was writing she might not have meant to show that the grandmother was a racist, but rather just that she was out of tune with the rest of the world. The grandmother was also portrayed as Christian, one who was displeased with others who did not act in a Christian manner, and with the society as a whole. She discusses this with Red Sammy, a restaurant owner and war veteran. Red Sammy said Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more. (p.683)
OConnor often shows through the story the degeneration of the nuclear family. She does this not only through the incident at Red Sammys, but also through the child characters, John Wesley and June Star. The father, Bailey, tends to ignore the grandmother, and has failed to teach his children respect and manners.
The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret panel. Jon Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mothers shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even on their vacation, that they could never do what they wanted to do. The baby began to scream and John Wesley kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his kidney.(p. 684)
The children were so obnoxious and had so little regard for the their elders or themselves, that even in the event of the accident, the children were only excited, and rather disappointed with the outcome. Weve had an accident! the children screamed in a frenzy of delight. But nobodys killed, June Star said with disappointment, as the grandmother limped out of the car. (p. 686)
In addition to the demise of the nuclear family, OConnor also shows the elimination of morals, religion, and kindness within people. The grandmother is religious only when she needs to be and its convenient. This becomes evident when they encounter The Misfit. The grandmother uses her religion as a reason to plead for her life with The Misfit, and The Misfit uses her religion as a reason to kill.
She the grandmother finally found herself saying Jesus, Jesus, meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing. (p. 690) This statement struck The Misfit and he took the statement as a reason to join in on a discussion. Jesus threw everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadnt committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had papers on me. (p. 690) Even through all of the grandmothers efforts, The Misfit still found no mercy within himself, and shot the entire family.
OConnor also used the point of view as a tool when writing the story. She often fluttered between limited omniscience and total omniscience. In the first two lines of the story OConnor tells whom the story belongs to. The grandmother didnt want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connection in east Tennessee and she was seizing every chance to change Baileys mind. (p. 679) She doesnt limit it only to the grandmothers point of view either. This allows her to give an overview of the story, while still knowing somewhat what is going on inside the grandmothers mind. The horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house she had remembered so vividly, was not in Georgia but in Tennessee. (p. 685)
This kind of insight into the grandmothers thoughts would not be possible with total omniscience. However, OConnor often slips into total omniscience at points throughout the story. The road was ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the other side of it. (p. 868) Also, at the end of the story after the grandmother has been killed, it is impossible for the grandmother to still be imputing her thoughts and feelings. As a result, total omniscience is gained and the limited omniscience is lost.
Another significant part of the story is the use of foreshadowing. The Misfit is specifically mentioned three times, and death is often talked about. After reading about The Misfit, the grandmother advised Bailey not to take his family to a place with such a person on the loose, but really she is just using The Misfit as an excuse not to go to Florida. Again at Red Sammys Famous Barbecue, the grandmother discusses The Misfit once again. In the end it is finally the grandmother who brings the family to their ultimate demise when she recognizes The Misfit as The Misfit. Had she pretended to not recognize the man, she and her family would have had a better chance of survival.
Other mentions of death throughout the story include when the grandmother made sure to dress in her best clothing in case anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady. (p. 680) This turns out to be just as the story goes, the grandmother being the only one who is actually left by the side of the road. An additional reference is the mention of five or six graves (p. 681) at the side of the road and the town name Toombsboro (p. 684) and the hearse-like (p. 686) automobile are use to remind everyone of the ultimate outcome in life.
The gruesome and surprising ending not only shocks readers, but also it may cause them to think about their life more in-depth. The comment from The Misfit may allow people to connect themselves, and realize that they may not be as far away from the grandmother as they may think. She would have been a good woman, The Misfit said, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life. (p. 692) Many people might reflect on this statement, and realize that they, too, are guilty of being, as so called, a good man or good woman, only when they are required to do so.