Subtle Characterization in A Good Man Is Hard to F

indThroughout her short story A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Flannery OConnor uses subtle characterization to establish the characters of the Misfit and the Grandmother. While some of the characteristics in the story are straightforward and easily understood, others require one to look beneath the surface. Upon ones first reading of the story, he or she most likely believes that the Misfit is a dangerous, bad criminal, and the Grandmother just an old woman; but upon closer examination, it is obvious that, in fact, the Grandmother is the real villain of the story; while the Misfit is a man who feels he has a name to uphold and has learned many of lifes lessons.

First, the Grandmother introduces the Misfit early in the story when she states, That fellow that calls himself the Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen(352);I wouldnt take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it (352). Already, the reader is led to believe that the Misfit must indeed be an awful criminal. The Grandmother is also characterized early in the story. Her grandchildren state, She wouldnt stay at home for a million bucks. Afraid shed miss something. She has to go everywhere we go (352). It seems that early in the story that the Misfit is a bad man, while the Grandmother is just an old woman who enjoys spending time with her family.

Next, although the Grandmother seems to be a sweet, old woman, there are several instances that point to the fact that she is manipulative and hypocritical. Di Renzo says in his book American Gargoyles that many critics have objections to “A good man is hard to find” because of O’Connor’s elaborate comic depiction of the grandmother and her family. He goes on to say that because the family is so ludicrous, “so irredeemably gauche and petty,” that it would be impossible for the reader to sympathize with them, even when the misfit is massacring them. Also, while the family is in the car, the Grandmother tells June Star and John Wesley, In my time, children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and every thing else (353). Then, as they pass by a Negro child, the Grandmother exclaims, Oh look at the cute little pickaninny! (353) This instance proves that the Grandmother is a hypocrite. While trying to tell her grandchildren they should be more respectful as children in her time were, the Grandmother does the opposite. Second, The Grandmother knows how to manipulate people in order to flatter them to get what she wants. She tells the children about a mansion she had once visited only because she hopes they can talk their father into visiting it again so she can see it. Thus, it is very obvious that the Grandmother is an extremely self-absorbed, manipulative woman.

Last, there is the characterization of the Misfit. Even though he is in fact a dangerous man, his is not really the life he wants to lead. The Misfit is a man who questions existence as well as the system. He states, Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead. If he didnt, then its 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 (362). Throughout the story, the Misfit never lies. He is full of respect, particularly for women. Ironically, although he is a criminal, the Misfit is also a kind, honest man.

When the Family encounters The Misfit, communication is almost solely between The Misfit and the grandmother. They create dialogue between each other immediately after she realizes who he was. The grandmother shrieked, “You’re The Misfit!…I recognized you at once” to which The Misfit replies, “It would have been better for all you of you, lady, if you hadn’t of reckernized me”. Without regard for her family, the grandmother thinks first of herself, crying, “You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?” As she converses with The Misfit, she learns of his decent parents and good up bringing, and can therefore categorize him as “a good man” despite the fact that he has killed innocent people. Throughout the conversation, despite the death of her family, the grandmother discovers The Misfit was arrested for a crime he might not have committed, and begins to interrogate him on his spiritual practices. She asks him if he prays and advises prayer as a method for his salvation. Near this point in the story the feeling of the conversation turns from the grandmother attempting to save her own life to a genuine interest in the man before her. As her family members are killed one by one, they become less important to the story, which becomes intensely focused on the interaction between The Misfit and the grandmother. The grandmother learns that The Misfit does not fit into her mold of an ideal Christian. He does not pray, and he is also confused in his own personal beliefs. He believes Jesus disturbed universal natural balance by raising the dead; this act forces humanity to either “throw away everything and follow him” or otherwise it denies his existence. With these beliefs directly contrasting the grandmother’s, and the intensity of the situation, she begins to feel dizzy. As The Misfit’s voice cracks, and he shows a glimpse of raw emotion, the grandmother has her moment of grace. “You’re one of my own children!” she cries, immediately before The Misfit, shocked by her touch, shoots her three times in the chest. The grandmother builds her strictly structured life around categorized norms and standards, but The Misfit defies all that she has come to accept. Earlier in the story she refers to Red Sammy as “a good man” because they agreed on many issues. She also calls The Misfit “a good man” because her grace sees into his soul and glimpses salvation. This moment of grace causes the grandmother to be the ultimate dynamic character, changing from judgmental and superficial to forgiving and compassionate. The missionary tactics she initially uses for her self-preservation result in a spiritual triumph. Due to this encounter, the grandmother finds herself in a significant position and emerges a sort of heroine. This act of grace while facing death is a form of compassion the grandmother takes with her to eternity, and this innate grace allows the grandmother to recognize that she and the man, who vehemently shot her family, are joined by spiritual ties of kinship. The Misfit’s response to her grace coincides with his statement, “No pleasure but meanness”, and when he says, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life”, he only proves his necessity in the grandmother’s religious realization and the contrast between the superficial exterior and the spiritual grace of her soul.

The characterization in Flannery OConnors A Good Man Is Hard to Find shows that the Grandmother is the real criminal in the story. All the qualities the Misfit represents- honesty, respect, and compassion- the Grandmother lacks. The story proves that just because the Grandmother is old does not necessarily mean she is kind and caring and just because the Misfit is a criminal does not necessarily make him a bad man. In fact, he has gotten more out of life than the Grandmother ever did.


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