A Good Man Is Hard To Find

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"A Good Man is Hard to Find": The Grandmother's Grace

        Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" tells the metaphorical tale of a family's fatal confrontation with The Misfit, an escaped serial killer. The incidents and characters throughout the story are aspects of a plot intending to symbolize the spiritual grace passed from one human to another, without regard for kindness or evil. The prominent character in O'Connor's story is the grandmother, who embodies this grace. By including imperfections in the development of the grandmother's character, O'Connor shows the indiscriminatory property of grace she possesses.

        The grandmother is the most developed character of the story. She contains several traits that coincide with the stereotypical elderly southern woman. Some of her notions are bizarre and trivial, and ignored by her family, such as the possible attack by The Misfit, a trip to Tennessee instead of Florida, and a fear of feline asphyxiation. John Wesley and June Star have little if any respect for their paternal grandmother. "She has to go everywhere we go," whines June Star (194). The grandmother also dresses immaculately, even for a car trip, simply because in an accident "anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady" (194). She calls attention to pointless details such as mileage, the speed of the car, and scenic road-side attractions. Also typical, the grandmother holds a deep appreciation for incidents which are of no value to others, such as the beauty of the landscape, respect for elders, and courting rituals during her childhood.

        The character traits of the grandmother are in no way ideal. Not only is she random and frivolous, but she also demonstrates hypocrisy and manipulation. "Aren't you ashamed?" she asks when June Star insults the owner of Red Sammy's Barbecue (196), but experiences no personal shame at all in stating that "Little niggers in the country don't have things like we do" (195). The grandmother knows there is no secret compartment in the house she wishes to visit, yet she tells the children this compartment exists in order to convince Bailey into stopping. The family's inevitable demise originates when the grandmother sets them on the road to see this mysterious house, which begins the set-up for the spiritually symbolic interpretation of the story.

        Upon meeting The Misfit, communication is almost solely between The Misfit and the grandmother. The grandmother shrieks, "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" (199). Without regard for her family, the grandmother thinks first of herself, crying, "You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?" (199). As she converses with The Misfit, she learns of his decent parents and good up-bringing, and can therefore categorize him as a "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" (203), 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" (203), 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" (203), 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.
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