Monday, October 22, 2012

Displacement, Goodness and Religion

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While A Good Man Is Hard To Find, is a story which employs the search for goodness and for individuals with ethical values, the underlying theme is that neither seem to exist in O’Connor’s story. O’Connor reveals that few things, or people, are what they seem. The theme that is ultimately embraced in this story is displacement, of both religion and goodness. Most importantly, one must take into account the role of both the grandmother and the misfit. They share some of the same values although it may not be readily apparent to the reader. Throughout the story two basic themes are revealed Displacement of goodness in religion and the fact that both the grandmother and the misfit parallel the same values. Displaced goodness in religion are exploited throughout the entire story. Indeed, the characters in the story are, on a purely surface level, displaced geographically. They are not only all from different geographical locations, but also have different beliefs. The family seems to be separated from the beginning. The grandmother, who remains nameless, is also displaced within her son’s family; she is an extraneous part of the family machine. Understanding both the similarities along with the differences of these characters is crucial in the concept of the ultimate theme that displaced goodness leads to death and destruction. The grandmother is a burden and an annoyance at best. She does not want to go on the trip to begin with - The grandmother didnt want to go to Florida (O‘Connor 177). On a deeper level, the grandmother exhibits displaced goodness by acting kind, yet constantly criticizing (even if only mentally) those around her, including her son and daughter-in-law, who she is constantly imposing upon. “Indeed the grandmother is a constant bother to almost everyone.” (Coulthard 61). There is a division between the grandmother and the modern family with whom she is a part of. At this point the reader can clue into the fact that the grandmother has conflict in distinguishing where the past is in relation to the present. This is especially shown when Red Sammy, the owner of the barbeque restaurant ironically maintains a positive image around the family customers, yet it is evident that he is not trusted even by his own wife These days you dont know who to trust (O‘Connor 180). If the reader feels that Red Sammy’s wife has doubts about him, that levies a heavy judgment against his character’s goodness. The Misfit is the only character who is what he seems to be diseased. False religion plays a role in this story as well - Yet O Connor seemed surprised that in A Good Man Is Hard to Find the minds of her audience at least, she appeared to be creating a world without God (McMullen ). As the grandmother pleads for her life, she lies and tells the misfit that he is not a bad man. Both the misfit and the grandmother question whether God raised people from the dead. The grandmother, having similar values as the misfit, agrees with him, again hoping she will survive. The grandmother does not seem to be too concerned about the other members of her family, only for herself. But the misfit knows he is not a good man, and in the end, is the only man he can be when he shoots her. “The Misfit is a man of truculent evil, which is exploited by the heartless murders he commits” (Katz 6). This falsification and questioning of religion were inherent parts of the author’s own life. O Connors childhood, which was supposedly good, remained full of dismay and her own displaced thoughts on her faith, Wrestling control away from her personal Catholic convictions… (McMullen 60). She retells her own childhood experiences in this story. Simply, a good man is hard to find. O Connor is trying to explain that goodness is a rare commodity, and is not easily come by. And again, few people are what they seem.

The misfit, although not appearing until the end of the story, serves perhaps both a foil and a parallel to the grandmother. The misfit is a person, who like the grandmother, lives for himself and no one else. When the reader is first introduced to the misfit, it is by word of mouth. The grandmother has read the newspaper that this man was on the loose and comments on the fact that she did not feel comfortable traveling to a place where this man was at large, although she stated it for her own good. Soon after the family gets into the accident, a car pulls up slowly, “It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile” (O’Connor 18). At this point, the connotation of death is revealed before the reader even knows what it is. When the misfit comes face to face with the family, his personality is contradictive to that which was implied. The misfit shows that in fact he is quite a mannerly man. He removes his hat in the presence of the ladies and is quick to correct the grandmother on how many times the car rolled. His attention to detail is much like the grandmothers nagging attention to the children. It is from this point on that the misfit attempts to keep the record straight. The grandmother right away seems to recognize him from the newspaper, “The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was” (184). Despite the fact that the misfit is a murder and is about the kill the family, the reader feels somewhat confused that such a straight forward good man would kill an innocent family. This is exactly the same question that the grandmother struggles with. Speaking with an even tone throughout the story, the misfit appears as a source of wisdom. He will not allow the grandmother to excuse his hideousness by admitting that he is a good man. Once again making it clear that the misfit is clearly aware of his place. “I never was a bad boy that I remember of…but somewhere along the line I done something wrong and got sent to the penitentiary, I was buried alive (187). It is here that the suggestion of his past is introduced. The entire time her family has been getting killed, the grandmother has been attempting to appeal to him and to get him to simply pray. In her efforts to strike a soft place in the heart of the misfit, the grandmother leads the conversation to religion. His reaction to this seems to be one that he has had before, almost as though he knows more about religion than the free speaking Christian grandmother. “I don’t want no hep…Jesus thrown everything off balance. I was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had papers on me…Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn’t have done it” (188)! The emptiness in the voice of the misfit is not the absence of religious faith, as the grandmother naively sees it, but the total lack of faith that he possesses himself. “The misfit displays an utter cold-hearted nature which is exploited at the summation of the story” (Dowell 7). The misfit trusts nothing that he himself has not witnessed, touched, weighed and measured. This is his reality. It is at this point in the story that the reader can clearly see the similarities between the grandmother and the misfit. Both are confused about the past and its proper relation to the present. The misfit, perhaps abandoned in his mind by religion, has no moral code to live by so he lives by and for himself. Whereas, the grandmother adopts the exact same philosophy. It is also peculiar that neither of the character’s names are ever mentioned, only referred to by their given role in the story. In which case, the grandmother in a way is a misfit herself, and at the moment of her death recognizes him as her own son and understands why they are alike.

O Connors personal Catholic beliefs, as well as her displaced childhood shine through in this story, and taint the character’s religious morals. She grew up in a world where little was what it seemed, and her characters reflect this sharp irony. Displacement of goodness and religion as well as the parallel between the grandmother and the misfit provide an accurate depiction of the images which O’ Connor wishes to convey in this story. “’A Good Man is Hard to Find’ portrays not only the moral convictions of O’ Connor but also her strong religious beliefs…”(McMullen 5). Unfortunately, her stories are timeless, as the displacement of goodness and religion O’Connor writes about can be seen in the world today.

Works Cited

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A. R. Coulthard. “From Sermon to Parable.” American Literature 55 (18) 55-71.

Dowell, Bob. The Moment of Grace in the Fiction of Flannery O‘Connor. College English 7

(165) 5-.

McMullen, Joanne. Writing against God. Macon Mercer University Press, 16.

O’ Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The Norton Reader Anthology of

Short Fiction. Ed. R. V. Cassill and Richard Bausch. New York Norton, 000.


Katz, Claire. Flannery O Connors Rage of Vision. American Literature 46 (174) 54-67.

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