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Discussing Faith in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

Introduction

Flannery O’Connor was known as a devout Catholic, and much of her work reflects this part of her identity. “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” one of her most well-known stories, is an example, as it features religious themes throughout the encounter with the Misfit. Initially, the grandmother is one of O’Connor’s classic grotesque characters and makes a pretense to religion without embracing its spirit. However, her dialogue with the religiously nihilistic Misfit, another twisted character, as her family dies and her turn approaches, transforms her faith into one that embraces the Christian spirit of charity. In doing so, she scares the Misfit, who recognizes this pity and finds it abhorrent in his conscious rejection of Jesus, and forces him to shoot her. The story reflects O’Connor’s personal beliefs, which involve real religious awareness only arriving once death is near.

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Main body

The early portion of the story does not mention religion in any context. However, one may infer that the grandmother is religious from the general old-fashionedness of her values and her focus on the past. Some of the values that she displays are superficially consistent with Christianity, as shown by her response to the gas station owner letting strangers buy fuel on credit: “Because you’re a good man!” (O’Connor 37). However, she is also a self-centered hypocrite who enjoys manipulating people, as shown by her willingness to invent a story so that the children annoy Bailey into going to see the house. Windriani describes the grandmother as “a Christian in name only” who is only interested in pleasure and social image (52). Her family recognizes this trait and does not pay her much attention or grant her respect.

The character of the grandmother is representative of O’Connor’s general opinion of the South as a place where hypocrisy was prevalent. She believed that most Southerners were superficially religious, affecting the trappings of Christianity rather than genuinely embracing the faith. As she explained in one of her essays, “it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted” (Greif 208). Red Sam chose to trust that the strangers would later return to pay for the gas they took; he was not charitable, just foolishly trusting. However, the decision helped him maintain his image of being a good man, as seen through the warped perception of the Southerners. By telling the story to passers-by, he could elicit a response such as that of the grandmother and reaffirm his supposed goodness.

The second part of the story, after the family meets the Misfit, explores the grandmother’s religion rather than the general opinions in the South. Here, she begins invoking Jesus and trying to convince the Misfit that he is a good man. However, she still focuses on the Misfit’s upbringing and her status: “I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! […] Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady” (O’Connor 45). However, once she hears the gunshots that take the lives of the last of her family, her perception changes. Matthiesen claims that they embrace that scares the Misfit and forces her to kill the woman is the result of her recognizing her brokenness in him and embracing true charity as she pities him (127). Immediately before her death, the grandmother understands Christianity in its spiritual sense and embraces it.

The Misfit’s closing remarks are indicative of the grandmother had become a good woman. He elaborates, in a claim that is central to this interpretation: “She would have been a good woman […] if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor 46). Only when death is imminent do people understand religiosity and become ‘good,’ that is sincerely religious, people. Vala expands this narrative, claiming that the opinion that O’Connor is expressing relates to violence but also sickness, such as lupus, which ultimately took her life (228). Despite her Gothic depictions of a South that is full of twisted characters and violence, the writer believed that they could be redeemed. The awareness of one’s death was a decisive factor to O’Connor, but most could only achieve it while facing it.

Conclusion

While “A Good Man is Hard to Find” can be viewed as a grim story that centers on the Misfit, it is arguably more interested in the grandmother. In her twistedness and self-interest that is hidden under a thin pretense of Christianity, she represented the worst aspects of the South. However, through the events that led to her death, she embraced true Christianity and became a counterpoint to the irreligious and nihilistic Misfit. O’Connor shows that even a person as grotesque as the grandmother could become a ‘good person,’ which was linked to religion in the South. Moreover, through the grandmother, she may have tried to express her experience of discovering that she was sick with lupus, an incurable disease. Rather than lament her fate, O’Connor expressed the optimistic view that impending death helped one reflect on themselves and become better.

Works Cited

Greif, Mark. The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973. Princeton University Press, 2015.

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Matthiesen, Michon M. “Sacrifice.” The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Religion, edited by Susan M. Felch, Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 116-131.

O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. Edited by Lisa Alther, The Women’s Press, 1980.

Vala, João Pedro. “A Good Man is Easy to Find: Flannery O’Connor’s Theology of Death.” Journal of Linguistics & Literature, vol. 1, no. 1, 2018, pp. 221-228.

Windriani, Dian. “Purifying the 1920s Southern American Society: The Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.” Indonesian Journal of English Language Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, 2018, pp. 50-54.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Discussing Faith in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor." June 12, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/discussing-faith-in-a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-by-flannery-oconnor/.

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