“A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a short story written by Flannery O’Connor in the mid-20th century. Flannery O’Connor effectively uses characters such as Grandmother, Misfit, Red Sammy amongst others to successfully develop her concern and views of people’s grasp of morals and spirituality. She sets the story in South America and scrutinizes the world ideals about morals and religion, using sarcastic tone and irony as a style to portray the theme of good and evil where extraordinary characters are assigned roles for the success of the same. The social setting in the rural South influences how she selects different elements of her fiction, that is; plot, characters, tone and style, themes and symbols. The essay will, therefore, seek to interpret the meaning of the story together with the elements that have been applied to reflect the overall message of grace, evil versus good and individual perception of morals, generally, Christian realism (O’Connor, 337).
O’Connor uses the title with the phrase “a good man” which bears an n ironic meaning in the narrative. The main characters, Grandmother, and Misfit, have characters which are conflicting in the readers’ point of view. At the beginning of the story, the audience seems to like the Grandmother because she praises herself over other characters. For instance, she is defaming The Misfit to Bailey saying, “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like… I could answer to my conscience” (p.341). She claims to be the definition of “good man.” However, as the story progresses, O’Connor deviates the reader to the real characterization of the grandmother. O’Connor ridicules the character of grandmother where what she says to be good becomes bad and undesirable to the audience. When Red Sammy is regretting allowing the two people to the unfaithful people who loaded their gas, she says, “Because you are a good man” (p.344). It signifies that she has an ideal sense of what a good man is.
O’Connor presents the story with a cynical and caricaturing tones. The tones used are brought about by a satire and irony in the whole story which contributes to the theme of religion and morality. For instance, when the grandmother misinterprets the concept of “a good thing,” it sounds laughable even to the readers of the story. It’s somehow a dramatic irony because other characters do not seem to understand whether the grand mother is erring. She tells the Misfit that he is a good man when she wants to save her life, (O’Connor, 348). The ironical and satirical styles of language that contributes to the tone can be got from the grandmother’s words, she says, “You’ve got good blood.” (p.348). It is ironical because readers do not expect such a murderer to be “of good blood.” She sarcastically adds that “I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady” (p.348) which shows her self-justification that she can be saved for being a lady. O’Connor cynical tone in this setting ridicules such perception of self-justification in religion when the plot proceeds to show the grandmother being shot.
Though language as a tool for communication in literature, O’Connor addresses themes like; hypocrisy, dishonest, selfishness and also morality based on evil verses good. Through the grandmother the theme of selfishness and hypocrisy is evident. She clothes herself nicely but she continues with other evils like lying to the grandchildren about the secret panel. She does not care or beg the Misfit to spare the lives of the children but she only begs for her only life. (p.349) It shows selfishness that she had.
The theme of good versus evil seems to prevail throughout the story. The characters do not seem to do good. What they refer as being good is totally evil. The moral standards portrayed in this setting is questionable. Deaths and violence in prevalence in this setting. For instance, when Misfit says that, “Jesus threw everything off balance…, (p.346) he shows a great misinterpretation of the mission of Jesus because the actions he is doing are directly opposite to the expectations in the religious perspective. However, O’Connor shows another course for salvation through grace. The characters, like the grandmother, seems convicted over their past and now they can see things in a new way. As she dies, she says, “… you are one of my babies. You are one of my children. It shows that now the grandmother has seen some new light, she can feel for others and she fits to be a good man, or rather a good woman as she dies. The Misfit shows consistent of character, he does not value life including his. In fact, he tells Bobby lee, “It’s no real pleasure in life,” however, O’Connor shows how grace is sufficient for people like Misfit who have clean conscience.
Readers can, therefore, learn a lesson from the narrative. One of them is from the grandmother that, hypocrisy is evil and self-justification does not attract grace from God unless one has a clear conscience. Throughout out her life, she did not rate herself any close to other people. When she is about to die, she identifies herself with other people, specifically with the Misfit as her child, (O’Connor, p.348). Another universal and untimely lesson is that the grace of God is freely given and our actions do not guarantee it. It is seen granted to the violent Misfit as well as the grandmother.
In conclusion, O’Connor message in the prevailing setting shapes the implication of what is labeled good. In her text, good does not always imply to fairness, faithfulness, justice or uprightness of morals but, through the use of styles in language, that is, symbolism, irony, sarcasm and satire, the reader is able to get the message. Through her influence of religion, Roman Catholic Church, O’Connor is able to shape morals, embrace and address grace (O’Connor, 337).