The protagonists in Flannery OConnor’s play A Decent Man Is Hard to Find live by a variety of spiritual values, and the plot title, as well as the majority of the grandmother dialogue, address the concept of goodness. In the book, the grandmother uses the words “good guy” many times to emphasize their importance; but, in some situations, she seems to use them loosely. She is convinced that Misfit is a decent soul, despite the fact that he has just killed her whole family. This raises the question of whether being successful refers to a person’s intrinsic character or actual actions. According to the grandmother, being a decent person entails being truthful, compassionate, and friendly. She says to Red Sammy that he is a good man although he had trusted strangers blindly. Talking to Misfit, she constantly asserts that he would never kill an old lady. The grandmother’s sense of goodness is founded on the traditional ideals even in the face of a cruel killer; she believes that her old age and decency shall keep Misfit from hurting her.
According to Misfit, nonetheless, the query of what is a good man is quite an insignificant. He insists that he had always known that he was not a good man, that he was always different from his siblings. He looks at his wrongdoing very casually. Apart from when he is talking to the grandmother, he seems not to compare himself against any standard of excellent character and, therefore, he does not regard himself as ethically inferior or evil. Rather, he just does what he desires.
Flannery O’Connor does not try to answer what genuine goodness is, but instead adds complexity to it. By depicting various ironic models of a good person, that is the grandmother, Red Sammy, Bailey, she causes the reader to feel the ambiguity of the morality as well as the intricacy of the question. By cutting through the core of the matter completely, she introduces Misfit, whose very presence threatens the legitimacy of any type of idea of goodness. Her aim is not to answer such questions, but rather to make readers aware of how verbalized ideas and clichés do not touch the authentic puzzles of existence.
Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida, and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did. (O’Connor 137)
What is seen here is a somewhat absurd warning from the grandmother. Firstly, it makes an introduction of Misfit right at the beginning of the novel and makes the readers feel that the confrontation with Misfit is expected. Additionally, it creates the narrative’s great irony: grandmother shall be the one bringing people to Misfit, since she takes them on the wrong route, circuitously causing an accident. Although the encounter was unintentional, should she be blamed for this? Here the grandmother is positioning herself as a good person because good people follow their conscience.
Red Sammy said:
A good man is hard to find. Everything is getting terrible. I remember that day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more. (O’Connor 142)
As Sammy grumbles that it is difficult to become a good man, he seems to imply that honorable individuals are difficult to find. “A good person” to him means “a dependable person,” just as grandmother thinks. Obviously, grandmother, who is a good person, and her family shall meet someone from the other kind, just as the title foretells. There is also irony in what Sammy says, since the encounter with true evil shall bring the issue of what it implies to be good. It may be different from what the two presume. The grandmother even said “You must have stolen something.” Misfit scoffed vaguely. “Nobody had nothing I wanted,” he stated. “It was a head-doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie” (O’Connor 150).
Grandmother is attempting to persuade him that he is a decent man in spite of his crime of stealing. Misfit, however, seems just to enjoy doing evil acts because he can. “She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” (O’Connor 153).
It is interesting to see Misfit talking about goodness, yet he is evil himself. Misfit is judging the grandmother that she could have been good only if someone would constantly kill her. This means that it was their encounter and her death was what made her honorable, which adds to the puzzle about what does it really mean to be good in the novel?
Shut up, Bobby Lee. It’s no real pleasure in life. (O’Connor 153)
Ironically, at this point Misfit does not feel good about shooting the grandmother, even though he had previously asserted that meanness is the only pleasurable thing in life. Either killing grandmother greatly affected him or he is changing to become a better man.
The author has employed symbolism and foreshadowing in the novel to describe the family’s imminent death in spite of them being good people. Toomsboro is referenced as a city which the family passes through when grandmother remembers an old plantation that is simply not there. The name of the city, Toomsboro, sounds like a tomb and is referenced right before Misfit shows up. It is foreshadowing the family’s imminent death. The forest where the family is entrapped is dark and deep which adds to the feeling of impending death. The forest is intimidating and hints the looming demise of the family.
It is also interesting to notice that grandmother mentioned six graves on their voyage and, ironically, they are six family members. This way the author foreshadows their death even more. The black hearse-like automobile is used by Misfit. Hearse is a car used to transport coffins. In spite of Misfit coming in a hearse-like car implying he is bringing death, the grandmother still thinks he is a good man and will not kill her.
Nostalgia is also employed in the novel. Grandmother’s, Sammy’s, and Misfit’s nostalgia of the past shows that they assume that good men were common in the past but not today. Sammy and the grandmother recall the past when there was trust and honor among people. Misfit also remembers what his father stated, along with the inequality of his punishment for offenses he did not commit. From the descriptions of the characters, the present is full of uncertainty and sadness and, in a way, this conviction enables them to stop exploring their potential for goodness, since they think that the current world is not conducive to it. The author manages to combine all figurative language and symbols to bring out the theme of goodness as well as mystery to its real meaning.
O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: And Other Stories. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1977.