The Journey in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” In the short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, the grandmother searches for grace and redemption in a world full of sin, racism, and death and finds it through faith. This takes her on a journey that proves hard and difficult and one that leads her to the one good man, The Lord. On the journey, she has racist thoughts, is self-indulgent, and puts her trust in financial resources and social manners. It is not until the end of her life when she finally finds redemption and grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
The story is set in the 1950’s, a time when the world was beginning to change. World War II had just ended and the Civil Rights Movement had begun. The perception of the south was beginning to evolve with these times, yet, the grandmother is lost in her own version of the south. The grandmother says, “‘In my time, children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else’” (O’Connor 1146). In her time, she believes people did right by others and people treated everyone and everything fairly and respectfully.
However, in her time, racial inequality was occurring, especially in the south. African-Americans were not being treated fairly or equally. The grandmother still exhibits this racism when she says, “‘Little niggers in the country don’t have things like we do’” (O’Connor 1146). She herself demonstrates the problems in the old south, and she fails to acknowledge that she does. She praises her own vision of the south that she sees as enduring. Choosing to perceive impoverished black children as picturesque, fantasizing about plantation homes, and reminiscing over gentlemen who call for her hand.
She does not want to escape her self-indulgence and accept the fact of the south is changing. While she may not want to accept the fact, she does recognize the south is changing. She hints at this when saying, “‘People are certainly not nice like they used to be’” (O’Connor 1148). She is talking to Red Sammy and reflecting over the past. She does see that people are not like they used to be. This is supported by Farrell O’Gorman’s claim, “The grandmother does have a sense that the region and the modern world alike are decaying” (O’Gorman 181). The south is declining socially.
The etiquettes that society once had are no longer there, and society no longer holds the religious convictions that they used to have. For O’Connor, her “work is deeply informed by Christian convictions” (O’Gorman 200). This story is an example where O’Connor’s Christian faith has influenced her writing. She portrays a world that has begun to decay because they lost who they were religiously. Sin has entered the lives of the people and the world is not like it used to be. This sin has caused the people to place their faith in money and manners instead of in the Lord.
While the grandmother sees others losing their religious convictions, she fails to see she is doing the same thing. When faced with impending death, the grandmother turns to money and manners to provide an escape instead of turning to her Christian faith. She says to the Misfit, ‘“You ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the money I’ve got”’ (O’Connor 1155). She pleads for the Misfit to refrain from shooting a lady. This draws on her strain of traditional southern values where a man should not mistreat, especially murder, a female. Also, she offers to pay him to not harm her.
She would give all her earthly possessions to survive this encounter. However, her offer and plea are in vain. Even O’Gorman says, “Her faith in money and manners alike is carried beyond its breaking point in her encounter with the Misfit” (O’Gorman 181). When faced with death, she abandons all her religious convictions and turns to the things of the world. While she turns to the things of the world, she becomes lost in the world. She does not know where she is. In the car, she remembers so vividly a house that was “not much further” down the road, a road that lead them to their death (O’Connor 1150).
She recalls all these images of this magnificent plantation she visited as a kid to her grandchildren. She even remembers the exact road to turn down to get to it. However, “the horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house she had remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee” (O’Connor 1150). She had no idea where she was. Even though, she certainly thought she knew where she was, she did not. While being wrong, she still confidently told her grandchildren of the house and its location. She wants to believe she knows where she is. Due to not knowing where she is leads to emptiness inside of her.
An emptiness portrayed by the sky after the family meets the Misfit. The Misfit looks up at the sky and remarks, “Ain’t a cloud in the sky. Don’t see no sun but don’t see no cloud neither” (O’Connor 1152). The grandmother being lost in the world leads the family to a place where the sky is empty reflecting the feelings inside the grandmother. She has placed her family in a situation where they are dying in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing in the sky or anyone around to help them. This is solely the grandmother’s fault for leading them down the wrong path and startling the cat when she realized her mistake.
The grandmother tries to make right by herself and fill the emptiness inside by still calling it “a beautiful day” (O’Connor 1152). She is trying to convince herself that everything will be alright, that they will make it out of the situation alive. The emptiness and feeling of being lost in the grandmother can be contributed to her misplacing her faith. She begins to place her in faith in Southern traditions and money. This leads her to begin questioning her religious faith. The grandmother mumbled, “Maybe He didn’t raise the dead” (O’Connor 1155).
When she is confronted by the Misfit, she unconsciously mentions this to him. She is questioning the legitimacy of her Lord. She begins to wonder if He actually does save the ones who follow him. She has lost hope in the fundamental beliefs of her faith. She is unsure of what to believe in at this point in the story. There is one thing that she can be for sure of, sin has entered the world. The sin is represented by the Misfit. Joanne Halleran McMullen and Jon Peede state that “the first step before the harder task of actualizing good was to represent such a force of evil…in [O’Connor’s] work” (McMullen and Peede 18).
In order for O’Connor to show how the grandmother found ultimate good in her life, she must first establish a force of evil. In this case, she chooses to represent that evil through the Misfit. In the story, the Misfit says to the grandmother, “Lady, there never was a body that tried to give the undertaker a tip” (O’Connor 1155). The Misfit says this shortly after killing the grandmother’s son and grandson and right before he kills the grandmother’s daughter-in-law and granddaughter. He refers to himself as the undertaker, one who prepares the dead for burial. He is preparing to murder the grandmother next.
He seems to murder the grandmother’s family with no justification for doing so and is about to murder the grandmother in the same way. However, he does have his own justification for murdering the innocent. As McMullen and Peede say, “This Misfit kills with the absolute –in this case, theological –justification that dispassionate human beings generally seem to give themselves if they are to kill” (McMullen and Peede 19). In the Misfit’s mind, the family gave themselves to him. Therefore, he must kill them. This justification shows the Misfit’s thinking in killing the innocent or those who do not deserve to die.
The family had done nothing to the Misfit. They were innocent, yet the Misfit chose to kill them. He chose to kill them because he was trying to make the best out of the time he had left to live. The Misfit says, “it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can—by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness” (O’Connor 1155). He is trying to enjoy his life, and he believes to do that he must perform some form of meanness to others. He kills the grandmother’s family to obtain enjoyment in his life.
He performs meanness for pleasure. This comes from his vision of “the choice offered by Christ between selfless love and self-centered ‘meanness’” (O’Gorman 182). Christ offered a choice to the contemporary world; one could either choose love or meanness, sin. The Misfit chose sin. He chose to perform acts of sin to gain enjoyment in life. Consequently, the grandmother recognizes the sin. She realizes that the Misfit represents sin. When confronted by the Misfit after the accident, the story states, “The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. ‘You’re the Misfit! ’ she said. I recognized you at once’” (O’Connor 1151). The grandmother’s reaction shows that she knew the Misfit represented more than himself. She had read the newspaper articles portraying his previous acts of violence. She knew the dangers he embodied. The grandmother had to face the reality that she had just been confronted by sin. “Created realities not only contain, reflect, or embody the presence of God, they make that presence effective for those who avail themselves of these realities” (McMullen and Peede 211). The Misfit embodied the sin in a world created by God and made himself available to the grandmother.
The grandmother recognizes the entrance of a violent force in the world. When a violent force enters the world, nothing can be the same. Nothing was the same for the grandmother after the Misfit entered the world. Her family was murdered; and now, she is faced with the prospect of her own death. Faced with her death, she finds herself saying, “‘Jesus, Jesus,’ meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing” (O’Connor 1154). Towards the end of the story, the grandmother repeats the words “Jesus” and “pray” over and over.
She is pleading with the Misfit to pray and ask the Lord for forgiveness. She wants the Misfit to find faith in order to save her own life. This illustrates “the perilous closeness of the sacred and the profane” (McMullen and Peede 114). The grandmother wants to remain close to God and draw the Misfit closer to Him as well. Yet, she struggles with relating to what is not sacred, the Misfit. She can’t find a way to approach the Misfit with religion. Therefore when she finally does say something, she says it in a way which seemed like she might be cursing, a profane act. Also, it is ironic that she never prays for herself.
The grandmother never exercises her own faith by asking the Lord to forgive her. Constantly, she is focused on the Misfit’s faith. Thus, it leads her to reach out towards the Misfit. The grandmother, moved by the Misfit’s wish to know what Jesus did and didn’t do in the previous paragraph, experiences a moment of clarity and exclaims, “‘Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children! ’” (O’Connor 1155). Then she reaches out and touches the Misfit on the shoulder. The Misfit is not literally own of the grandmother’s children, but it points to the fact that the grandmother now realizes they are both human.
While her exclamation seems slightly insane, it is a profound moment in her life. She was granted clarity of the situation and compassion towards the Misfit. God has granted her grace and redemption. Unfortunately, this grace and redemption was granted in the last moments of her life. When she reaches out towards the Misfit, she startles him, which causes the Misfit to shoot and kill her. The Misfit made a decision in an instant to shoot the grandmother. While it may have been instinctive, it was still his decision to do so.
This demonstrates the “biblical tradition which emphasizes not secular history but rather final judgment and the sealing of the soul’s eternal fate in a choice that might be made in a moment” (O’Gorman 182). The Misfit made a choice to kill the grandmother and send her to face her final judgment from God—the weight of whose judgment Regis Martin believes “she is far likelier to survive” (Martin 18). Although the grandmother is dead, she now has eternal peace. In death, she “half sat and half lay…with her legs crossed under her like a child and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky” (O’Connor 1155).
The cloudless sky has transformed from symbolizing the feeling of emptiness for the family to showing the peace the grandmother feels in death. She is now eternally happy having found grace. In an essay, O’Connor said, “I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace” (Martin 20). The grandmother has suffered through violence to both herself and her family and is now able to accept her moment of grace and be eternally happy. The grandmother found grace and redemption at the end of her journey through a world full of sin.
The grace and redemption she found was granted to her by faith allowing her to die in peace and ready to accept the judgment of the Lord. The grandmother was an unlikely candidate to receive grace. However, according to Christian theology, human beings are granted salvation through God’s grace which He freely bestows on even the least likely of people. Everyone has the potential to find grace and redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. Works Cited Martin, Regis. Unmasking the Devil: Dramas of Sin and Grace in the World of Flannery O’Connor. Ypsilanti, MI: Sapientia Press, 2002. Print.
McMullen, Joanne Halleran, and Jon Parrish Peede. Inside the Church of Flannery O’Connor: Sacrament, Sacramental, and the Sacred in Her Fiction. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2007. Print. O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find. ” Exploring Literature: Writing and Arguing About Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. 5th Ed. Frank Madden. Glenview, IL: Pearson, 2012. 1144-1155. Print. O’Gorman, Farrell. Peculiar Crossroads: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Catholic Vision in Postwar Southern Fiction. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2004. Print.