A Good Man is Hard to Find Many people struggle with the idea of what it means to be a “good” person and what it means to be a “bad” person. The human quest to be good drives virtually everything we do but sometimes in the end may not amount to enough. We all want to be good, but it’s not easy. If you ask an evil person and a good person the same question, “Are you a good person? ” Who do you think is more likely to say yes, the good person or the evil person? Everyone has their own opinion about certain issues, and they depend on their values, judgment, and beliefs to see them through their difficulties.
Flannery O’Connor, an American writer, was quoted as saying “I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. This means the meaning of life is centered in our Redemption by Christ and that what I see in the world I see in relation to that” (Contemporary Authors 402). In the short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’ Connor illustrates her argument of good and evil through a grandmother who struggles with her own insincere sense of goodness, and the Misfit who represents evil. Only true goodness illuminates when in the face of something bad.
In the story a character who views herself as good comes to realize that this goodness that she believes she has cannot protect against the works of evil. I Analysis of a Good Man O’Connor paints her own picture of what the grandmother believes to be a “good man. ” The grandmother seems to treat goodness mostly as a function of being decent, having good manners, and coming from a family of “the right people. ” At the beginning of the story the grandmother discusses a story of her past love explaining how he was the most upright gentleman she met, claiming he too was a “good man. She stated “he was a very good- looking man and a gentleman and that he brought her watermelon every Sunday afternoon with his initials cut in it, E. A. T. ” (O’Connor 98). The grandmother was unique in the way she described people who were known as “good people,” mainly because they were only known to be “good” if it involved her. She also describes Red Sammy as a “good man” due to the fact that he gave out free gas. O’Connor’s aim is to show that the grandmother is not sincere in the way she labels people. The grandmother is only trying to be “good” herself, when in actuality she tries to use it to her advantage ithout knowing what it means to be “good. ” The grandmother considers herself to be a good “lady. ” She wants to look like a lady in case that if she dies during her trip, she would be seen and remembered as a “lady. ” “The grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress… ‘Her collar and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In the case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady. ” (O’Connor 98) So what does being a lady mean for the grandmother? As you can see in the clothes she wears, it’s in part a matter of appearance, of looking nice and being respected. According to the grandmother, being “good” amounts to coming from the right people and behaving as a lady or as a gentleman should behave. In her own mind, the grandmother is certainly a “good person,” as are all people of her social class. II Paradox of Good and Bad O’Connor continues to illustrate that though people may believe they are “good people” they too can misjudge their own actions.
O’Connor uses the grandmother as a symbolism for the wrong type of good. The grandmother is characterized as a woman with good intentions but lacks true goodness. At the beginning of the story O’Connor uses some examples to show in actuality that the grandmother’s behavior resembles selfishness. She claims that she is a “good” person, yet she criticizes everyone and always needs to get her way. First, she hides the cat and lies about it to her son; she didn’t consider how anyone would feel about her bringing the cat.
Yet, on the other hand she is very concerned with how people view her. As stated before, she is a well-dressed lady but her excuse is that “in case of an accident anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know that she was a lady” (O’Connor 98). This shows that the grandmother was very concerned with people’s opinion. She acts proper, has strong virtues, and values: a good woman in her view. But she was a self-centered person who judges others harshly, so that she would look “good. ” One of the people she judges is a man she meets on the road called the Misfit.
The grandmother felt that the Misfit was a “bad” person who did horrible things and was going to suffer because of the decisions he had made in his life. Here, we see the paradox of good and bad. The grandmother’s selfishness is evident again when the family gets into an accident and she doesn’t show any concern for the other family members, but hopes that she “was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her” (O’Connor 100). She tries to divert attention to herself by saying that “I believe I have injured an organ” (O’Connor 100).
A good person would try to offer assistance, but the only thing that concerned the grandmother was once again herself. III Good vs. Evil Problems are also evident when some men come to their aid and she recognizes the Misfit. O’Connor’s connection between good and evil now becomes evident between the grandmother and the Misfit. The symbolism of evil appears when they witness a change in the light. “‘Ain’t a cloud in the sky,’ he remarked. ‘Don’t see no sun but don’t see no cloud neither’” (O’Connor 101).
This suggests that the “bad” criminal has finally met the “good” grandmother. She quickly points out to him that he “wouldn’t shoot a lady” (O’Connor 101). She sets aside the family’s safety to benefit hers. She tries to convince the Misfit that he is in the same category of people with her. “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people” (O’Connor 101). In this situation O’Connor is basically explaining that people do things in life that they believe are good even if their actions turn out to be bad.
A true “good” person would be willing to give up their life to be “good,” and there can be no goal in living life other than being good. The grandmother is so focused on “goodness” at a surface level that she tries to appeal to that same surface level of goodness in the Misfit too. She does this because she is insecure about her own faith. The grandmother’s use of religion shows her attempt to persuade the Misfit to ask for God’s forgiveness. The grandmother thinks that God will stand by her side because she “thinks” she is a good lady and nothing shall stand against her.
The Misfit refuses to listen and believes that God is to blame for all of his evil doings. O’Connor states, “Jesus thrown everything off balance” (O’Connor 102). The grandmother believes that by mentioning God he will try to “save” himself and not commit any more crimes. In this situation the Misfit has shown his opposition toward Christ indicating that he has been cast into a hopeless situation due to his sense of alienation and belief that God and his family has abandoned him. O’Connor describes this in a sense that humans are caught in a supernatural tug-of-war; one end of the rope is good and the other end evil.
We seem to be scared that holiness might somehow make us miserable, when in fact the opposite is the case, and inevitably we feel drawn to the evil end of the rope. IV State of Grace The Misfit had a rough upbringing and his behavior has seldom conformed to the norms of middle class society. The Misfit gets enjoyment from hurting others because his experience of life had shown how others find enjoyment and pleasure in hurting and harming him. He makes enjoyment and pleasure in crime an end in itself. He thought this was his right instead of remembering that rights and duties are intertwined.
His killing of someone as old and helpless as the Grandmother certainly opened his eyes and changed him and it is equally certain that the encounter changes the Grandmother as well. God’s grace is shown to cut both ways, causing the good and bad to come face to face with the mercy of God. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” both the Misfit and the Grandmother are portrayed as being restored to a state of grace. Truly, Flannery O’Connor’s connection between these two contrasting themes shows the true meaning that somewhere deep inside each and every individual lies the necessity to be good.
However, as noted earlier, the spark of true goodness from the Misfit shows clearly near the end of the story. Talking about the Grandmother the Misfit says, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor 103). He meant that in the fell clutch of circumstance the grandmother would have made better decisions in life if she were here faced with evil every day of her life. The Misfit’s use of the word “good” shows that like all of us he instinctively knows about good and evil.
In other words, who would not be well behaved if there was a gun pointing in their face? In the face of death, it may be the only way some people will ever understand the deep-seated reason for being good. Should people be good because of the fear of being punished or because of their love for fellow human beings? At the end of the story the Misfit shows chosen a change of heart towards being evil; “It’s [meanness is] no real pleasure in life in life” (O’Connor 103). In the end the Misfit, representing evil, is responsible for helping the grandmother find the goodness in her.
This is an ironic end to this story because one would think that Good would prevail in the face of evil. Sometimes it is the less likely person or idea that has the greatest effect rather than the strongest. Works Cited Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series. Ed. James Ethridge and Barbara Kopala.. Gale Research Company. Detroit. 1981. 402-403. “A Good Man is Hard to Find. ” O’Connor, Flannery. In A Good Man is Hard to Find, by O’Connor, Flannery; Asals, Frederick. pp. 31-54. Rutgers University Press, 1993. (24 pages).