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“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor Essay


One of the reasons why the short story A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor is being commonly referred to, as such that represents a high literary value, is that while exposed to it, readers become enlightened as to the fact that, while remaining affiliated with the provisions of the religion-based morality, people grow increasingly dangerous to themselves and their close relatives.

After all, as the author shows in this particular story, it is named on the account of self-righteous/pious but perceptually arrogant individuals (such as the character of Grandmother) that the saying “road to hell is made out of good intentions” continues to reflect the actual effects of this type of people being allowed to influence the society’s functioning. In her story, O’Connor also exposes the sheer fallaciousness of the Christian dogma that Jesus does help people that believe in his mission of ‘saving mankind’. In my paper, I will explore the validity of the above-suggestion at length.

The plot of O’Connor’s story is a rather straightforward one. It is being concerned with the description of the road-trip, undertaken by the members of one Southern family (the characters of Bailey, his wife, their two young children – John Wesley and June Star and the Grandmother) from Atlanta, Georgia, down to Florida. During this trip, the Grandmother never ceases to act as an ‘authority figure’, while manipulating her grandchildren psychologically.

Consequently, Bailey loses control of the car and, after having survived the accident, the travelers end up stranded on one of the secondary dirt roads. While there, they get to be approached by three dangerously looking men with handguns in their hand. The Grandmother recognizes the notorious Misfit (an escaped prisoner) in one of them. This seals the family’s fate – escaped prisoners decide to kill just about everyone that traveled in the car so that they would not be reported to the authorities.

The closer analysis of the story’s themes and motifs points out to the author’s implicit intention in making readers conclude that much of the blame for what happened to Bailey’s family can be assigned to the character of Grandmother, as an individual who was willing to misrepresent her real agenda, within the context of how she used to position herself in life. For example, even though the real reason why the Grandmother did not want to go to Florida is that she wanted to visit East Tennessee, she nevertheless never admitted to this.

Instead, the Grandmother was trying to convince Bailey and his wife that there could be very little educational value in preferring Florida, as the trip’s destination: “You all ought to take them (children) somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad” (O’Connor 1). This, of course, reveals the character of Grandmother as a hypocritical person – ‘respectable’ on the outside, but strongly selfish on the inside. The author wanted to expose this particular psychological trait, on the part of the Grandmother, as being representative of how religious people go about addressing life-challenges.

For example, even though that the official reason why Catholic clergymen oppose the distribution of condoms in Third World countries, is that they want to prevent the ‘murder’ of unborn children, the actual rationale behind such their agenda is different. By acting in such a manner, these people simply want the Third World countries to continue to suffer from the problem of overpopulation, which causes poverty. After all, as sociologists are well aware, the more impoverished a particular society is, the more its members are willing to embrace religion – pure and simple. Thus, it is indeed appropriate in referring to the character of Grandmother as the embodiment of the well-meaning but essentially deceitful ‘Christian values’.

The validity of this suggestion can also be illustrated, in regards to how the Grandmother acted, after having realized that there was no ‘secret panel’ in the house, which she wanted to visit: “The horrible thought she (the Grandmother) had had before the accident was that the house she had remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but Tennessee” (4). Instead of admitting her mistake, the Grandmother decided to allow the rest of the travelers to remain uninformed that there was no reason for them to switch to the dirt road in the first place.

Enough, the Grandmother expected that her little dirty secret would remain concealed; while growing ever more self-convinced that there was no secret panel in the first place. It is understood, of course, that by continuing to keep her travel companions in the dark as to the secret panel’s non-existence, the Grandmother acted immorally. Yet, she did not act any more immoral than the Orthodox Church’s high-ranking officials, for example, who despite being thoroughly aware that the ‘miracle’ of the so-called ‘holy fire’ being ignited by God himself, during the Easter celebrations, is, in fact, a fake (they admit to it unofficially), nevertheless continue glorifying it.

Apparently, by exposing readers to this particular episode in her story, O’Connor strived to emphasize the fact that, despite the religious people’s belief that they do have what it takes to be able to lead others, this is far from being the case. This simply could not be otherwise; because one’s strong affiliation with the conventions of a religious morality naturally causes the concerned individual to adopt an intellectually arrogant stance in life. As a result, such a person becomes utterly incapable of assessing the surrounding reality adequately. Another consequence of the religious people’s intellectual arrogance is that as time goes on, they begin to accept as true the essentially nonsensical fables, such as the Biblical accounts of talking donkeys, impregnating ‘holy ghosts’ and the sun standing still in the sky.

Even though that, on a conscious level, religious people do realize the sheer fallaciousness of the earlier mentioned accounts, they nevertheless apply a mental effort into silencing the voice of reason in their minds, in this respect, so that they may continue to believe in the possibility of ‘miracles.’ This explains why, after having realized that there was no ‘secret panel’ in the house she wanted to visit, the Grandmother simply suppressed such her realization mentally, as it was causing her a great deal of emotional discomfort.

What has been mentioned earlier, however, is only part of the problem. Because it is in the very nature of just about any monotheistic religion to divide people into those that are being favored by God (‘chosen people’), on the one hand, and ‘infidels,’ on the other, religiously-minded individuals are by definition intolerant. There is another memorable episode in A Good Man Is Hard to Find by, where the Grandmother applies a derogatory term to a Black boy, she saw out on the street: “’Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!’ she (the Grandmother) said and pointed to a Negro child standing in the door of a shack” (2).

It never occurred to the Grandmother that there was something wrong about the fact that her remark implied the Black people’s sub-humanity – just as it never occurred to White slave-owners back in the past that by treating Black slaves as a soulless commodity, they were acting immorally. After all, the ‘good book’ does endorse slavery as a thoroughly appropriate state of affairs.

The fact that the Grandmother was a hypocritical person is also being revealed in the scene, where she begs the Misfit to spare her life: “Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the money I’ve got!” (7). If the Grandmother was indeed faithful to Jesus, as she believed she was, she would not be trying to hang on to life with all her might. After not all, according to Jesus, people’s physical existence is not worth even a penny, and it is namely the prospect of being able to reunite with the ‘savior’ in the ‘kingdom of heaven,’ which true believers are supposed to prioritize above everything else.

Enough, the Misfit was presenting the Grandmother with such a prospect – yet, she proved herself rather unenthusiastic, in this respect. Instead, the Grandmother was trying to appeal to the Misfit’s basic humanity so that he would not kill her: “I just know you’re a good man” (5). By doing this, Grandmother wanted to elevate the Misfit to her level, as she never doubted her own ‘goodness.’ However, as we pointed out earlier, Grandmother’s ‘goodness’ was in essence illusionary.

Therefore, there is nothing too surprising about the story’s conclusion. It appears that O’Connor wanted to say that the Misfit was just as ‘good’ as the character of Grandmother – in the sense of being evil, of course. The only difference between the two is that, as opposed to the Grandmother, the Misfit did not have a socially imposed reason to have his evilness hidden. This explains the symbolical significance of the Grandmother’s death.

One of the story’s discursive implications is that there is indeed a good reason to think of the situation when the self-righteous ‘lambs of God’ even today are continuing to affect the process of policy-making in America, is utterly inappropriate. After all, as it was shown by O’Connor, despite these people’s self-adopted posture as ‘lambs,’ they are viciously minded ‘wolves’ – much worse than those ‘sinners’ (intellectually advanced individuals/atheists) that they never cease criticizing.

It is exactly the reason why self-righteous bible thumpers do not have the right to position themselves as ‘authority figures’ – being intellectually marginalized individuals, they cannot benefit the society, by definition. Thus, there can be only a few doubts as to the discussed story’s overall progressiveness, as it does expose what account for the eventual consequences of one’s intellectual arrogance – even if this arrogance is being disguised as religion.

I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, as to what can be considered the story’s discursive meaning, fully correlates with the paper’s initial thesis

Works Cited

O’Connor, Flannery 1953, A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

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""A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor." IvyPanda, 11 Jan. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-by-flannery-oconnor-essay/.

1. IvyPanda. ""A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor." January 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-by-flannery-oconnor-essay/.


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IvyPanda. ""A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor." January 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-by-flannery-oconnor-essay/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. ""A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor." January 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-by-flannery-oconnor-essay/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) '"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor'. 11 January.

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