A Critique of A Good Man is Hard to Find
“She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest.” Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is the story of a family’s vacation tragically ended by a murderer and his gang. After a meddlesome Mother/Mother-In-Law/Grandmother tries to insist that the family go to Tennessee instead of Florida, it was in fact through her own insistence that prompted the family stray from the main path in search of some false, lost treasure. This deadly decision caused the family to fall prey to the Misfit. Foreshadowing at the beginning of the story hints to the reader that while on their trip to Florida, this family is destined to cross paths with the Misfit. For example, “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.” Through O’Connor
’s use of characterization, symbolism and the theme that “A Good Man
is Hard to Find”, O’Connor’s point that society’s morals and faith has crumbled is conveyed.
O’Connor’s use of characterization shows the breaking down of respect and discipline in American society. From past generations to present generations, this message can be understood. Grandma represents the past with her strong “Southern Hospitality” heritage. For instance, “The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. Her collar and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.” Later on she even states, “In my time…children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right then.” The grandchildren, however, are a product of where this gap between social courtesy and lack of discipline apply. In the beginning of the story June Star rudely comments to her grandmother, “She wouldn’t’ stay home for a million bucks, afraid she’d miss something. She has to go everywhere we go.” When John Wesley was asked by the grandmother what he would do if confronted by the Misfit his reply was, “I’d smack his face.” In the end we found this to be very untrue. The Misfit’s character is again the result of the breakdown in humanity, family values and all of the values that have been lost in today’s culture. The Misfit may have some social graces because he says politely, “Yes mam, No mam, I pre-chate that lady,” and apologizes to the grandmother for Bailey’s harsh comment, but there is some uneasiness about the morals his own father had as a role model. There is an undertone that the Misfit’s father had a darker side and had some run-ins with the Authorities. The Misfit explained to the grandmother, “Daddy was a card himself. You could never put anything over on him. He never got in trouble with the Authorities though. Just had the knack of handling them.”
O’Connor’s symbolism throughout the story represents faith (or lack of), and death. The fact that the family had strayed from the main path onto an unimportant side road, where they were killed, symbolizes how people often “stray” from Jesus and follow the wrong path spiritually. Even the town’s name “Toombsboro” is a symbol of death. It was in this town that the grandmother thought the old plantation was. This was where she became sidetracked, again like her faith in Jesus. In the car, John Wesley and June Star were playing a game by guessing the shape of the clouds in the sky. The clouds represent the grandmother’s superficial faith. She dressed herself with the purple spray of flowers just in case she died. It was as if she were taking death lightly. It was when she knew she was going to die that the grandmother started to desperately preach the gospel to the Misfit. At the end of the story, there were no clouds. The Misfit commented, “Ain’t a cloud in the sky,” “Don’t see no sun but don’t see no cloud neither.” The clouds had faded away and the sky was empty, just like the grandmother’s faith was empty. The graveyard in the plantation is a concrete symbol of death, and the quote, “It was a big black battered hearselike automobile,” symbolizes that their transportation to death had arrived.
The theme is strongly supported throughout the entire story and is stated in the title itself, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The grandchildren, the Misfit and in the end Jesus Himself support this theme. At the beginning of the story the grandmother states, “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose on it. I couldn’t answer my conscious if I did.” Suddenly she is put in the situation of trying to answer her conscious by falsely trying to convince herself and the Misfit that he is a good man. When the Misfit plainly admits, “Nome, I ain’t a good man,” she resorts to Jesus. The Misfit then blames Jesus for his actions. He tries to compare Jesus to himself by commenting that Jesus “threw everything off balance” and was punished for sins he didn’t commit just like the Misfit was punished for crimes he didn’t commit. But in the end the theme carries on that even “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in Jesus because the Misfit’s unworthy comparison of himself with Jesus caused the killing rampage. The grandmother’s false hope in Jesus seemed to crumble when He did not “save her” again, thus showing in a religious sense that “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
’Connor brings to the reader through characterization and theme that modern society is drastically changing for the worse. The characters support this in realistic and believable ways. The daily headlines shout out every day the violence and crime that is occurring in our society. In my opinion, O’Connor taps into the subject of religion and if everyone would find Jesus, the culture’s morals, values, respect and humanity could again become intact.