The Grandmother A Flawed But Pitiful Character English Literature Essay

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In the story of 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' written by Flannery O'Connor, the writer portrays the Grandmother as a deeply flawed character, but she nonetheless evokes sympathy from the readers for her. The Grandmother is the main character in this short story.. Flannery O'Connor also added various references to the Grandmother's traditional southern values in the short story, which will enhance her portrayal as a flawed character.

At the start of the story, the Grandmother was unable to persuade Bailey, her son, to drive to East Tennessee for the holiday. On the way to Florida, the Grandmother persuades Bailey to stop off at a dirt road to see an old house which she visited once when she was a young lady. But the Grandmother realised that she remembered the location of the house wrongly, and that Bailey was driving towards a non-existent destination. She was flustered by the small mistake and set off a chain of events which contributed to the killing of the entire family. 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' has many elements of the southern gothic literature, with violence, horror and dismal surroundings present in O'Connor's stories. By referencing some of her other literary works, which include 'Good Country People' and 'The Life You Save May Be Your Own', we can tell that her white characters are often deeply flawed - often racist, hypocritical, self centred and usually unlikeable.

At the start of the short story we can form an image of the Grandmother trying to manipulate her family members to achieve her goal of going back to East Tennessee. The Grandmother said 'you all ought to take them somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world', but her ulterior motive was the first and foremost to return and 'visit some of her connections in East Tennessee'. 'She was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind', and when Bailey ignored her request, she tried to coerce June Star into agreeing with her or else she would not curl June Star's hair. The Grandmother implemented deliberate action to get to her personal goal even though the characters being manipulated were her own family members.

During the journey for Florida, she successfully manipulated her grandchildren, deliberately enticing them with the promise that there would be a 'secret panel' in the old house just a little way off, accessible by a dirt road, where 'all the family silver was hidden in it'. The readers know that there were no secret panels at all and the Grandmother just wanted to 'find out if the little twin arbors were still standing.' It was not a selfish notion to revisit one's childhood home, but it was a deliberate lie to the grandchildren so that they would persuade Bailey to drive back. O'Connor also added a word, 'craftily' to portray the Grandmother as a wily fox with a personal scheme in mind.

At the end of the short story, the Grandmother valued her life so much that she only pleaded for her life. The dialogue between her and the Misfit started when the Grandmother asked 'you wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?' It was a reference to her being a lady, and 'a' would highlight the fact that she didn't ask 'you wouldn't shoot us, would you?' Indeed, Stephen C. Bandy wrote a journal article which commented that 'there are surely many others who can only be appalled by a calculating opportunist who is capable of embracing her family's murderer, to save her own skin." As part of the Grandmother's traditional upbringing in the South, she believed that a gentleman should ensure a lady's safety and she wanted to ensure her safety, because she was 'a lady'.

Also, the grandmother believed that certain people, like the Misfit had 'good blood', and that she judged a person by the superficial appearance of the person. One of the traditional southern beliefs of the Grandmother was that a person could be considered a good person based on their ancestry or blood. A person from an aristocratic family would be a better person than a person from a proletariat family. She judges people by their behaviour but her own behaviour isn't exemplary or virtuous as she called the negro a 'little pickaninny', which is derogatory term. In 'The Displaced Person' by O'Connor, Mrs McIntyre also had a desire to feel superior to another race. Also, the Grandfather in 'The Artificial Nigger' was racist and the same theme of racism is also reflected in the Grandmother here, as she feels condescension towards the Negro.

We are able to pity the Grandmother as she was severely shocked by the death of her family members. She believed in the importance of being a lady, and took great care with her appearance when going on the ride. 'Anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.' To the Grandmother, who lived by her traditional southern values for the entire of her life, it must have been a great blow when the Misfit ordered his accomplices to shoot Bailey's wife and children, for it was not an act of a gentleman to commit murder.

Flannery O'Connor induces pity from the readers for the Grandmother by subtly introducing little bits and pieces of the puzzle. The Grandmother was slighted by the grand children who were so young and inexperienced at the start of the story and she had a fear that Bailey would strike her out of anger for bringing Pitty Sing on the trip. The Grandmother loves her family but her love isn't reciprocated by any member of the family. Bailey boy 'didn't look up from his reading' when she tried to change his mind about going to Florida and the children's mother 'didn't seem to hear her'. John Wesley retorted that the grandmother could always 'stay at home', without any consideration for her comfort.

The Grandmother was injured in the car accident but June Star only exclaimed her disappointment that 'nobody's killed', as 'the grandmother limped out of her car'. This implies that June Star will be immune to the Grandmother's death, it doesn't matter if she dies. The Grandmother had to curl up under the dashboard and hope she was 'injured', for that would be better than 'Bailey's wrath coming down on her all at once'. At the start of the story, the Grandmother took great care with her appearance, wearing a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets contained a sachet. This also embodies the southern values of self presentation and self pride, which is why the Grandmother took so long to dress herself. At the end of the story, the Grandmother could not control of her body and she was 'feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her'. A ditch is a long narrow trench in the ground for irrigation and drainage purposes and the dirt only signifies her helplessness at that moment.

However, despite all the above, O'Connor portrayed the Grandmother as a Southern hypocrite. When she told the Misfit that he should pray so that "Jesus would help [him]", she has never once uttered a prayer for a member of her family or herself. The readers can infer that only when faced with death does the grandmother act as if Jesus is the most important figure in her life. She was also partly to blame for the entire incident as proved by the Misfit, for he had acknowledged the fact that 'it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn't reckernized (recognized) me.' The Grandmother was unable to maintain silence even when she recognized the Misfit, she was also unwilling to listen to Bailey when he said 'We're in a predicament!' and thus the entire family were murdered by the Misfit and his accompanying accomplices.

At the end of the short story, through analysing the plot and a few aspects of writer's craft in this short story, the readers understand that even though the Grandmother lived her entire life by her traditional southern values and by placing family before self, at the end of the story she was unable to depend on either before her death. In this short story, the Grandmother would represent the traditional Southern values and she was shot thrice by the Misfit, wounding her fatally, an extinguishing movement by Flannery O'Connor.

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Works Cited:

Stephen, C Bandy. "'One of My Babies' The Misfit and the Grandmother ." Journal Article on Questia 1.1 (1996): 1. Web. 11 Sep 2010. <>.

Flannery, O'Connor. A Good Man Is Hard To Find. 1953. Print.