It is hard to find the Grandmother appealing in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. She makes a family road trip difficult to enjoy as she illustrates how much society has changed from when she was a girl. She finds pride in her appearance as a lady, as she keeps the values she was taught alive. But her idea of a lady is misguided, instead of projecting respect, she believes a lady is made in the exterior, not by one’s actions. This makes her come off as self-righteous and annoying, and in the most telling of instances, she abandons everything she declared she believed. In Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” the Grandmother is to blame for her family’s death because of her selfish and shallow actions during the family’s road trip, showing the reader that people are defined by their actions, not their appearances.
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Chiefly, the Grandmother spent much of the vacation discussing the joys of visiting Tennessee over Florida. In an attempt to make the vacation more pleasant to her, she enticed the children with exaggerated stories and empty promises about a plantation house, so that she may do activities she enjoyed. The Grandmother knew that Bailey was not going to stop, which causing his children to throw a fit (342). She also knew that he was likely to appease rather than invoke discipline on his children, so he would settle them down by giving the children, and consequently the Grandmother, what they wanted. The children were disrespectful and loud throughout the story as they constantly backtalked and insulted the Grandmother. She takes issue with this and comments on how misbehaved the children are, saying how children in her day were more respectful (339). But the Grandmother abandoned her complaints about the children to see this plantation house, for she had asked to do what she wanted on vacation before the trip even began by implying that Tennessee would be a better destination. When she realizes that she sent the family the wrong way, she agains abandons her ideas of respect and honesty that she had discussed earlier in the day with Red Sam, in order to save her pride. Ultimately, the Grandmothers fluid morals that changed by the second, always dependent on her attitude and situation, drove the family to a ditch where they would meet the man that would deliver their untimely fate.
After the Grandmother causes her family to crash, there is a moment for redemption as she flags down a car for help. Instead, she becomes repulsed and makes a show of pointing out that the man who has come to help is the Misfit (344). Rather than handling the situation calmly, she let her emotions get the best of her, which created a spectacle around the Misfit. Revealing his identity, making it known that an escaped criminal was in front of them was the worst thing the Grandmother could have done. There was no way the Misfit could have let the family go, for fear that they would report him to the authorities for capture. But there was no scenario in which the Grandmother would not have called out the fugitive. Throughout the story, the Grandmother reminisces about her “time” (339) and how things are not how they were (341). She is upset that the country has changed around her and that her values are no longer appreciated. She cannot comprehend that there are people who can differ so much from her. And the Misfit is the perfect embodiment of everything that she sees wrong in her country. Now that she had met personified evil all she could do was make sure that the Misfit knew that she was a lady, and he was obscene. She had to call out the Misfit, to let the whole world know that she was sickened by him, that she did not stand what he stood for. Instead of looking at the damage she caused by acting hypocritical and self-righteous, she had to turn the attention to an evil that everyone could object- the Misfit.
Again, the Grandmother mishandles her fate by attempting to appeal to the Misfit’s good side. When pleading for her life, the Grandmother tries to win over the Misfit saying he does not have “common blood” and that he “must come from nice people” (345). What she fails to see is the situation in which she has found herself. The Grandmother spends the story lamenting on the changing values of society. She notes the lack of trust she now has in people (341) and how in her day people had more respect (339). But her encounter with the Misfit is totally ironic, as she places so much trust in him. Although the Grandmother believes society is in devolution, she does not put her ideas into practice, and the Misfit senses this. First, she flags down an unidentified vehicle in the middle of a dirt road, then she believes the Misfit will spare her life because she identifies as a lady. The Grandmother’s incessant pleas to the Misfit are denied or ignored, as he has not the same beliefs as her. She is dealing with a man who has challenged her thoughts and developed his own, unwavering system of beliefs. She cannot look past her own notions and see how the world may look to others.
Likewise, the misjudgment of the Misfit is a microcosm of the Grandmother’s confusion of goodness. The Grandmother found pride and value in being a lady and embracing the values in which she grew up. For a family trip to Florida, she found it appropriate to wear a vibrant dress that was lined with lace, for the sole purpose of being identified as a lady (338). During the trip, she tells stories of her youth and reflects on the time during which she lived, expressing how those days were respectable (341). But those principles were not true goodness, just shallow actions that she believed were noble. How one presents themself does not reflect what is in their heart. In fact, very little goodness is shown in the Grandmother, especially when her family faces death. Not once does she beg for their lives to be spared, instead she repeats how her status as a lady should prevent her death. Her lack of goodness is further highlighted by her loss of faith in God. By the way she urged the Misfit to pray, it seemed as though God and Jesus were the only beings to which the Grandmother was humble. But right before her death, she questions the miracles of Jesus. At this critical moment in life, truly devout Christians might be praying to save their souls, but the Grandmother does not. The Misfit, although a murderer, developed concrete convictions by which he stuck, the Grandmother, however, spent no time truly thinking about her morals.
As a result of the flaws the Grandmother developed, she wrote her own death warrant, for death was the only way she could reach salvation. This concept is perfectly phrased by the Misfit as “She would have been a good woman if it had been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life,” (349). Because the Grandmother did not use her life to determine what it meant to be a good person, she had to find it in death. The continuation of her life would have likely not brought any change to her attitude, as she lived most of her life without pondering on goodness and failed to show goodness when her family was facing death. For her to find salvation, she had to see the power of God. God used its power and showed the Grandmother her mortality and humanness. By saying the Misfit was one of her own children (349) she recognized and accepted her imperfections. But the Grandmother forced herself into death in order to find true values.
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Ultimately, the Grandmother held few, if any, true convictions in life. Although she may have dressed nice and acted like a lady, her true personality was unpleasant. This story was a caution to readers about developing traits like the Grandmother. To live a life that revolved around complaining on the actions of others is a waste. One could go around spouting nostalgia about how great the past was, or one could take a stand against evil and the immoral. Without a call to action, one seems cowardly and weak, too afraid or incompetent bring change. The problem with the Grandmother was that she was a shallow person, one who thought that being good was all in appearance and not in the deeds one performs. Developing a rigid code and sticking to it, is how to become a good man. One must create the best version of themselves, and help others find goodness in life. Otherwise one could live their life with empty meaning, under a guise of righteousness.
- O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” Backpack Literature, edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 5th ed. Pearson, 2016, pp.
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