Life during the fifties was heavily influenced by religious commandments, especially under the Mason-Dixon line. “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, written by Flannery O’Connor, follows a slightly dysfunctional Southern family on a not-so-fun vacation to Florida as things quickly take a turn for the worse. Met by a gaggle of criminals, our main character foregoes a dynamic character change. The grandmother’s newfound revelation regarding moral behavior symbolizes O’Connor’s belief that anyone is worthy of receiving forgiveness and religious grace.
Our protagonists’ shift occurs in the sense that she steps up to a more dominant role. While the Misfits have the family rounded up for murder, the grandmother takes lead of the situation as Bailey is paralyzed into obedience. She pleads with the criminal, asking for mercy. Nearing the end of the story, O’Connor presents the grandmother with a chance to atone. According to Catholic theology, all humans have the opportunity to be redeemed from their past sins through the courtesy of God. Though the grandmother seems like an unlikely person to receive grace, her moment occurs in the manifestation of an epiphany. “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children (O’Connor 14)!” The Misfit isn’t actually one of her kids; she speaks figuratively. Instead, the grandmother acknowledges her mistakes. In the same way that her change occurs, the grandmother’s mind clears and she realizes how manipulative, controlling, and prejudiced she’s been. The Misfit, along with everyone else, are human just like her. Filled with compassion, she loves him as if he was he was her child. In a Catholic worldview, God has given her salvation.
However, redemption is also presented to the Misfit. Though the Misfit has committed murder, a felony worse than the grandmother’s actions, the story alludes to the likelihood that he too has the opportunity to be saved by God. Her shift in character is almost contagious, spreading it like a disease when she touches his shoulder. A window of grace comes immediately after the grandmother’s. The realization that we’re all human scares the Misfit, toppling him down from his throne built out of nihilistic notions of what life means. Her ideas of compassion by God’s love is foreign to him. Thus, he sends three bullets into her. In doubting his own philosophical interpretations, he backtracks on what he says. Although he claimed earlier that “no pleasure but meanness (O’Connor 14)” existed in life, he later says that, “It’s no real pleasure in life (O’Connor 15).” While he previously believed that acting in a violent manner was the answer to life, doubts arise regarding this support beam that served as the basis to his nihilism. Is this how I should be living? Is this what is right? The grandmother’s murder brought him no satisfaction, suggesting that grace is working on him too. As the pillars fall, so too does the building.
O’Conner’s faith is sprinkled liberally throughout most of her works. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a prominent example of her religious affiliation and beliefs. The grandmother and the Misfit’s moment of grace and self-transformation truly reflects the idea that anyone, even a murder, can receive redemption and change their ways.
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