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Mary Flannery O’Connor

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1057
  • Category: Violence

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            Mary Flannery O’Connor is a master storyteller employs the use of several literary devices to explore multiple themes, character development and plot progress.  A stunning example of her skills as an author can be found in her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.  Through the use of various forms of irony, O’Connor explores the theme of perception.  O’Connor asserts that the perception of events differs from individual to individual and is almost always biased and distorted by that individual’s belief system.  She continues that individuals find comfort in this near sightedness even though the end result may be dangerous and even deadly.  The plot in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is that violence must be present for a person to turn his / her life around and find God..  The concerns of this story are the basic concerns of Christian belief: faith, death, salvation. And yet, if one reads the story without prejudice, there would seem to be little here to inspire hope for redemption of any of its characters. It is the use of characters that O’Connor  asserts her believe that only through violence can individual change and find salvation.

            In her efforts to strike a soft place in the heart of the Misfit, the Grandmother leads their conversation into religious channels. That is, she admonishes him to “pray,” perhaps hoping to distract him from the frightening recital of his violent life: “If you would pray . . . Jesus would help you” . Mentioning the name of Jesus is a mistake, for it ignites a slow-burning fuse in the mind of the Misfit. It seems that he has given Jesus a good deal of thought–far more than the Grandmother ever had done. Indeed, as she continues to mutter the name of Jesus, “the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing”. With cold intensity, never raising his voice, the Misfit intones, “Jesus thown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime . . .” . Ignoring the Grandmother’s wailing, the Misfit pursues his obsession: “Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead . . . and He shouldn’t have done it. He thown everything off balance” . For the Misfit, as for many others (including Jesus himself on the cross), the problem is one of faith. He cannot believe, because he has no proof. Therefore, the choice is clear:

“If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can-by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.

            The emptiness in the soul of the Misfit is not an absence of religious faith (as the Grandmother naively sees it), but his lack of any kind of faith at all. The Misfit trusts nothing that he has not himself witnessed, touched, weighed and measured. This is his “reality.” Whatever transcends that reality–faith, hope, and charity might sum it up very well–has no meaning for him. He will not trust the miracles of Jesus because, as he agitatedly complains to the Grandmother, “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because it I had of been there I would of known”. The Misfit’s inability to believe has destroyed his humanity. His indifference is complete: “No pleasure but meanness.”

            The Grandmother read the body but does not truly understand it. She is quick to invoke the name of Jesus, but it is perfectly clear that the Grandmother’s religion is entirely of the lip-serving variety. “Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,” she mutters in response to the Misfit’s outburst, for it hardly makes any difference to her, one way or the other. She is concerned only with her survival, in the midst of the blood-bath that has engulfed her family. The fact that Bailey, his wife, and their children now lie dead nearby seems to have as little meaning for her as the divinity of Jesus–a topic, however, of compelling importance to the Misfit.

            Unlike the Grandmother, the Misfit has struggled to understand good and evil. His final verdict is relentlessly logical. And yet, surprisingly, their philosophical positions–his by determination, hers by accident–are not so far apart in the end. By his lights, she could have been “a good woman”–if only she had not talked so much. Traveling by two different routes, the Grandmother and the Misfit have arrived at the same destination, both geographically and intellectually. No words could be more shocking, and yet appropriate: “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” Indeed he is one of her babies; for her lack of values is his lack as well. Those two faces, so close together, are mirror images. The Misfit is simply a more completely evolved form of the Grandmother. In truth, one of her babies.

            O’Connor uses violence  throughout her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” a s path to transformation. The violence that the Misfits creates and the violence that the Grandmother sufferers lead to each character understanding their own salvation.  It is only through this violence that these characters have been the error of their ways and have found the light. O’Connor seems to insist at this moment of mutual revelation that the Grandmother is transformed into the agent of God’s grace is to do serious violence to the story. It is as tendentious as to decree that the three bullets in her chest symbolize the Trinity. At the end, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” descends further into the depths of despair.   O’Connor understands that world can be a scary place and evil does exist in our daily endeavors.  To believe that any one person is better then yourself is perhaps the worst evil as all.  Her story is full of darkness and leaves little room for hope.  Yet, perhaps that was O’Connor’s final irony – that while the world may have evil there is also light.

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