What are the main arguments of Madison Jones's essay "A Good Man's Predicament," which deals with Flannery O'Connor's story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In his essay “A Good Man’s Predicament,” Madison Jones essentially takes issue with Flannery O’Connor’s own interpretation of the very end of the story.  Jones offers a different interpretation and suggests that his own reading may be truer to the actual phrasing of the story and to reality (at least as reality is generally understood) than is O’Connor’s interpretation.  He implies that the two interpretations may not be incompatible, but he suggests that if they cannot be reconciled, then his interpretation makes better sense of the story.

In an essay on “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” O’Connor herself had argued that God uses the grandmother to touch The Misfit, both literally and figuratively.  This touch was a moment of grace – an opportunity for The Misfit to transform his life spiritually, if only he would take advantage of the opportunity.  By reaching out to The Misfit (O’Connor had argued), the grandmother truly and finally lives her Christian faith:

The Grandmother is at last alone, facing the Misfit.  Her head clears for an instant and she realizes. even in her limited way, that she is responsible for the man before her and joined to him by ties of kinship which have their roots deep in the mystery she has been merely prattling about so far.  And at this point, she does the right thing, she makes the right gesture.

The fact that the grandmother was killed by The Misfit as a result of her gesture meant nothing to O’Connor.  We are all destined to die, but the grandmother’s gesture had given a depth of meaning to her life that it had hitherto lacked. Her dead body is ultimately unimportant; her spiritual salvation is all that truly matters.

Jones resists this Christian interpretation, or at least he suggests that it is not the only one that makes sense of the story.  Instead, he argues as follows:

Given the Misfit's image of himself, [the grandmother's] words and her touching, blessing him, amount to intolerable insult, for hereby she includes him among the world's family of vulgarians. One of her children, her kind, indeed!

In other words, The Misfit kills the grandmother not because God uses the grandmother as an instrument of grace but because her touch violates his pride.  Jones leaves open the possibility that The Misfit may perceive the grandmother as an instrument of God, but he argues that there is no reason why readers must share that perception.  The story, in other words, makes perfect sense from a secular perspective and using secular psychology.  There is nothing, necessarily, miraculous about the grandmother’s gesture or The Misfit’s response. The Misfit may even perceive the grandmother as an instrument of God, but readers do not necessarily have to share this perception in order to appreciate the story or find it meaningful.

A critic of Jones’s interpretation might argue that he fails to discuss various details in the end of the story that support O’Connor’s reading (particularly our final view of the grandmother, “with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky”), but Jones’s reading, as he himself suggests, may not necessarily conflict with O’Connor’s.

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