In Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," why does the grandmother have an epiphany, and what is its significance?
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In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the grandmother’s epiphany – or moment of enlightenment or revelation – is almost surely the moment when she reaches out and touches The Misfit. Although The Misfit and his henchmen have slaughtered all the other members of her family, the grandmother is nevertheless able to suddenly see a connection between herself and The Misfit. She thus reaches out and touches him while saying,
“Why, you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!”
As soon as she says this, however, The Misfit shoots and kills her.
This startling moment in the story is also one of the story’s richest moments for a number of reasons, including the following:
- The grandmother had earlier been estranged from her biological son, Bailey, and his wife and children. The fact that she is able to see and make some connection with The Misfit is therefore a sign of a significant change in her entire existence.
- The grandmother, early in the story, had been unable to see any real connection between herself and a small black child the family had passed along the side of the road on their trip to Florida. Now, however, she is able to see some real connection between herself and The Misfit.
- Throughout the story, the grandmother had assumed that she was quite different from people such as The Misfit. For example, when discussing contemporary problems with Red Sammy Butts, she had actually said that the entire continent of Europe was to blame for any problems that existed in the world [!]. This is one of many unintentionally funny statements she makes during the course of the story. The statement implies her tendency to consider herself a good woman who has no responsibility for any problems, either within her own family or in the world at large.
- The fact that the grandmother is finally able to see some connection between herself and The Misfit suggests that she is finally also able to see some connection between herself and evil, which is one thing The Misfit surely symbolizes.
- However, the fact that the grandmother is finally able to see some connection between herself and The Misfit also suggests that she is finally able to really put into practice the Christianity she prattles about elsewhere in the story -- a Christianity she never really lives, in the truest sense, until right before she dies. She reaches out to The Misfit in love and compassion and fellowship. The fact that he kills her for doing so means little to O’Connor. What matters is that the grandmother has actually, for once, acted like a true “grand mother.” The grandmother’s physical death is insignificant: we will all die, but few of us will ever live a moment as authentically rich and full of meaning as the grandmother’s last moment on earth. In the last split seconds of her life, she finally is used, by God, to give The Misfit a much-needed epiphany of his own. How he chooses to respond to that epiphany is, as O'Connor herself once said, another story.
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