Essays and Criticism
Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find: The Moment of Grace
"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is one of Flannery O'Connor's most discussed and most problematic short stories. The major difficulty involves the story's climax. Should the Grandmother's final act—her touching of the Misfit—be taken as a token of true, divine grace and spiritual insight? Or should the story be interpreted strictly as a naturalistic document? Perhaps the Grandmother achieves no spiritual insight. One can find critics on both sides of the argument. Since the issue is central to O'Connor's work at large, it is worth further examination. While this question may ultimately be impossible to resolve with certainty, further light can be shed upon this critical gesture.
In Mystery and Manners, O'Connor asserts that the Grandmother's final act is a "moment of grace." Critics, though, have not been convinced. While acknowledging Flannery O'Connor's reading, Madison Jones prefers to stress the "realistic explanation" of grace—a "naturalistic" grace which may be "spelled in lower case letters." Stanley Renner is also uncomfortable with the"religious'' explanation and describes "the vague touch" on the Misfit's shoulder as "a parental blessing" or "the ceremonial dubbing of knighthood.'' Thus the Grandmother's response not so much reflects divine grace as it "touches her almost instinctive springs of sympathy and human kinship." Leon Driskell and Joan Brittain seem to see the Grandmother's final act, not as a transcendent spiritual...
(The entire section is 1086 words.)
A Cloak of Grace: Contradictions in A Good Man Is Hard to Find
Flannery O'Connor was often shocked to find how people interpreted her stories. Some readers of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" believed the grandmother was evil, even a witch. Soon O'Connor set out, quite explicitly, in letters and lectures to detail the theology of the story and the importance of the grandmother as an agent of grace. In a letter to John Hawkes, she explained how violence and grace come together:
More than in the Devil I am interested in the indication of Grace, the moment when you know that Grace has been offered and accepted—such as the moment when the Grandmother realizes the Misfit is one of her own children. These moments are prepared for (by me anyway) by the intensity of the evil circumstances.
When O'Connor speaks of her Catholicism and its expression in her fiction, she is clear-headed, eloquent, and convincing. In Mystery and Manners, the posthumous collection of her occasional prose, she claims the assumptions that underlie "A Good Man is Hard to Find" "are those of the central Christian mysteries. These are the assumptions to which a large part of the modern audience takes exception." O'Connor was upset with critics who were determined to count the dead bodies: "And in this story you should be on the lookout for such things as the action of grace in the Grandmother's soul, and not for the dead bodies." For O'Connor, grace is "simply a concern with the human reaction to that...
(The entire section is 2234 words.)