Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
This intensely ironic story investigates with horrifying effect what happens when one of the worst anxieties of modern life, the threat of sudden violence at the hands of an unknown assailant, becomes a reality. Because such occurrences are relatively rare, the characters and the reader are lulled into a false security that such a thing will never happen to them. In addition, by voicing anxiety about encountering a psychopathic killer, the grandmother makes such an encounter seem all the more unlikely.
From Flannery O’Connor’s point of view, the grandmother’s encounter with The Misfit presents her with the supreme test and the supreme opportunity that every human being must face: the moment of death. Her death, moreover, comes through the agency of an apparently gratuitous and incomprehensible evil. Her ability to accept such a death is therefore the supreme test of her faith. That the grandmother at the moment of death truly embraces the Christian mystery is her great triumph. Although, in Christian terms, such a moment is always a gift, it is one for which the recipient has prepared throughout her life. The grandmother’s most essential attribute is therefore not her meddlesomeness or her smugness, of which there has been considerable evidence throughout the story, but her maternal compassion and concern, and it is through this maternal love that she has her moment of revelation. As O’Connor once described it, “she realizes . . . that she is...
(The entire section is 403 words.)
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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" an escaped convict and his companions murder a family because of a series of mishaps on the part of the Grandmother. Thinking that an old house is in Georgia rather than Tennessee, she insists that her son Bailey take a detour that leads them to their deaths. Because she has secretly brought her cat along, her son Bailey drives the car off the road when the cat leaps to his shoulders. Finally, she blurts out the identity of the murderer so that he has no choice but to murder them all. Readers are introduced to a quirky family and what appears to be a typical family car trip, but the story ends on a more philosophical note when the Grandmother attains a state of grace at the moment she realizes that the murderer is "one of her children."
Prejudice vs. Tolerance
The Grandmother demonstrates racial and class prejudice through her words and actions. She is vain and selfish, and she believes that good character is a result of coming from "good people," an important concept in O'Connor's fiction. When she sees an African-American child without any clothes, she exclaims, "Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!" She continues, "Wouldn't that make a picture, now?" When her granddaughter comments on the child's lack of clothes, the Grandmother says, "He probably didn't have any .... Little niggers in the country don't have things like we do." Believing that she came from a good family and from a time when "People did...
(The entire section is 893 words.)