How might one compare and contrast two notable characters created by Flannery O'Connor -- the Misfit ("A Good Man is Hard to Find") and Manley Pointer ("Good Country People")?How are these two...
How might one compare and contrast two notable characters created by Flannery O'Connor -- the Misfit ("A Good Man is Hard to Find") and Manley Pointer ("Good Country People")?
How are these two characters similar, and how are they different? Do they serve the same purpose within the respective stories or different purposes?
The Misfit (in Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”) and Manley Pointer (in Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People”) both resemble and differ from each other in various ways, including the following:
- Both characters pose religious dilemmas to the main female figures of the stories (the grandmother in “A Good Man” and Hulga in “Good Country People”).
- Both characters shock the two main female figures, leaving them dazed and confused.
- Neither figure fits the stereotype we assume he will fit: the Misfit is an escaped prisoner and killer who turns out to be very polite and highly thoughtful; Manley Pointer seems to be a naïve Bible salesman but turns out to be a cynical nihilist.
- Both men use pseudonyms; we never discover the “real” name of either.
- Both men enter their respective stories with the intent of taking advantage of the other characters.
- The Misfit seems genuinely interested in religious questions; Manley Pointer seems to lack any such genuine interest and is thus the shallower of the two figures.
- Although the grandmother tries to control and manipulate the Misfit, her main reaction to him is one of intense fear. Hulga tries to control and manipulate Manley Pointer, but it is not until the very end of the story that he raises fear in her, and that fear is never as intense as the grandmother’s.
- The Misfit ultimately kills the grandmother and the rest of her family; Manley Pointer merely humiliates Hulga.
- Manley Pointer’s interest in Hulga seems to be simply and crudely sexual; the Misfit poses a much more serious, existential threat to the grandmother.
- The Misfit is far more intelligent and articulate than Manley Pointer.
- The Misfit is an appropriate character for a true tragedy; Manley Pointer is an appropriate character for a very dark comedy.
- Manley’s Pointer’s final attitude toward Hulga is one of smug superiority. The Misfit, however, reacts with far more ambivalence toward the grandmother. He is capable of perceiving the true potential she possessed. As he memorably puts it near the very end of the story,
“She would of been a good woman if it been somebody there to shoot her every day of her life.”
- Manley Pointer departs from his story with a sense of having triumphed over Hulga. The Misfit, ironically, feels somewhat defeated by the grandmother at the end of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”
The above answer has addressed the question very thoroughly, so I will try to get at some core issues in both stories. In short, I would argue that while both are evil characters, Manley Pointer is much more wholly imbued with evil than the Misfit. Manley is dead to any religious arguments or sentiments: he deliberately and cold-bloodedly engineers a situation where he can humiliate Hulga and exhibit his superiority and control over her. He shows his superiority by revealing how much more of a true atheist he is. He also reveals how much harder he is in his approach to life. He shows his control by taking her false leg and leaving her stranded in the barn loft. He also reveals sheer malice: other than as a trophy, he has no need for a fake leg.
The Misfit, on the other hand, struggles with religious issues. He is not a settled atheist and is troubled by the idea that the story of Jesus might be true. Also, he does not engineer trapping the Grandmother and her family. They simply stumble into the wrong place at the wrong time, and the Misfit feels he has no choice but to execute them. He seems almost to regret having to do it (or having his gang do it). He also experiences a genuine connection with the Grandmother, albeit a brief one, and one not predicated entirely on power and control.
Both characters, Manley and the Misfit, bring a moment of epiphany or clarity to the woman each encounters, so they fulfill similar functions. The Misfit offers the Grandmother a moment of grace as she realizes in a flash that the Misfit is no different from her son. Hulga also receives a gift from Manley, though a harsher, more perverse gift: through him she is able to encounter evil up close and in a personal way. This is humbling for her and arguably teaches her more than all her years of education.