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.”