Discuss the importance of Catholicism in interpreting "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Shaped by her Catholic beliefs in mystery, grace, redemption, and the devil, Flannery O'Connor fashions her fiction within this framework. O'Connor herself explains that Catholic writers base their work on the idea that the universe is meaningful:

...the Catholic writer's beliefs [provide an] observation [that] is founded on our ultimate faith that the universe is meaningful, as the Church teaches.

In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," O'Connor employs satire at first with her stereotypical grandmother, who plays the role of a lady, but is really selfish and narrow-minded about people as she demonstrates her prejudices along the way. Soon, however, the tone of the story changes as the family has an accident and they are discovered by the malcontent and malicious Misfit. As O'Connor attests, there becomes in the remainder of the narrative an argument of faith versus reasonable beliefs in a "duel" between the "superficial" and the "profund":

a duel of sorts between the Grandmother and her superficial beliefs and the Misfit's more profoundly felt involvement with Christ's action which set the world off balance for him.

With these two characters, O'Connor demonstrates that one must first have faith in order to understand, as the Grandmother does despite her platitudes, not understand first and then believe, as the Misfit has tried to do, but has felt that Jesus "thrown everything off balance." Further, because O'Connor feels that readers "should be on the lookout for such things as the action of grace," the grandmother's recognition of her own sin--much as Mary Magdelene acknowledged hers before Jesus--allows the old woman to become a recipient of God's grace and redemption. For, when she looks at the Misfit and says,

"Why, you're one of my babies You're one of my own children" 

as O'Connor herself has described this scene, there is an exchange of spiritual grace between them that flows from each to the other:

"The Misfit is touched by the Grace that comes through the old lady when she recognizes him as her child, as she has been touched by the Grace that comes through him in his particular suffering."

Because she admits that she is a sinner, the grandmother, thus, is open to God's grace. Her repetition of "Jesus, Jesus" is her prayer of faith that brings her to this moment of grace. Certainly, the symbolic significance of her being shot the spiritual three times and her collapsing with her legs crossed cannot be ignored. Like the Devil, the Misfit makes her a martyr as the grandmother retains her faith when she is tested, and becomes the recipient of grace.

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