Flannery O'Connor was a devout Roman Catholic who was diagnosed with lupus in 1952. As a result, she moved back to her family farm in Georgia for the last twelve years of her life.
We can see the influence of her faith in the story. O'Connor's Catholicism caused her to understand that the world is an evil and fallen place, as exhibited in the behavior of the Misfit and his men, and also to a lesser extent in the grandmother, a silly, manipulative, racist woman who causes the murder of her family. However, O'Connor's faith also led her to believe that, although all human beings are grotesque and fallen, all of us are children of God and able to receive God's grace and salvation. The grandmother experiences the grace of God, for example, when she can perceive the Misfit who is about to murder her as her "son." For a brief instant, even the Misfit seems to feel God's spirit as the grandmother connects with him on a deep level right before he shoots her.
We can see the influence of O'Connor's life in the southern and 1950s setting of the story. She too must have often felt grotesque with her illness and also saw an imperfect set of people in her home town on which she could model her characters and then embellish them with her own touches.
Author Flannery O'Connor's life and beliefs heavily influenced her writing in "A Good Man is Hard to Find." O'Connor was a prominent Catholic writer and she openly acknowledged the significant role her beliefs played in her works. In her essay, "The Church and the Fiction Writer," the author explains that life for the Catholic author is viewed through a lens of the "central Christian mystery." She also believed that a writer's beliefs should lead to a broader world view rather than a narrower one. The influence of these predispositions can be found throughout "A Good Man is Hard to Find," which is arguably her most famous work.
O'Connor's Personal Life
O'Connor grew up in a Roman Catholic family in Savannah, Georgia before relocating to Milledgeville. The author's upbringing heavily influenced her works, most of which are set in the rural American South. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" takes place during a rural family road trip to Florida. The grandmother wishes to visit family members who live in east Tennessee. The combination of influences from O'Connor's early life in the Deep South and her religious upbringing and faith are perhaps most obvious in this short story.
Major Themes and Influences
Throughout this short story, which has been widely recognized as a dark comedy with a strong moral message, themes of redemption and virtue are prevalent. The grandmother and all major characters in the story except for The Misfit are shallow and often selfish. Throughout her life and her final journey with her family, the grandmother has focused on superficial concerns and seems incapable of viewing those around her for who and what they really are. After a car accident, the grandmother and her family find themselves stranded in the woods, but they are not alone for long. The Misfit, an escaped convict traveling with his cronies, soon finds them and leads the family off one by one to be shot. In the grandmother's final conversation with The Misfit, O'Connor takes the opportunity to explore many of the thematic elements that were central to her faith and life.
Although the grandmother has lived a shallow life up until her encounter with The Misfit, she is defined not by the poor quality of her life but the mercy she shows just prior to her death. She is able to recognize the convict as "her son," hinting at O'Connor's belief that all humans are children of God. O'Connor strongly believed that she had a responsibility to explore the paradoxes of life through her writing. Like her general body of work, this short story centers around her Christian beliefs and communicates the message that love can look in the face of evil and smile, as the grandmother finds herself smiling into the sky after being shot by The Misfit.