How does the Misfit seek justice?Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's a moot point whether The Misfit really seeks justice as such. But there seems little doubt that he has no hesitation in putting himself forward as judge, jury, and executioner, especially in relation to the grandmother. We gather from The Misfit that he's mightily aggrieved, bitter at the hand he's been dealt in life. By killing the grandmother and her family he seems to feel that wrongs are being righted somehow. In that sense, he does have a moral code of sorts, albeit one that all civilized people would find abhorrent. He also has a sense of justice, though again not one that most people would recognize or accept.

One way of looking at The Misfit is to say that he pursues what he considers true justice. But he can only do this by committing a conventional act of injustice. True justice in this case means original sin, something in which the Augustinian Catholic O'Connor strongly believed. The Misfit acts as an unwelcome reminder of the universal sin in which, according to O'Connor's brand of Catholicism, we all share by virtue of our fallen humanity.

The grandmother's idealization of the antebellum South represents a desire to retreat to an Edenic paradise. Yet due to the disobedience of Adam and Eve humankind was expelled from paradise, forced to wander the earth and carry the stain of original sin for all eternity. There is to be no going back. The Misfit reminds us of that in the most brutal way imaginable. He is an Old Testament dispenser of justice, sent to warn man of the dangers of pride and of the folly of harking back to a romanticized past before that first disobedience in the Garden of Eden.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Misfit is sure that he did not kill his father, the crime for which he was initially convicted and sentenced. Instead, his father died of influenza, and The Misfit went to prison because they "'had the papers'" on him. Someone in control purported to have proof of his guilt despite the fact he wasn't actually guilty of murder. He says,

"That's why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you'll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you'll have something to prove you ain't been treated right. I call myself The Misfit . . . because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment."

Therefore, The Misfit attempts to seek justice by trying to reconcile his crimes with his punishment. The problem is that he was punished terribly for a crime he did not commit, and so now he's trying to right the wrong done to him by committing crimes in order to justify the punishment he endured. In other words, he seeks justice not by seeking exoneration of his wrongful conviction, but by committing wrongdoings that will justify the punishment he's already received. His life was essentially ruined, and so now he ruins others' lives.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whether or not the Misfit seeks justice is questionable.  He kills because he figures that he was unjustly punished, so he may as well be mean since he has already served time in prison for the crimes. Things are in this disorder because of Jesus. He explains that Jesus threw everything "off balance" when He died and was raised from the dead:

If He did what He said then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can--by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him.  No pleasure but meanness, ...

The Misfit is the grotesque of this Southern Gothic story by Flannery O'Connor.  It is his depravity that effects the grandmother's salvation as he realizes that he is one of her "own children."  By recognizing that she, too, is a sinner, the grandmother is saved when she, like Christ, becomes the sacrificial victim as she dies with her legs crossed, dying for evil as Christ died for the sins of mankind.  In a grosteque fashion, the Misfit is the agent of grace, not one who seeks justice.

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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