How do Flannery O'Connor's religious views affect her short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?
Flannery O’Connor was a deeply devout Christian and a seriously committed Roman Catholic, and so it is not surprising that her religious views affected such works as her famous story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Like many Christians, O’Connor believed that the root of human sin and imperfection lay in human pride or self-centeredness. Examples include the following:
- Initially the grandmother is trying to manipulate the rest of the family into doing what she wants to do, despite their resistance. Her manipulative efforts, here and throughout the story, reflect her pride.
- The parents in the story essentially ignore the grandmother, thus revealing their own pride. Their refusal to pay her any heed probably reflects their long familiarity with her manipulative nature and manipulative tactics, but their failure even to speak to her certainly does not reflect ideal Christian behavior.
- The conduct of the boy, who speaks disrespectfully toward the grandmother, is yet another example of pride. The boy’s name – John Wesley – implies that the family members are Methodists, since John Wesley was the name of the founder of the Methodist Church. Yet neither John Wesley himself nor his parents are behaving as Christians of any kind should. The same is true of June Star, who is, if anything, even more disrespectful and lacking in Christian charity than her brother.
- The grandmother’s pride is further reflected in her prim and proper clothing and in her desire to be perceived as a “lady,” but she also reveals unattractive racial pride in her condescending comments about African Americans, especially the little boy whom the family passes during their trip to Florida.
- O’Connor’s religious orientation becomes especially important – and especially obvious – in the second half of the story, after the family members endure a car wreck and meet the Misfit, a character who symbolizes the inevitable confrontations of all human beings with death.
- During their confrontation with the Misfit, the family members begin to behave more as Christians should ideally behave. John Wesley reaches out to his father, and the father – Bailey – memorably reaches out to his mother as well. He tries to comfort her, whereas earlier he had paid her no attention. Ironically (but credibly), it is only when the family members face the prospects of losing their lives that some of them begin to live their lives most fully.
- The grandmother is the character who, finally, truly reveals the power of Christian values. Confronted with the Misfit’s pain, she reaches out and tries to comfort the last person on earth one would have expected her to try to love. Although the Misfit, shocked, shoots and kills her in response, the grandmother, by the very end of the tale, has won a spiritual victory for herself and for her faith. Instead of prattling about Christianity, as she has done for much of the story, the grandmother finally, in her last split second of life, embodies her faith and acts on it, even if she is not entirely aware of what she is doing. Little wonder, then, that the Misfit, in one of the most famous lines O’Connor ever wrote, says of the grandmother,
“She would have been a good woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
For Christians such as O’Connor, the meaning of this line is quite clear: we often live our lives most richly when we realize that our lives can end at any moment.