O'Connor claims that the heroine of this story is the grandmother, who, facing the Misfit "realizes that she is responsible for the man before her and joined to him by ties of kinship which have their roots deep in the mystery she has merely been prattling about so far." However, some critics argue that "essentially, the story is a stronger indictment of the grandmother and her pathetic view of life than that of The Misfit."
Q: Do these readings of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" contradict one another? (Please explain why or why not)
No, the readings do not contradict one another if there is an understanding of religion from the point of view of the author.
At the core of O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is the question of faith and God's grace which is always undeserved and outside the character. As such, the grandmother's being a shallow and selfish sinner does not figure into her merits for receiving grace. For, after all, Jesus forgave many great sinners and bestowed His grace upon them when they humbled themselves and asked forgiveness
While the grandmother does prattle on and is hypocritical in her sanctimony--e.g. she purports to be a Christian yet she calls the black children racial epithets--what distinguishes her from the Misfit and allows her, rather than the malevolent Misfit, to receive grace, is her faith. For, in the end, the grandmother has an epiphany, a moment of psychological clarity that saves her as she looks up at the Misfit and says,
"Why, you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!"
On the other hand, the Misfit rejects this moment of grace as he
sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three [religious number: Peter denied Christ 3 times] times in the chest.
In an essay published in The Art and Vision of Flannery O'Connor, Robert Brinkmeyer writes,
...the Misfit cannot place his faith in something he cannot be rationally certain of, while the grandmother continues to cling to a faith without an intellectual foundation or certainty of belief. The Misfit is incapable of wrapping himself around the paradox as O'Connor phrased it, 'that you must believe in order to understand, not understand in order to believe.'
The grandmother's ultimate faith is defined when she utters the name of Jesus repeatedly while the Misfit has rejected faith in his insistence on empirical proof--"I wisht I had of been there." Nevertheless, he acknowledges his role in the grandmother's reception of grace in his saying that
"[S]he would have been a good woman...if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life"
because her faith would be continually tested. It does seem, too, that there is some regret on his part that he does not possess such faith in his telling the grandmother, "No pleasure but meanness" as his voice becomes "almost a snarl."