In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," some critics disagree with redemptive readings of the story's ending, including O'Connor's. They assert that the "pile of dead bodies cannot be canceled out when...
In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," some critics disagree with redemptive readings of the story's ending, including O'Connor's. They assert that the "pile of dead bodies cannot be canceled out when the grandmother touches The Misfit." Similarly, they say, the character of the grandmother contradicts any reading of her as an agent of grace. Do you support this?
There is a definite sense in which it is possible to argue that the rather disturbing and tragic ending of this short story could be seen as detracting from the message of grace that is central to the story's theme. The grandmother, too, is a character that O'Connor seems to go out of her way to paint as a deeply unpleasant woman: she is selfish, egotistical, vain and arrogant in her belief that she is able to determine who is a "good" person and what others need to do. However, it could be argued that O'Connor deliberately created such characters as the grandmother and The Misfit intentionally to support the Christian belief that grace is something that can be experienced by everybody, no matter how sinful or evil. That is to say, it would contradict this Christian belief if the grandmother or The Misfit could not experience grace, and in a sense O'Connor purposefully shocks the reader by her creation of characters who are deeply unpleasant and even can be viewed as being evil in order to show the true power of grace.
Grace is something that is experienced in the story by both the grandmother and the Misfit. For the grandmother, it comes when she experiences an epiphany, saying to The Misfit, "Why, you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" When she touches him, whilst saying these words, it is a symbol of her identification of her own humanity, and the humanity of the Misfit. At this moment, all of her selfishness and vanity is stripped away, and she sees herself as human, and open to God's grace just as The Misfit is human and open to that same grace. Although the Misfit's response in shooting her suggests that he is closed to that grace, his change of heart in relation to killing suggests that he too can change his character. Having said that killing and murder is the only thing that gives him pleasure, he ends the story by saying "It's no real pleasure in life." Therefore, although some critics view this story as being too violent and tragic to be based on grace, O'Connor would argue that this is precisely the point: grace does not have limits as we humans have limits. It is open to all, even the unworthiest recipient. In the grandmother and The Misfit she tries to create two such unworthy recipients to challenge the reader's notion of grace.
The grandmother is not the agent of grace; on the contrary, the Misfit is the agent of grace. This grace through violence is a trope of O'Connor's, suggestive, perhaps, of the earlier martyrs of O'Connor's Roman Catholic Church. Because the grandmother has dismissed all her platitudes and instead embraced her faith, repeating, "Jesus, Jesus...." she recognizes that, like her, the Misfit is a sinner. But, it is her faith that saves her, while the Misfit recoils from the grace she receives.
In O'Connor's own words, her story becomes
...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."
But, the grandmother receives grace from outside of her because of her faith. Again, in O'Connor's words,
...you must believe in order to understand, not understand in order to believe.
Further, O'Connor urges readers to "... be on the lookout for such things as the action of grace in the Grandmother's soul, and not for the dead bodies." For, grace can come to anyone who has faith, and it can come through acts of violence. This is why the Misfit observes,
"She would have been a good woman,...if it had been somebody ther to shoot her every minute of her life."
Those who perceive the grandmother as neither the recipient of grace nor the agent of grace, find the character satirical. In her efforts to appear aristocratic and ladylike, she fails; in her recognition of "a good man," she is completely wrong; her memory fails her and she leads the family to its destruction by bringing her cat along and by identifying the Misfit. Her illusionary world is brought down.