Summarize Stephen Bandy's criticism "One of My Babies" for O'Connor's story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."

"One of My Babies" is a story Flannery O'Connor wrote in 1955. It was the last story she published. The story focuses on a grandmother, who is going on vacation with her family, and her interaction with a man that the family runs into while they are on their way to Florida. The Misfit, as he is called, has killed everyone else in his family and he takes the grandmother hostage and holds her captive for several hours while they drive around looking for a gas station so they can get gas for their car. The Grandmother tries multiple times to talk to him about God and asks him to pray with her. She even says that if he lets her go she will give him money when she gets home.

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Steven C. Bandy in "'One of My Babies': The Misfit and the Grandmother" argues that Flannery O'Connor has misunderstood her own story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Bandy states that O'Connor's characterization of the story as "a parable of grace and redemption" is incorrect; to the contrary, Bandy...

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Steven C. Bandy in "'One of My Babies': The Misfit and the Grandmother" argues that Flannery O'Connor has misunderstood her own story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Bandy states that O'Connor's characterization of the story as "a parable of grace and redemption" is incorrect; to the contrary, Bandy states that this story is, in fact, "subversive to the doctrines of grace and charity." The story has nothing to do with charity, but everything to do with grace.

In his critique, Bandy correctly draws our attention to the Grandmother's final words to the Misfit: "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" He also draws attention to her gesture of touching the Misfit on the shoulder, which startles him and immediately precedes his shooting her. Perhaps we should be grateful that Bandy quotes O'Connor herself as saying if she had deleted "this gesture and what she says with it, I would have no story."

Clearly, this epiphany of the Grandmother, accompanied by her gesture, is the heart of the story. But Bandy then claims the meaning of the Grandmother's final words and gesture to the Misfit are arguable, stating that their interpretation will depend on the reader's opinion of the Grandmother. To explicate his own interpretation, Bandy begins with O'Connor as she describes the deeply flawed Grandmother as the type of elderly relative all families could recognize, someone with wrong ideas but a "good heart." In her description, O'Connor mildly notes that such flawed characters can nonetheless combine shrewdness with "the missionary spirit." Bandy seizes on this characterization to deny that the Grandmother is capable of wanting the Misfit's salvation. He says the Grandmother is a "calculating opportunist who is capable of embracing her family's murderer, to save her own skin."

However, Bandy ignores O'Connor's own words "The grandmother's head cleared for an instant." This is the working of grace, which comes in a flash of understanding. In that instant, the Grandmother recognizes the Misfit as "one of my babies," and reaches out to touch him even though he was pointing a pistol at her. This is not an opportunistic gesture meant to save herself; it is an inspired and fearless reaching out.

Bandy seems genuinely offended by this story and O'Connor's later explanations of it, a negative perception that explains his critique. Bandy argues that grace does not operate in the way O'Connor has described. He states condescendingly that one of most deft, gifted, and meticulous authors of the twentieth century may have unintentionally used "wicked irony" in her characterization of the Grandmother. But the story is a parable meant to instruct, not reality; means what O'Connor says it means in her many documented discussions of the story.

Whether or not O'Connor was completely successful in her efforts to illustrate the mysterious workings of grace is what is arguable. However, the story is not about the reader's opinion of the Grandmother, despite what Bandy claims. The story, according to O'Connor, is about the availability of grace to the most undeserving, if only they can recognize it and accept it in time.

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Bandy argues that what Flannery O'Connor says about "A Good Man is Hard to Find" being a religious story about the redemption of the Grandmother in a moment of grace before the Misfit kills her is wrong. It might be O'Connor's belief about the story, but, he argues, the weight of the story does not show this to be true.

He contends that O'Connor depicts the Grandmother throughout as a selfish and manipulative person. He says that when she reaches out and touches the Misfit and calls him "one of her babies," she does not really mean it. She is simply being manipulative. It is another ploy to save her own life—one that does not work.

Bandy writes the following:

O'Connor did not exactly defend the grandmother's selfish behavior; but the writer fatuously described this final gesture as the action of grace in the Grandmother's soul.

While Bandy does make some good points, he is basing his argument in part on O'Connor not seeing the Grandmother as selfish and manipulative, but O'Connor's point is that even the worst people can have moments of grace—because grace comes from God, not the person.

Bandy also writes the following:

Declaring to The Misfit that he is one of her babies, she sets out to conquer him. Perhaps she hopes that this ultimate flattery will melt his heart, and he will collapse in her comforting motherly embrace.

That is one way to read the story, but that interpretation hinges on ignoring the signs of terror and disorientation the Grandmother is experiencing at this moment before she dies. However, it is up to the reader to decide who to agree with. Looking at Bandy is a useful exercise in understanding that what an author has to say about a text is not the final word on it. O'Connor may have wanted to convey that the Grandmother died in a state of grace; however, O'Connor may have failed to convey that strongly enough in the story as it stands.

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Stephen Bandy basically disagrees with Flannery O'Connor's explanation of her own short story. He agrees with D. H. Lawrence who says we should "trust the art but not the artist." He believes that in spite of what O'Connor says about the message of Christian grace, there IS no redeeming grace for any of the characters in this short story. He says that while the story's themes center on the Christian view of faith, death and salvation, the story's message is pessimistic and "subversive" to the message of Christianity. He says the story speaks for itself and that the author should not speak for the story.

Flannery O'Connor has remarked that she was always surprised when people told her the grandmother in the story was evil. It was her intent to show that the grandmother was able to exhibit grace at the end of the story. Most people that read the story miss this.

The "art" of this story is the fact that it is so deep that it inspires lots of great discussions.

 

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