What is the significance of John Wesley's and June Star's names in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?
According to Victor Lasseter in his article "The Children's Names in Flannery O'Connor's 'A Good Man Is Hard to Find,'" the children were named after two of the most notorious outlaws of the wild west: John Wesley Hardin, who was said to be so mean he shot a man just for snoring, and Belle Starr, one of the few female criminals. This interpretation seems to ft them better than a religious reading of their names, which is alos plausible.
Lasseter notes that "Hardin's racism was well known, and it was alleged that Starr had aristocratic ancestry--two themes that are evidenced in the story." He also suggests that the children are used as symbols of original sin and that O'Connor described the book in which the story appears as "nine stories about original sin."
The eNotes Critical Overview notes: "Knowledge of good and evil is at the heart of her stories." O'Connor herself wrote that "there are perhaps other ways than my own in which ["A Good Man Is Hard to Find"] could be read, but none other by which it could have been written."
The rude grandchildren in this story have interesting names, typical of O'Connor's characters. John Wesley is probably an ironic reference to an English founder of the Methodist Church; the boy's behavior hardly depicts him as religious. This name, by the way, also appears in another O'Connor story, "A Late Encounter with the Enemy," this time for a Boy Scout who abandons his great-grandfather in the hot sun so that the boy can purchase a soda for himself.
June Star is a particularly selfish girl. Although she may be the "star" at Red Sammy's when she tap dances, when Sammy's wife's suggests that she come to be her girl, June Star retorts, "I wouldn't live in a broken down place like this for a million bucks!" Her response reveals truly unattractive qualities, to say the least. I've always considered, too, that her double name is representative of a southern tradition of giving girls two names and addressing them by both. This little girl, however, does portray the stereotypical southern belle.
John Wesley was the founder of Methodism. This story is a religious allegory, and he represents the unbeliever that O'Connor thought would go to hell. The real John Wesley was almost lynched in Georgia, so there's a funny part where John Wesley hangs his head out of the car window and says, "Let's go through Georgia fast!"
June Star is the first "star" that rises in summer, Venus. Go look at the sky on an early summer evening and you'll see the "star" which is actually a planet. Another name for the June star is "Lucifer," which means "Light bearer." This was the angel who defied God and fell from heaven to become Lord of Hell, or Satan. So here you have two names clearly representing evil, those who fought against the "true" Catholic religion, including the belief in"grace." The whole story, as explained by O'Connor in her own writings and lectures, is a religious allegory about a moment of Grace that God grants to people, forgiving them all their sins in a moment. The last line, "She would have been a good woman if there had been someone there to shoot her every day of her life," means you and me, and our faith, is tested daily: the gun is our faith, and if we truly believed we would pay for our sins, we would act as if a gun was pointed at us every minute of every day, that gun being God's judgment. All of us would be good if that fear was truly in our hearts, according to O'Connor.