To what thematic genre does Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" belong ?

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

O'Connor's novels and short stories--difficult to categorize--are, like those of William Faulkner and others,  rooted in the rural American south.  But because O'Connor was a devout Catholic, and she used her literary works to explore the role of religion in daily life,  her works are also infused with themes related to Christian salvation, redemption, sin, shallow belief systems, and, perhaps most important, the nature of evil and its role in redemption.  Like Faulkner's (for example, "A Rose for Emily") O'Connor's work fits loosely into the southern Gothic genre, with characters who move through bizarre, even grotesque, experiences that may or may not lead to enlightenment.  

In an interview, O'Connor said that most of her short stories were ultimately about "an action of grace in territory held by the devil."  Because no other southern writer in the mid-1950's was writing fiction that explored so overtly the connection between evil and Christian redemption, one can easily argue that O'Connor's work is thematically unique, and this uniqueness makes her work difficult to categorize--simply because her work constitutes a category or genre in itself.

If we take O'Connor at her word--that her writing centers on grace in the face of evil--we see that the end of "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" exemplifies that theme.  The grandmother, who has led a superficial and unexamined life, with no genuine Christian beliefs animating her actions, is executed by The Misfit when, for the first time in her life, she feels true compassion for another person:

'Why you're one of my babies.  You're one of my own children!'  She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. . . .

Her shallowness--demonstrated in everything she has said and done up to this point--is converted by The Misfit's genuine confusion about the nature of good and evil, and the grandmother achieves redemption through her first truly Christian act.

In sum, then, we can place O'Connor's work in the genre of southern American literature and loosely in the sub-genre of the Southern gothic or grotesque, but her most important contribution to American literature of this period is her relentless pursuit of what constitutes evil and Christian redemption--a genre that is her own.

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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