What theme appears both in John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men and in Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men seems to have very little in common with Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Nevertheless, one theme the two works do seem to share is the idea of worldly disappointment ending in death. In Steinbeck’s novel, George and Lennie dream of owning their own farm, hoping that their dream will provide them with happiness. In O’Connor’s story, most members of the unnamed family (except the grandmother) look forward to achieving happiness by means of a vacation trip to Florida. In the end, neither goal is achieved in either work. At the conclusion of O’Connor’s work, all the family members have been killed by the Misfit and his two henchmen, while at the end of Steinbeck’s work, Lennie is shot by George in a kind of mercy-killing, to prevent Lennie from falling into the hands of a murderous mob.

Both works end paradoxically: in Steinbeck’s novel, George kills his close friend precisely because he cares so much for Lennie, while in O’Connor’s story, the Misfit kills the grandmother because he ironically feels threatened by the kindness she tries to show to him at the very end of the work. Yet the underlying values of the two books seem significantly different. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is rooted in a deeply Christian perspective in which life on earth is not especially important; what matters most to O’Connor is the relationship between her characters and God.  In Steinbeck’s novel, on the other hand, the atmosphere is mostly secular. Lennie’s death is a tragedy partly because earthly life, it seems, is all there is.  There is, for Lennie, none of the spiritual transcendence that seems to be granted to the grandmother at the end of O’Connor’s work.  For Steinbeck, the fact that Lennie and George never achieve their dream of owning a farm is a source of great sadness; for O’Connor, the fact that the family members never achieve their dream of reaching Florida (or any of their other secular, worldly dreams) is ultimately unimportant. All that matters to O’Connor is that the grandmother, in the last split second of her life, finally seems to live truly as the Christian she has earlier merely professed to be.

In O'Connor's work, two of the killers look down at the body of the dead grandmother,

who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.

Clearly O'Connor means to suggest that the grandmother's physical death doesn't ultimately matter all that much (since death of some sort is inevitable for everyone, and since all that truly matters is a right relationship with God). There is no such hint of transcendence at the end of Steinbeck's work.  Thus, the two stories both involve journeys toward a secular, worldly goal, but in O'Connor's story that goal is ultimately unimportant.

 

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