According to critics there were three strands to the reality of Flannery O'Connor: literature, the South, and Catholicism. And, it is the combination of these three strands which makes O'Connor unique. O'Connor concerned her writing with the "reality of spirit permeating matter." Her short story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," the grandmother's spiritual recognition of her similarity to the Misfit as a sinner like him exemplifies this concept.
There is a depth to O'Connor's writing that comes from her rich experiences in personal and spiritual life. She had numerous personal and professional relationships, attended Catholic schools as a child, and then went to colleges in her home state of Georgia and later University of Iowa. Following her graduation from college, she moved to an artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. After she was diagnosed with lupus, from which her father had died, O'Connor returned to her hometown where she enjoyed raising ducks and peacocks. The peacock is a prevalent symbol in her narratives, representing beatific vision, the goodness of mercy.
Flannery O'Connor's religious beliefs and her fatal illness also provide some insight into her fiction. In his essay "The Dark Side of the Cross: Flannery O'Connor's Short Fiction," Patrick Galloway suggests her contributions as
cathartic bitterness, a belief in grace as something devastating to the receipient, a gelid concept of salvation, and violence as a force for good.
O'Connor's anti-parables drawn from her experiences, faith, and unique sense of humor, "show the way by elucidating the worst of paths," writes Galloway.
What at first seem senseless deaths become powerful representations of the swift justice of God, the self-deluded prideful characters that receive the unbearable revelation of their own shallow selves are being impaled upon the hold icicle of grace, even if they are too stupid or lost to understand the great boon God is providing them.
Her Catholic faith was reconciled to her fiction in her proving "the truth of Faith." O'Connor felt that the average Catholic mind separates nature from grace, thus perceiving the fictional depiction of nature as sentimental or obscene. But, because she believed that sentimentality was an excess, Nature is used in O'Connor's fiction to emphasize the negativity in the lives and mental states of her characters. Galloway writes,
Nature in O'Connor's stories reflects mankind, in all its base nature, and it is in keeping nature constantly in view that the author avoids the sentimental, and its flipside, the obscene.
Likewise, in an apparent incongruity with her deep religious faith, O'Connor uses the grotesque and violent, but she haa contended that she has used them in the service of a greater vision of spiritual reality. Compassion to O'Connor was an excusing of human weakness. So, she showed the way by using "the worst of paths."