Why does O'Connor use similar details in describing The Misfit, Red Sammy, and Hiram in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?"A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O'Connor, who wrote of a "Christ-haunted South," suggests that characters are bound to one another in their imperfect humanity.  Since all these characters are morally flawed, there are, then, similarities in them.  O'Connor once wrote,

Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them.

Throughout the story, the grandmother waffles philosophically, trying to use Jesus and speak of how there are no good men anymore as a way of uplifting her spiritual status.  Like her and many others, a self-righteous Red Sam parrots her words, "A good man is hard to find." As symbolic of his evil, in a grotesque and filthy gesture, he catches flies on himself and "bites each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy."  (Of course, Beelezebub is Lord of the flies!) 

In another parody of an action of a religious action, Hiriam lifts the grandmother's son Bailey thusly,

Hiram pulled Bailey up by the arms...

This action, in context with the Misfit's description of Jesus's dying on the cross, hints at the lifting of Christ from the cross, a sacrificial Victim for man's sins.  Bailey is a sacrificial victim for his mother's outburst "I know you.  You're the Misfit."  And, much as Red Sam carelessly kills the flies, Hiram will easily shot Bailey and his family.

Like the family, the Misfit feels, at least, that he, too, has been a sacrificial victim to society that has been thrown off by Jesus who Himself died for no crime:  "Jesus thrown everything off balance."  In fact each of the characters mentioned, the Misfit, Red Sammy, and Hiram, share a depravity in O'Connor's story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Misfit feels that Jesus had thrown "'everything off balance.'" According to him, Jesus did not commit any crime, but was persecuted nonetheless. The authorities claim that The Misfit has committed a crime, but he says he is innocent (like Jesus) of his father's murder. This may be why he calls himself the "Mis-fit," because the punishment he got didn't fit the so-called crime; it was the same thing with Jesus.

Using similar words to describe The Misfit and Hiram, criminals from whom the grandmother initially only wants to escape, and Red Sammy, a man with whom she agrees whole-heartedly that the world is no longer the good place it once was, shows that there is really not much difference between the men at all.

The grandmother is wrong that Red Sammy is somehow more of a gentleman than most other men. He, in fact, is horrible to his wife, seems slovenly and unkempt, and cruelly keeps a wild monkey chained up to a tree. In some ways, he seems worse than The Misfit, a man who is unjustly punished (perhaps due to his low social status) but then makes the decision to commit crimes as a way of "balancing" the social injustice he's experienced. Rather than ultimately relating more to Red Sammy, the grandmother seems to realize the truth in the very end, just as she's about to die: she recognizes the similarity between herself and The Misfit. She calls him "'one of [her] babies,'" as though she sees his humanity and its relation to hers for the first time. The language O'Connor uses to describe the men draws our attention to the similarities between Hiram, Red Sammy, and The Misfit. It also highlights the ways in which we might find The Misfit—ostensibly the worst of all three characters—to be, in a way, better (or at least more sympathetic) than the others.

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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