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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

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Discussion Topic

The significance of the grandmother's epiphany in "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

Summary:

The grandmother's epiphany in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" signifies a moment of grace and self-awareness. She realizes her own flaws and humanity, briefly connecting with the Misfit on a deeper level, acknowledging their shared imperfection. This moment underscores the theme of redemption and the potential for spiritual awakening, even in dire circumstances.

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What does the grandmother suddenly understand when her head clears in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

For the majority of the story, the grandmother considers herself a morally superior individual and is depicted as a self-serving, manipulative woman, who is extremely judgmental and critical of others. The unnamed grandmother claims that her conscience is her guiding force in life and possesses superficial, traditional views of society. She also believes in a strict moral code and attempts to convince the Misfit to spare her life by referring to him as a good man. During her conversation with the Misfit, the grandmother is unaware of her hollow sentiments and does not recognize that her moral code is significantly flawed.

The grandmother even attempts to invoke Jesus's name to influence the Misfit's actions, which gives him the opportunity to reflect on his life. When the Misfit looks as if he will cry, the grandmother experiences an epiphany and murmurs,

Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children! (10).

The grandmother's final words and loving gesture reveal that she understands that the Misfit is her fellow suffering human being whom she is obligated to love. By viewing the Misfit as one of her own children, the grandmother sheds her intolerant, judgmental perception and experiences a feeling of unconditional love for him as a person. The grandmother's words and actions reveal that she has experienced a brief moment of grace by recognizing a deep spiritual kinship with the killer. In the last moments of her life, the grandmother has substantially grown as a person and dies in peace. The grandmother lived her life judging others and delineating people into certain groups according to her moral code but has finally realized that everyone is deserving of grace in God's eyes moments before she is shot.

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What does the grandmother suddenly understand when her head clears in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

In the moment when the Misfit shows emotion, his "voice seemed about to crack" with feeling as he recounts how he came to be the criminal he is now, and the grandmother's "head cleared for an instant." She sees his twisted face near hers, looking as though he would cry, and she says, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children." She seems to suddenly see the ways in which she and this man, this low-class murderer, are similar rather than the myriad ways in which they are different.

She sees how, with love rather than judgment, he might have turned out differently, like one of her own children might have. She sees him, himself, rather than all the things she might have once believed about people like him. She recognizes his humanity and, in that moment, she becomes innocent again, just a second before she dies. The Misfit shoots her, this moment of vulnerable emotion evidently too much for him, and when she falls to the ground, her legs are "crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky." This description of her as being suddenly like a child again and the sky being cloudless indicates that all her prejudices have fallen away and that she has become innocent and pure once more. Her mind has cleared just as the sky has, and she dies in this state of innocence and grace.

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What does the grandmother suddenly understand when her head clears in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

The grandmother has a sudden moment of clarity, akin to an epiphany. For in that moment she has been touched by grace. And because she's been touched by grace she realizes, for the first time in her life, that she is connected to every other one of God's creatures.

This is a truly remarkable awakening, the kind that only God's grace can bring according to devout Christians. Here is a woman whose whole life has been characterized by her willed separation from other people, so many of whom she looks down upon with a toxic mixture of hatred and contempt. Yet here she is, acknowledging her spiritual kinship with a crazed killer on the loose. God moves in mysterious ways, as they say, and there's something truly mysterious about his movements here, not to say remarkable.

Some readers have looked upon the grandmother's epiphany as completely fake, a desperate ploy to avoid being killed by the Misfit. But that surely misses the point of what O' Connor's attempting to do here. As she does so often in her work, she wants to present us with the transformative power of grace and to show us how it can turn even the most unrepentant sinners towards God.

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What does the grandmother suddenly understand when her head clears in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

O'Connor's conclusion to this story is often considered a puzzling one with the grandmother's remark to the Misfit, "You're one of my own children." In fact, she is experiencing her moment of grace, an essential experience for O'Connor's characters in that she recognizes a kinship with the Misfit. Despite the old woman's air of superiority earlier in the story and her lame attempts to flatter the Misfit to save her own life, she finally realizes that he is not so different from her. Of course, he's not literally her child; instead, she has a moment of insight when her head clears, and she sees that she is no better than the Misfit. In fact, both characters reveal that good "is hard to find."

Earlier O'Connor tells us the grandmother had a "peculiar feeling" she "had known him all her life" and "she could not recall who he was." The Misfit's shooting her in response to her final comment may indicate, furthermore, that he feels it mysteriously to be true. They are connected. This kind of recognition scene is common in O'Connor's work. 

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What does the grandmother suddenly understand when her head clears in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

The grandmother has a moment of what the Catholic Flannery O'Connor would have called grace. As she listens to the Misfit's weeping and his description of his spiritual anguish, she feels compassion for him and realizes the unity of the human family, whereas before she was superficial and snobby, looking down on others outside her race and class as inferior.

She tells the Misfit he is one of her own children, which is her way of saying the two of them are not so different as she previously believed, even though he is a criminal, and she is a lady. In this moment of grace, the grandmother comes into spiritual enlightenment; however, her attempt to touch the Misfit causes him to shoot her to death.

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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," why and how is the grandmother's epiphany significant?

The grandmother has an epiphany, an illuminating realization of truth, because, as the Misfit identifies in the end, she finally "had...somebody there to shoot her." It took being in a life-and-death situation, a moment that tested all of her mettle and values, for her to have a realization about her own humanity as well as the Misfit's. When the Misfit shows emotion and vulnerability, his voice "about to crack," this is when her own "head cleared for an instant." It seems that this is the exact moment of her epiphany: when she observes his emotions in her own heightened emotional state, she realizes how they are similar, rather than how they are different.

The Misfit is precisely the kind of person that the grandmother would never have called a "good man" before she found herself in this situation. He has been to prison multiple times; he's been accused of many crimes, some of which he has actually committed. He doesn't come from a family she would consider to be "good people," even though she tells him he does when she is trying to convince him to spare her life. This epiphany is significant because it shows that people can be redeemed and can reconnect with humanity, even after an extended estrangement. The final description of her shows that she has become innocent again: she "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." Her mind, like the sky, was clear when she recognized the Misfit, figuratively speaking, as "one of [her] babies." She saw him, however briefly, as someone deserving of love and care. It is significant that she was able to have this realization at all.

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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," why and how is the grandmother's epiphany significant?

In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," the grandmother's epiphany comes at the end of the story, as she faces certain death at the hands of the Misfit. Throughout the story, the grandmother has shown herself to be judgmental, concerned primarily with airs of respectability and the putting on of appearances, showing little empathy for the experiences of other human beings.

In the conclusion of the story, she is left alone with the Misfit, an unrepentant killer, with the grandmother pleading for her life, to no avail. As the situation looks increasingly bleak (with the Misfit's gang executing the other members of her family) and the grandmother becoming increasingly overwhelmed, she has a momentary flash of empathy and recognizes the humanity within the Misfit himself.

The thing to keep in mind is that Flannery O'Connor was a deeply Christian writer whose work was informed by her own Catholicism. The same applies to the epiphany itself, which is treated as a spiritual awakening for the grandmother. It is only at the end of her life that she comes to recognize and empathize with the essential humanity of other human beings, including someone as broken and monstrous as the Misfit.

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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," why and how is the grandmother's epiphany significant?

In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the grandmother’s epiphany – or moment of enlightenment or revelation – is almost surely the moment when she reaches out and touches The Misfit. Although The Misfit and his henchmen have slaughtered all the other members of her family, the grandmother is nevertheless able to suddenly see a connection between herself and The Misfit.  She thus reaches out and touches him while saying,

“Why, you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!”

As soon as she says this, however, The Misfit shoots and kills her.

This startling moment in the story is also one of the story’s richest moments for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • The grandmother had earlier been estranged from her biological son, Bailey, and his wife and children. The fact that she is able to see and make some connection with The Misfit is therefore a sign of a significant change in her entire existence.
  • The grandmother, early in the story, had been unable to see any real connection between herself and a small black child the family had passed along the side of the road on their trip to Florida. Now, however, she is able to see some real connection between herself and The Misfit.
  • Throughout the story, the grandmother had assumed that she was quite different from people such as The Misfit. For example, when discussing contemporary problems with Red Sammy Butts, she had actually said that the entire continent of Europe was to blame for any problems that existed in the world [!].  This is one of many unintentionally funny statements she makes during the course of the story. The statement implies her tendency to consider herself a good woman who has no responsibility for any problems, either within her own family or in the world at large.
  • The fact that the grandmother is finally able to see some connection between herself and The Misfit suggests that she is finally also able to see some connection between herself and evil, which is one thing The Misfit surely symbolizes.
  • However, the fact that the grandmother is finally able to see some connection between herself and The Misfit also suggests that she is finally able to really put into practice the Christianity she prattles about elsewhere in the story -- a Christianity she never really lives, in the truest sense, until right before she dies.  She reaches out to The Misfit in love and compassion and fellowship. The fact that he kills her for doing so means little to O’Connor.  What matters is that the grandmother has actually, for once, acted like a true “grand mother.” The grandmother’s physical death is insignificant: we will all die, but few of us will ever live a moment as authentically rich and full of meaning as the grandmother’s last moment on earth. In the last split seconds of her life, she finally is used, by God, to give The Misfit a much-needed epiphany of his own. How he chooses to respond to that epiphany is, as O'Connor herself once said, another story.
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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," why and how is the grandmother's epiphany significant?

At the end of Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the grandmother has an epiphany – a sudden realization – of sorts. I say “of sorts,” because it isn’t clear that the grandmother is entirely or fully conscious of this realization, and it is clear that the revelation lasts for only a split second before she is immediately shot and killed by the Misfit.

O’Connor, referring in the first sentence here to the Misfit, describes the crucial moment as follows:

His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother's head cleared for an instant. She saw the man's face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest.

The grandmother has increasingly been in a state of paralyzed shock as she realizes that the Misfit and his henchmen are systematically murdering her entire family and that she, too, is about to die. She has been saying anything she can think to try to save her life. However, as the Misfit reveals his own spiritual torment and his own deep emotional pain, the grandmother responds in an entirely unexpected way: she reaches out and tries to comfort the last person on earth to whom she might have been expected to show compassion. Her “epiphany” – her realization that the Misfit is “one of [her] own children,” lasts only an “instant,” but it is enough (O’Connor implies) to transform the grandmother’s spiritual existence and perhaps to begin the transformation of the Misfit as well.

It’s important to emphasize that O’Connor does not present the grandmother’s perception and conduct here as the products of deliberate, rational choice.  Doing so would have implied an entirely different kind of “epiphany.”  Rather, O’Connor presents the grandmother as an instrument of God’s grace. God is using his own power to transform the grandmother and also to literally reach out, through her, to the Misfit, so that the Misfit, too, is granted a sort of epiphany. The grandmother is not responsible for the epiphany she experiences; God is. The grandmother’s life is transformed, in its last split seconds, not by the grandmother but by God. O’Connor argued (rightly) about this particular story that the grandmother is both the beneficiary and the instrument of God’s grace. Her epiphany is God’s gift, both to her and (if he will accept it) to the Misfit as well.  One may agree or disagree with O’Connor’s theology, but her explanation of what happens in this tale seems far more convincing than any other.

Some readers are shocked by the grandmother’s behavior: why, they ask, should she reach out to such a vicious person? Isn’t she just being manipulative one last time? Why doesn’t she resist him? Isn’t her death meaningless?

O’Connor would have said (rightly) that thanks to God, the grandmother is the one who wins this contest with the Misfit.  Each of us, after all, must die, but it is the grandmother who manages to live, if only for a moment, in the truest and deepest senses of the word.

Little wonder, then, that our last vision of the grandmother shows her, with her legs “crossed” under her like “a child’s” and “her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.”

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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," why and how is the grandmother's epiphany significant?

This question has already been answered.  Please see the link below. 

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