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: True Spirituality Is Hard To Find Essay

: True Spirituality Is Hard To Find Essay
:
: 19:47:12 25 2010
: 6 : 14 : 2 : 5 :    

, Research Paper

A Good Man is Hard to Find is an extremely powerful commentary that elucidates Flannery OConnors opinions about religion and society. Like the majority of her other works, A Good Man is Hard to Find has attracted many interpretations based on Christian dogma (Bandy 1). These Christian explications are justified because Miss OConnor is notorious for expressing Catholic doctrines through her fiction. Once she even remarked I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy (Kropf 1). This longstanding reputation compels every critic of OConnor to expose the religious convictions encrypted within her stories. The grandmothers final gesture towards the Misfit is not a moment of grace but rather an extremely selfish act intended to save her life at any cost. Therefore, the grandmothers final gesture symbolizes societys lack of genuine spirituality.

Further evidence that supports the notion that A Good Man is Hard to Find is a commentary on societys lack of spirituality is its parallelism with Geoffrey Chaucers Canterbury Tales. The stories conform so closely to one another that one must consider the possibility that Flannery OConnor used the Canterbury Tales, or more specifically the Pardoners Tale, as an outline for her own commentary about societys lack of genuine spirituality. Notably, A Good Man is Hard to Find and the Canterbury Tales seek to define the good man and good woman of their age within a Christian context (Blythe & Sweet 1). The stories use a journey as a tool to determine and define a good man or woman. Pardoners and OConnors parties encounter death because of their avarice of treasure. The Pardoners message radix malorum est cupiditas when loosely defined corresponds and strengthens OConnors message.

Remarkably, the theme of A Good Man is Hard to Find centers around two developed characters. The grandmother and the Misfit are essentially the only characters of significance. The other characters such as June Star or Bailey Boy merely reflect OConnors observations about society. The other characters have little affect on the central theme of the story. The Misfit and the grandmother seem to be the exact opposite. The grandmother seems to be a harmless busybody, utterly self-absorbed but also amusing (Bandy 2). The Misfit fits the stereotypical cast of an escaped convict. Ironically, their similarities will allegorize Flannery OConnors notion that a good man or woman is hard to find.

A literal interpretation of the grandmother portrays an elderly southern woman attempting to maintain the proper and genteel values of the South. The grandmother places great importance on her appearance and the opinions of others. This importance is revealed at the beginning of their journey when the story compares the grandmother, a reflection of the past, to the daughter-in-law, a reflection of the present:

The childrens mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had a pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady (OConnor 267).

Clearly the grandmother believes that how you look reflects what kind of person you are. The grandmother makes an effort to instill her refined values in her grandchildren. When the children insult the grandmothers native state of Tennessee she scornfully replies In my time children were more respectful of their native states of their parents and everything else (OConnor 268). A casual reading of the story illustrates an innocent elderly woman who is generally a good person.

The critics interpretation of the grandmother drastically differs from that of OConnors. They view the grandmother as a self-absorbed prejudice woman struggling with the shift from the antebellum values of lineage and gentility to those of a cash oriented culture (Owens 1). This is hard for many readers to accept because she often invokes images of their own grandmother. Her prejudices are common among older southern individuals remember who times before the civil rights movement. The grandmother relishes in the humor of the watermelon she never received because a nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, E.A.T. (OConnor 269). She also casually remarks that a Negro child without pants would make a splendid picture to paint. The grandmother believes herself to be a patron of social decorum in a world of barbarians (Bandy 6). She often complains about the decay of respect and trust in todays society. She honestly believes that everything in society including people is getting terrible (OConnor 270). Her negative views of society make her a woman with neither values nor morals, though she would be shocked to be told so (Bandy 6). The grandmothers self-absorbed nature and affinity with the antebellum social system indicates she too is evil.

The Misfit is the apotheosis of a lost soul engulfed by evil. He has a complete lack of religious faith. An example of this lack of faith is revealed when he responds to the grandmothers request to pray by saying I dont want no hep, Im doing alright by myself (OConnor 276). This philosophy has brought the Misfit to the conclusion that there is nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can-by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him (OConnor 277). The Misfit also trusts nothing that he has not himself witnessed, touched, weighed and measured (Bandy 7). Critic C. R. Kropf best summed up the Misfits philosophy by stating, the Misfit believes that in the present uncertain state of thing meanness is the only answer (2). The Misfits evil nature warrants him to trust nobody. The Misfit is truly an evil character that has a complete lack of faith and remorse.

Though Bailey and June Star are of little importance, they do allow us to gain some insight in to Flannery OConnors observations about modern society. Bailey is a submissive male who is easily manipulated by others (Blythe & Sweet 1). The bright parrot shirt indicates his submissive outlook on life. Bailey represents the lack of authority in modern society. Little June Star is an extremely rude child who has no respect for adults. She does not think twice about her insult directed at Red Sammys wife. June Star is the perfect indication of the decline in refinement in society. OConnors supplemental characters depict a dismal picture of modern society.

Red Sammy is another character that appears to be genuinely good person. When scrutinized, it is discovered that Red Sammy represents evil. Critic C.R. Kropf interpreted Red Sammy as a devil figure in metaphorical hell (2). Kropf came to this explanation because of the similarities between Red Sammy and the Devil. The color red found in Sammys name is a obvious reference to hell and the Devil. Strangely, Sammy keeps a chained monkey outside his home. The monkey can be interpreted as a grotesque travesty of fallen man (2). Red Sammys wife is even described as burnt-brown (OConnor 269). This is definitely a reference to the flames and extreme heat of hell. Associating Red Sammy with the devil fits the theme of the story perfectly.

The grandmothers actions are center of debate among critics. Interpreting the conflict between the grandmother and the Misfit is the key to unlocking OConnors message. The scenes ambiguity has compelled many critics to argue over its intended interpretation. Critics dispute whether the grandmothers gesture towards the Misfit should be interpreted as a token of true, divine grace and spiritual insight (Clark 1), or as the ultimate selfish act, designed to save her own life at any cost (Bandy 1). Despite the argument of some critics, the grandmother because of her evil attributes, allegorizes societys lack of genuine spirituality.

The final and most important scene of the story begins when the grandmother recognizes the Misfit. Immediately, the fate of the family is sealed because the Misfit quickly points out it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadnt of reckernized me (OConnor 273). The Misfit admits that he would prefer not to shoot a lady, but because of his complete lack of religious faith knows theres nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can-by killing somebody (OConnor 277). The Misfit then instructs his gang to begin killing the family. The grandmother, concerned only with herself, lurches desperately from one strategy to another, not quite admitting to herself that the Misfit will kill her just as casually as he has killed the rest of her family (Bandy 5). She quickly refers to her antebellum values and compliments the family of the Misfit. This is the grandmothers futile technique of the insincere compliment (5), for she is desperate to appeal to the Misfits virtuous feelings. Unfortunately, the grandmother will not admit to herself that the Misfit is pure evil. Suddenly realizing her [antebellum] rules, so dependable in the past, have failed (5), the grandmother cleverly mentions the name Jesus. It is very apparent that the Grandmothers religion is entirely of the lip-serving variety (8). Her lack of spirituality is revealed when she questions her own faith by saying, Maybe He didnt raise the dead (OConnor 277). The grandmother, still believing she can save her life, exclaims Youre one of my own children! (278). She then touches the Misfit only to be shot three times in the chest. The grandmother finally realized that she and the Misfit are fundamentally the same.

The grandmother and the Misfit are two people who live only for themselves. Critic Kathleen G. Ochshorn stated Despite their obvious differences, the Misfit and the grandmother are bound by their concern with appearances and superficial respectability (2). The Misfit knew the entire time that the grandmother lacked genuine spirituality. His remark She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life illustrates the Misfits belief that the grandmothers spirituality was only skin deep. Flannery OConnor cleverly crafted two characters that appeared to be exact opposites. Ironically, their similarities revealed the lack of genuine spirituality in modern society. A good man or woman is truly hard to find.

Bandy, Stephen C., One of my babies: the misfit and the grandmother, in A Good Man Is Hard to Find, in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 107-111. Gale Research. 2001. Document Number A19638483

Blythe, Hal, and Charlie Sweet, and, OConnors A Good Man is Hard to Find, in The Explicator, September 22, 1996, Vol. 55, No. 1, pp. 49-51. DISCovering Authors. Gale Group, 1999, Reproduced in Discovering Collection. Farmington Hills, Mich: Gale Group. December, 2000. http://www.galenet/servlet/DC/ Document Number: CD2101209255

Kropf, C.R., Theme and Setting in A Good man Is Hard to Find, in Renascence, Vol. XXIV, no. 4, Summer, 1972, pp. 177-206. EXPLORING Short Stories. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Discovering Collection. Farming Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December, 2000. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/DC/ Document Number: CD2112200084

Ochshorn, Kathleen G., A Cloak of Grace: Contradictions in A Good Man is Hard to Find, in Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 18, no. 1, Spring, 1990, pp.113-117. EXPLORING Short Stories. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Discovering Collection. Farmington Hills, Mich: Gale Group. Decmber, 2000. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/DC/ Document Number CD2112200082

OConnor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell eds. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2001. 254-259.

Owens, Mitchell., The function of signature in A Good Man is Hard to Find, in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 101-106. EXPLORING Short Stories. Gale Research. 2001. Document Number A19638482

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