The short story I chose for my critical essay is a story that caught my attention with a gentle and inspiring title and as I began to turn pages it suddenly evolved into a theme that caught me off guard and I quickly became intrigued by elusive style of writing the author used to express this story in a unique form of literature. After reading Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, I will discuss the vivid historical and cultural context the author revealed to the story’s setting in relation to its style and how the main character is exposed to different parallels of what she considers to be a good man in time that is dealing with social issues we are still faced with today. Also, I will give a short biography on Flannery O’Connor on her background and why she enjoys writing stories with such dark content. In the following paragraphs, you will also exposed to how a calm title “A Good Man is Hard to Find” will bring new perspective to the type of person you would consider to be a good man and how we can be faced with a situation where we find ourselves trying to see the good, in even the most evil kind of men. Throughout the short story by Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” used cultural context that represents the use and belief of a southern roots lifestyle that took place in a small town in Georgia somewhere between the 1940’s-1950’s.
The Grandmother is the main character and in several instances she replicates the historical and cultural race issues present during those times because she would refer to African Americans as “Negros” or “N*gg* rs” which was common use of slang by southern whites around that time. For example, the Grandma was telling her young obnoxious granddaughter named June Star, a story and even mentioned a derogatory statement which was stated “Little nigg*rs in the country don’t have thinks like we do” which clearly shows her position on racism in the United States. Another example comes from an excerpt from The University of Mass. Dartmouth, English Department where the Grandmother was stated as “The Grandmother, A product of the American South is revealed as a conservative and traditionalist when it comes to both gender and race.
She makes several statements using this type derogatory fashion which directly imitates the same type of behavior used during this time period toward African Americans. Another example of how the author used both historical and cultural context within her writing was when the family was heading to Florida they stopped at a small diner that was called “The Tower” or also “Red Sammy’s Barbecue” to grab a bite to eat, and conversation came up where they were talking about a man called “The Misfit” who escaped from Federal Prison and other issues going on in the country and the owner, Big Sammy Butts made a remark about how many of the issues happening in the Country are to be blamed on Europe. It took me a moment to fully understand why they would even consider making a comment like that, but then as I looked deeper into the subject I was quick to discover that the story takes place around the time World War 2 was taken place or was recently over and because of the hardship many families and soldiers had to deal with mentally and financially led to a rise in crime and tension amongst residents where Red Sammy Butts was led to make the statement “A good man is hard to Find”.
The way the author used the setting of the story to take place in a southern community and the characters having a southern country lifestyle and beliefs goes hand in hand with the unique style of literature this story represents, which is called Southern Gothic Literature. The meaning of Southern Gothic Literature as described by Beverly Lyon Clark from Georgetown University, as being defined as a style or genre of writing of American Literature, that focuses on strange events, eccentric characters, and local color to create a moody and unsettling depiction of life in the American South and in some cases the stories start off and seem to be normal at first glance but eventually reveal themselves to be strange, disturbing, and sometimes horrific. The relation between the definition of Southern Gothic Literature and the historical context and plot which the story contains is almost identical in characteristics and perfect placement by the author to give the story a sense of significance where it is relevant in all elements. While researching this short story you complete a close reading you come to recognize the close details that come to expose a theme that is elusive and shows different parallels of what Grandma considers being a good man within different parts of the story.
In order to bring further understanding I am going to give you a brief summary on the short story. The story begins in Georgia in the 1940’s-1950’s with the Grandma as the main character who is trying to manipulate her son named Bailey and his wife from traveling to Florida because of the danger of a man called The Misfit who has escaped from prison and instead tries to persuade them to travel to Tennessee. Eventually, the Grandmother doesn’t succeed at convincing him to travel to Tennessee so both of them head off toward Florida along with Bailey’s wife, their young daughter June, their eight year old son John Wesley, the young baby, and Gandmas cat.
They drive for a while and Grandma talks to her granddaughter of her early days when she was a maiden lady and how she was courted by Edgar Atkins Teargarden and continued on describing Edgar and how he was a gentleman who she should have married. The stop at a place called The Tower to eat and came across a man named Red Sammy Butts where he begins to talk with Grandma about people stealing gas from his store, how you don’t know who you can trust and how times are changing from how they used to be. They continue to talk about society and how they feel a lot of the issues are Europe’s fault and then once again Grandma brings up the story about The Misfit and how Red Sammy needs to keep his eyes open for him and the conversation came to a closer where Red Sammy finished saying “A Good Man is hard to Find”. They left the diner and were driving down the road and Grandma began to tell a story about an old house she remembers down the road an old plantation she used to visit and decided she wanted to drive by so she manipulated her son once again and planted the idea in the kids’ minds that the previous owner left a stash of silver behind which caused the children to scream and fuss about going to the house.
Eventually Bailey gave in and they turned around and begin a few miles down an old abandoned dirt road where the Grandmother suddenly becomes embarrassed and notices the house is in Tennessee and not Georgia and at the same time before she says anything the pet cat that Granma brought jumped out and latched around Bailys neck and caused the car to crash. Nobody gets injured and they are resting along the road where a car eventually pulls up with three men who were all carrying guns. Grandma has the idea where she thinks she recognizes one of the men and then suddenly realizes he is The Misfit. She began to yell and tremble asking the misfit if he would shoot an old lady and began to tell him she knows he’s a good man and that he had to come from a good family and how she can just look at him and can tell he’s a good man.
A few moments later The Misfit had Bobby Lee and Hiram who were also escaped convicts take Bailey and John Wesley into the woods close by where they shortly heard two gunshots. The Grandma continued to plead with The Misfit about how he should pray and that he’s a good man and should life a life of pleasure and asked what he did to go to prison because he could be forgiven by Jesus and The Misfit went on to say he didn’t do anything to go to prison and stated that he basically wanted “No pleasure but meanness” and eventually Hiram and Bobby Lee came back and got the wife, June, and the baby and took them to the woods and shot them as well. By then, the Grandma is doing everything she can pleading with The Misfit and eventually went as far as saying she was his mother where he then shot her three times in the stomach killing her.
The Misfit finished the story with “It’s no real pleasure in life”. As you can see from the brief summary is how the Grandmother goes throughout the entire story with a direct vision of what she considers to be a good man and as the story evolves tragically where she begins to disregard her previous opinion on The Misfit and basically labels him in the sense that he was a good man. Also, the Grandmother talked of how Jesus raised the dead and how he could help The Misfit, which began to anger him in which caused him to raise his voice so the Grandma went on to say that maybe Jesus didn’t raise the dead. This is just showing the nature of Human morals that become non-existent in a time where she uses her selfishness and desperation to keep herself alive.
But, coincidently just as she thought it would keep her alive, and that The Misfit wouldn’t shoot an old woman and just as she tried to deceive the fact that she was calling an evil man good came to prove her wrong when he eventually shot her. This expresses social issues within the story that are executed by The Misfit for unfair treatment which is the same thing behind the same social issues today that leads many people to die for no reason each and every day. Every time I turn on the news I see stories where a man shoots up a school, or shoots up a movie theatre, or an army base, or anything in comparison to these selfish acts of violence happens all over the world.
The worst part about these disasters is just like in the story, an innocent family died for no real reason except for the fact The Misfit felt mistreated so he felt the best thing he could do to feel better or overcome his feelings would be to kill as many innocent people as possible which is just like what happens today from many different excuses of what are considered unfair treatment.
Behind every great story there is a great mind, and with this particular story we begin to understand just how brilliant Flannery O’Connor really is. O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia 1925 and was noticed to be quite intelligent at a very young age and actually began to attend Georgia State College for Women when she was still a young woman. O’Connor lost her Father to Lupus when she was still a young woman and with a strong sense of motivation and character she didn’t allow her father’s death to hold her back from achieving success. With the skill of being a strong writer as a young child, O’Connor excelled working for her school newspaper and literary magazine while she kept a passion for writing stories on the side.
After showing great results from her stories she wrote she actually used them to get her a place in the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop Master’s Program where she eventually graduated in 1947. After graduating, O’Connor joined a small publishing company where she submitted some of her work and she was actually disgusted to find out her publisher didn’t like her work so because the kind of woman she was she moved on and began to work with a new publisher. At age 25, O’Connor was faced with a devastating reality when she experienced a decline in her health where she came to find out that she was diagnosed with Lupus, just like her late father.
Recently after she became aware of her medical issues and put into the fear of the possibility she would only live a few more years, O’Connor moved back to Georgia to live with her mother where she lived a goal driven lifestyle as she continued to write on a regular basis, and she even started to teach lectures on writing. Soon to follow, O’Connor released several novels where she made her presence known as she became criticized for religious views in her books and became a noticed writer with a great deal of talent and then a few years down the road in 1955 she released her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.
Even though O’Connor was a gifted writer her novels weren’t very successful she became well known for her talent in writing short stories. In 1964 when she was thirty nine years old O’Connor passed away, and even that didn’t stop her success because in 1972 she won the National Book Award where she was soon known to have work that didn’t get the credit it deserved until many years after she had passed. Faced with many issues starting at a very young age, many people feel O’Connor had a gift and a brilliant skill at writing dark and unpredictable subjects that weren’t very original to many pieces of her time, but to this date no one knows the real motivation behind her works of literature and at the same time no one else knows the emotions O’Connor experienced after losing her father at a young age or having to experience the dark times she faced when being faced with a deadly disease at a point where her life was just starting to begin, and now she had to live with uncertainty of not knowing how soon it would be until her life would end.
After going through the process and experience of choosing a book with a simple and inspiring title, I have learned a valuable lesson that no matter how simple it may seem it can become an unexpected piece of unique literature that begins to become increasingly intriguing as it begins to have more meaning than you could have ever began to understand. During the discussion of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor I was able to discuss the deeply detailed historical and cultural context of the story’s setting that was revealed by the author in relation to the story’s style and how the main character was exposed to many different perspectives of what she would consider to be a good man during a time faced with social issues still occurring today.
Also, I was able to bring to light a short biography on the life and background of Flannery O’Connor and what has inspired her to write such dark and troublesome content. As I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, you should be exposed to the stunning changes that can be brought to the meaning of a story with such a calm title and how the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” has brought an entirely new perspective on how a person could change their entire outlook on what they would consider to be a good man, and how being in the presence of an evil man could ultimately cause a person in a driven situation to become obsessed with the thought of convincing him he is good.
Janson, Peter. “University of Mass. Dartmouth Eng. Dept.” A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Analyzed. University of Mass. Dartmouth Eng. Dept., 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 26 Sept. 2013.
O’Connor, Flannery, and Beverly Lyon Clark. “Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964).” Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). Georgetown University, 4 Nov. 2002. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.