“A Good Man is Hard to Find” (O’Connor) vs. “The Death of Tommy Grimes” (Meaddough) Essay
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” (O’Connor) vs. “The Death of Tommy Grimes” (Meaddough)
“The Death of Tommy Grimes” is a more successful and compelling piece of literature than “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Both stories focus on traditionalism, human nature in times of death and obligation. However, “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is far more successful due to its efficient use of characterization, atmosphere and the grotesque. “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is clearly the superior piece of art.
Both “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The Death of Tommy Grimes” focus intently on tradition’s effects on society through the use of characterization, but “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is far more successful in delivering its message. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” uses the younger generations as well as the older generations of the family (from grandparents to children) to portray a decline in moral stability and Christian beliefs; an example of how tradition, meant to maintain these beliefs and morals, can be easily corrupted. “The Death of Tommy Grimes” communicates this same message through the strictly traditionalist character of the father, whose racism is shown to be extremely destructive to our society. Because of his unquestioning belief in racist traditions, he has influenced his own son to adhere to the racist tendencies prevalent in the South during their time. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is extremely subtle in its anti-traditionalist message, its most effective example being a subtle allusion to a lurking evil in the highly traditional character of the grandmother, showing the fact that personal flaws are often disguised by a strong belief in the values of tradition.
Her misuse of her Christian tradition is brought to attention through the words of the Misfit: “‘She would have been a good woman,’ the Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.'(O’Connor 11)” “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is much more straightforward in its anti-traditionalist message, emphasizing its stance through the remarkably blunt words of the father: “‘Boys, I wanna tell you my boy became a man today. Yessir, killed his first n****r.’ (Meaddough 413)” The child then belongs to their ironically infantile world of men, and is taken as one of their own by the bar’s stereotypically racist Southerners. This message is condensed to fit the last page of the story, leaving the message short but also driving its point across in a way that is extremely hard to miss. For this reason, “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is the better of the two stories in terms of accomplishing its task. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” uses the characters of the children to show its views on tradition’s dangerous effects as it is passed down and either mutilated or ignored throughout multiple generations.
The children’s rudeness and apathy for the well-being of others is a hard-hitting example of the nature of immorality. “The Death of Tommy Grimes” not only uses the character of the father as an example in its pro-traditionalist message, it also maintains the father as a fully necessary and functional three-dimensional character throughout the story. Although “A Good Man is Hard to Find” would function as a story without the inclusion of the children, it is easy to see that their primary purpose in the story is to show the damage inflicted by a lack of morals. However, “The Death of Tommy Grimes” uses its characters to their fullest potential, again alleviating its success in delivering its message of anti-traditionalism. For these reasons, “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is superior to “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in communicating its message on traditionalism through the use of characterization.
“The Death of Tommy Grimes” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” both use their atmosphere to portray human nature during times of death; however, “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is far more successful because it does so without taking away from other aspects of the story. Throughout “The Death of Tommy Grimes”, the son’s fear of killing and the father’s repeated use of the word “buck” without directly referring to a deer gives a strong aura that something is not as it seems on the surface. Although the foreshadowing is not direct, a sense of uneasiness and an aura of evil are given off, imbuing the story with a dark and foreboding atmosphere. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” gives multiple direct references to The Misfit and his evil ways throughout the story, and refers to him in such a way that there would be no logical explanation for his inclusion in the story were he not to interfere directly with the affairs of the family.
This use of foreshadowing is too direct, and although it certainly adds to the atmospheric uneasiness, it also reveals parts of the story too early on, leaving almost nothing to the imagination. Both of these atmospheric devices lead to a climax in which death is very clearly present. Both stories also contain both metaphorical and literal deaths; “The Death of Tommy Grimes” containing the literal death of the sickeningly dehumanized prey and the metaphorical death of Tommy in his passage into “manhood”, and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” portraying the gruesome deaths of the members of the family as well as the internal death of the Misfit who has been metaphorically killed by the society that has mutilated his life. This change in both stories from seemingly normal events into situations where death is present in multiple ways adds to the atmosphere, which shifts from light to dark quite quickly.
However, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” becomes slightly pretentious after its dark atmosphere has settled in, turning to a long and unrealistic dialogue between the grandmother and the Misfit, a device that is seemingly present only in order to allow O’Connor to communicate her views on the grandmother’s selfishness in death, a message which was mysteriously absent throughout the beginning of the story, without so much as an allusion or foreshadowing to indicate that this message is the true theme of the story. This dialogue actually detracts from the atmosphere of the story by being too obvious in its attempt to redeem the story as a social commentary:
“I wasn’t there, so I can’t say (Christ) didn’t (raise the dead),” The Misfit said. “I wisht I had of been there,” he said, hitting the ground with his fist. “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother’s head cleared for an instant… “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” (O’Connor 11)
Although both “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The Death of Tommy Grimes” successfully show human nature during times of death through their use of atmosphere, “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is clearly more effective because it finds a way to do so without detracting from other aspects of the story.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The Death of Tommy Grimes” both deal with the issue of obligation through the use of the grotesque, but “The Death of Tommy Grimes” gives an example better suited to accomplishing its goal. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” shows the grandmother’s belief that both her children and grandchildren hold a strong obligation to her, as though the mere fact that they belong to her lineage means they have inherited a debt of obedience. However, at the same time she shows no obligation whatsoever to her family during a time of extreme desperation, choosing merely to continue struggling for her own life rather than making any attempt to save those around her. Although she calls out the name of her son, she makes no attempt to discourage the Misfit from killing his wife or daughter, nor does she give any recognition to the fact that her grandson has also been killed.
This shows a very confused and selfish sense of obligation, a willingness to receive but not to give. “The Death of Tommy Grimes” delves into what is arguably an even more grotesque example in order to demonstrate the potential flaws in obligation. The son’s strict devotion to his father leads a boy who could once not bring himself to take the life of a small animal to sufficiently alter his mind to a point at which he could bring himself to shoot a human being. His views of his father as being a role model in his life leads to his inevitable personal death, forcing him to abandon his morals in favor of his obligation to his father:
And he though how it must be for Pa when the other man bragged about their boys, and him so scared to kill a weasel, and he knew what he had to do. “Pa,” he murmered, “think maybe I could go a time at that old buck?” (Meaddough 409)
The son feels, as most sons do, a natural obligation to his father, and this obligation allows him to demoralize himself and to dehumanize another man, succumbing to racism and evil. Although both stories are very successful in using the grotesque to portray the perils of obligation, “The Death of Tommy Grimes” uses an example that is unveiled more suddenly and also more callously. Rather than showing any one character as having a truly difficult time coping with the horrible nature of the incident, it portrays the racist men as encouraging and applauding the activity, and the son as succumbing to the beliefs of these men and re-evaluating his actions as being almost acceptable.
It demonstrates that the grotesque can be normalized through a strong enough feeling of obligation. Although “A Good Man is Hard to Find” also demonstrates an apathy towards the grotesque in the character of the Misfit, it shows reasons for his apathy through his hard and troubled past. On the other hand, Tommy Grimes has been raised in a relatively “normal” and “happy” upbringing (his father’s racism being the one downfall that is mentioned). It is because of this acceptance of such a terrible incident that “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is the more successful of the two stories in portraying its message on obligation through the use of the grotesque.
Although “The Death of Tommy Grimes” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” clearly share much in common, it is obvious that “The Death of Tommy Grimes” is the far superior story. Throughout the stories’ common themes of traditionalism, human nature in times of death, and obligation, “The Death of Tommy Grimes” maintains more well-supported, believable and well-communicated messages than “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Its characterization, atmosphere and use of the grotesque are vital to its success, and Meaddough demonstrates a proficiency in the use of these literary techniques superior to O’Connor. “The Death of Tommy Grimes” prevails over a “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in many ways, and is a far more efficient and successful piece of literature.