Literary Analysis: "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"
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A Good Man Is Hard to Find is a short story about a family travelling to Florida. It is a metaphorically complicated narrative with numerous themes and characters. One of the most prominent themes is religion and faith which develops through the whole story and reaches its climax at the end.
The story starts in Atlanta. The author describes a family which is planning a trip to Florida. The next day they are on their way. Unfortunately, they are not on the route they planned to go. The car went off the road and appeared in the ditch. The family encounters criminals who escaped from prison. Finally, the story ends with the murder of the people. The story seems to be very short and fast developing. Thus, Flannery O’Conner manages to make her story thought-provoking and deeply philosophical.
In order to analyze the context and major themes, there is a need to study the characters of the story. The characters are versatile and depict different types of personalities in society. Bailey lives in Atlanta with his wife and three children. He is rather reserved and passive. His mother stands in opposition to him. Compared with her son, she is rather active, talkative and persistent. The author does not give any name to Bailey’s mother. The reason for that may lie in her activeness and bright character.
The personality of Bailey’s wife is also very passive. She is nameless as well. There is little said about her. She seems to resemble her husband and performs direct functions of a mother – feeding a baby. The opposite of their parents stand John Wesley and June Star. The children appear rather perverted and uncontrollable in their behavior and sayings. They are self-centered and show it by their deeds. It seems to a reader that Bailey and his wife have little control and discipline over their children.
When the car stops at The Tower a reader gets acquainted with Red Sammy Butts and his wife. Red Sammy Butts and Bailey’s mother have a conversation. They talk about life and decline in trust. They blame Europe for changes in America. The Restaurant operator complaints of untrustworthy people and the occasion they had with men who did not pay for the gasoline. “A good man is hard to find," Red Sammy said. "Everything is getting terrible” (O’Conner 4).
This short story describes numerous problems of society. First of all, it is a decline in human values. It seems as the world has turned around and the moral values stopped functioning for everyone. And only elder generation remembers how it used to be. Children appear rather egoistic and self-centered. They do not show any respect for their parents, but a desire to fulfill their wishes. Secondly, the question of trust between people is very vague. People do not trust each other anymore and it is not safe to leave the door opened etc. Thirdly, people lose their faith in something saint and powerful. They create their own rules for living and decide on their own whom to kill or not. The Misfit and his companions, Hiram and Bobby Lee, have no moral values. The Misfit does not believe in God. He does not see him, so God does not exist for him. The criminal does his own justice by killing people. “…it's 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. No pleasure but meanness…” (O’Conner 10).
Fourthly, Bailey’s mother is an example of a racist. When she tells a story about Edgar Atkins Teagarden, she calls a little African boy ‘a nigger’. Moreover, she appears to be a mercenary person who loves money and wealth. “... she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentle man and had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a few years ago, a very wealthy man” (O’Conner 3).
Finally, there is a notion of fate described in the story. There were no hints for tragic ending at first. Thus, later a turn over occurred. If not for the story Bailey’s mother told about plantation and silver, the family would not turn off the road and change their route. Perhaps, it was their fate to meet the Misfit at the end. God has his own plans and nothing happens in vain.
Furthermore, if to read the story carefully, there are numerous presages of the tragic ending. The first one is the first time Bailey’s mother speaks about the Misfit. So, the reader presupposes that they may meet him in future. The second time is the description of Bailey’s mother appearance. She always tried to look like a lady in case of any accident. “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Conner 2). The third time the reader may foresee the tragic ending is the episode when Bailey’s mother points to the graveyard with five or six graves. The number of graves is similar to the number of people in the car. Finally, when the car turns off the road they see dark forests. The author prepares the readers for the tragic ending. Thus, Flannery O’Conner cautions the readers indirectly against passive, insignificant and sinful lives, but for the right life with morality and spiritual development.
This short story is a large metaphor itself. It can be slightly subdivided into several sections. The first one describing family life in Atlanta can be understood as a metaphor of birth and childhood. Later when the trip to Florida starts, it can be described as adulthood. Lastly, when the car turns off the road and overturns, here starts old age and death period. At the beginning of the story the family is described as narrow-minded materialistic society which centers only on its desires. Later, as the death approaches Bailey’s mother realizes her worthless life and sees the Misfit as one of her children. On neither of these stages the family learns nothing. There is no sense in their living.
The main idea of the story, in my opinion, is faith questioning. I believe that Bailey’s mother and the Misfit’s connection can be interpreted in various ways as there are numerous unexplained and confused moments. I think that the Misfit plays the role of the Jesus. But, he is not Jesus. He would rather be that fallen angel. He hesitates about the family’s purposes of life. He does not see the light future for them. Bailey as a head of the family does not perform his functions well. He is not strong and authoritative as he should be. His wife is passive and humble as well. She has no word and rights in their family. Their children are representing forthcoming chaos. His mother is an elderly mercenary racist woman. She is a sinful woman. Thus, she realizes it only at the end of the story. “She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Conner 11). Now, she does not look so refined and smart in her outfit. Now, she started thinking of her soul as if foreseeing her death. This is what usually people do feeling the end of their lives which is a mistake. It is a pity, because during the whole life people take care of their physical appearance while spirituality is often given the second or even third place.
The main theme reaches its climax at the end of the story. The old lady died smiling. She was happy to leave this life with a pure soul. Now, she understood she was sinful. If she had changed her life before, she would have been another person now. Finally, the author emphasizes the fact that there is no need to blame somebody or something for hardships and problems. If there is a need to change the world, we should start from our own deeds and thoughts.