Reality of the 1950's

Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find is a reflection of the 1950’s society. It narrates the story of a family that faces a terrible fate due to the misdirection of “a good man.” As a Christian writer, O’Connor is seemingly critical to the Christian society and the society, in general; thus, her work is essential in revealing the real character of the 1950s (Walls 34). In her book, the view of the 1950’s person perceived as a “good man” is described and criticized, providing space for a new perception and the reality of a good man. A good man is defined by character and actions rather than traditional definitions and a shallow view based on how one is dressed. Good people do not falter despite the situation they are in, and true goodness is defined by the consistency of good words and actions.

Narrative Summary

Bailey has planned a vacation for his family in Florida; however, his grandmother is opposed to this idea, as she believes that a runaway prisoner, the Misfit, is heading there as well. John, a young boy, suggests that it would be better for his sister June and his grandmother to stay at home, but he is opposed by Star who utters that it is impossible for his grandmother to be left behind in a sarcastic tone (Sparrow par.1). When the day comes to start the journey, the grandmother, dressed like a lady, scolds young John who utters that he does not like Georgia, which is his home state. She tells a story about a love interest called Edgar Atkins Teagarden who used to carve his initials into a watermelon that he offered her every week. One day, a black child ate such watermelon (O’Connor 239).

The family stops for a meal at a restaurant owned by Red Sammy who is distracted by the issue of lack of trustworthiness among people. A discussion between him and the grandmother leads to him expressing that “a good man is hard to find”. Later on their way, the family members see a plantation that the grandmother had visited at one point, and her stories entice the children who pester their father to take them there (O'Connor 56). Driving into the woods, an accident occurs, triggered by the grandmother’s actions, but no one is hurt except for Bailey’s wife. Three gunmen descend from a passing vehicle and the grandmother recognizes one of them as the Misfit and starts screaming. She tries to persuade gunmen that they must not kill her by claiming she is a woman and using flattery. Bobby Lee and Hiram, the other two men with guns, escort Bailey and John Wesley into the forest on the Misfit’s command, and soon after two gunshots echo.

The Misfit claims that he used to be a gospel singer and an innocent child who had earlier been imprisoned unjustly on the charges of killing his father. The grandmother suggests that he should pray for Jesus’ forgiveness but he ignores the advice. More gunshots can be heard from the woods and the grandmother starts calling Bailey. The Misfit is cynical about the miracle Jesus performed by raising people from the dead and suggests that if it were true he would have wished to be there to witness this. The grandmother agrees with him only to save her life and even calls the Misfit one of her children (O'Connor and Magee 34). However, the grandmother is shot thrice by the Misfit and the other two men are perplexed by this action. The Misfit declares that the only way the grandmother would have been a good woman is if there was someone threatening her life at every instance and that there is no true happiness in this life (O'Connor and Magee 39).

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Response to the 1950’s Culture

The subject matter of moral code reflected consistently in the account is an essential element of the society of the 1950s. These moral codes guide thoughts, actions, and decisions of those who have resolved to follow them. They are a vital part of the followers’ lives and structure their behavior and beliefs. In the narrative, a keen observation of moral codes reflects that the grandmother’s moral code is insubstantial as compared to that of the Misfit. She emphasizes the need to be a woman by wearing hats and dresses (O’Connor 241).  It was a characteristic of many females of the 1950’s decade that was meant to portray them as “ladies.” It is an indication that her judgment of people is based on their appearance rather than their true character, and she expects to be criticized the same way. Moreover, the grandmother questions the tenets of her faith – Christianity – when her life is threatened, even though there is no valid reason to do so.

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On the other hand, the Misfit seems more consistent with his moral code; he is not swayed by the external circumstance but follows his policy. His experiences have taught him that the punishment for a crime is never proportionate to the offense and, sometimes, the punisher does not even take the offense in question (Browning 67). It is evidenced by the fact that he kills the grandmother for recognizing him, which most people would argue is not a crime punishable by death (Browning 7). He also questions religion and is not easily influenced to believe in things without proof. Even though he lives by a violent moral code, it is consistent, which is not characteristic of the grandmother’s moral code. In the 1950s, having a moral code was the thing that defined individuals and societies. However, as the story illustrates, it might have been a shallow representation of 1950’s people, as they might have been complacent with the generally accepted principles of society not to become “misfits.”

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Implications of Cultural Values

The aim of the story is to transform traditional opinions and attitudes concerning important cultural values and to promote consistency in observing these values. The story shows that people can experience altruism and kindness even toward those who do not deserve it but, in most cases, it does not last long because they reverse back to their old perceptions (Walls 72). As a result, O’Connor’s attempt to transform a brainwashed society through her work might have succeeded but only for a short time after reading her text but not much afterward. The proof of these fleeting moments of goodness is also portrayed by the Misfit who claims that is the grandmother had not recognized him he would not have killed the woman (Hooten 23). The Misfits’ last comment about how the grandmother would be considered a good person also implies that people need to be constantly reminded of their responsibilities and obliged to undertake them. Otherwise, they will waver in accomplishing what is expected of them. If there were someone to constantly question the grandmother’s actions, the family would probably not have become lost in the woods in the first place. The issue of individualism is constantly depicted in the story and it is a hindrance to cultural revolution in both the 1950s and 2010s (Hooten 7).

The story also strongly influences the Christian culture and religion. It challenges Christians to remain steadfast in their faith despite the circumstances (Walls 67). Its relevance to Christianity is expressed in the conversation between the grandmother and the Misfit; the misfit says “If He (Christ) didn’t (raise the dead), then 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 (Browning 72)”. Through this statement, O’Connor expresses her standpoint regarding Christianity. She shows that she believes in it and that she is open-minded and critical concerning the way people portray their beliefs, which influences readers to follow her attitudes (Browning 73).

Conclusion

The events that unfold in the short story A Good Man is hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor prove that true goodness in defined by the consistency of good words and actions. As a criticism of the practice of Christianity in the 1950s, it promotes the notion that most believers considered themselves good people without evaluating the implications of being a Christian, as portrayed in the story by the grandmother’s character. A moral code of conduct is essential in everyone’s life; however, it is important to adhere to it even in the face of death because this is what defines a person’s true character. In today’s society, the story is relevant as it concerns individuals and groups who hide behind group mentality and codes not to be considered “misfits” without the due regard to their actions and words toward other people. The society does not define people but rather people define the society through their actions and words. The Misfit in the story and the grandmother who hides behind what she assumes to be innocent lies and comments are the true characters of the 1950s. The characters define their society in different ways; one is willing and ready to show people who they really are while another opts to hide behind ignorance and poor judgment.

 

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