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A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Context


Southern Gothic

"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is a well-known example of Southern Gothic literature, although Flannery O'Connor preferred to label her fiction as Christian Realism influenced by her firm Catholic faith. The Southern Gothic genre is a subgenre of Gothic literature. In addition to O'Connor, some authors admired for their work in this genre are William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers. Southern Gothic literature, like its parent genre, is characterized by an undercurrent of suspense, often foreshadowing violence. Southern Gothic writers explore cultural issues unique to southern society.

Key elements of the Southern Gothic genre include the following:

  • Strong sense of place: Southern Gothic literature features settings with a definite southern flavor, whether they be a rural middle-of-nowhere location, a small town, or an urban neighborhood. The details emphatically indicate the setting's southernness. This detailed locale helps establish the narrative's mood.
  • Element of the grotesque: This is an element of the narrative that is irregular, macabre, or sinister. It may be a gruesome situation, or it may involve significantly flawed characters.
  • Imprisonment: Characters are often literally or figuratively in jail.
  • Violence: Southern Gothic stories address racial, social, and class differences. These story elements lead to tensions that often culminate in outbursts of violence.
  • Uncommon characters: Often the people are damaged in some way, whether emotionally, mentally, or physically. In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" readers are introduced to a range of unusual characters:
    • Bailey—the put-upon father who wears a shirt that prominently features parrots. Parrots simply repeat what they have heard. Bailey does what he is supposed to do and does not seem to have any original thoughts.
    • June Star and John Wesley—the two smart-mouthed children. They are disrespectful and speak rudely to everyone. They whine when they don't get their way, and ultimately the family caters to them.
    • The overwhelmed mother—the woman too busy taking care of the children to do anything else. She doesn't even get a name and is simply known as the children's mother.
    • The know-it-all grandmother—a self-righteous, judgmental woman who wants respect and admiration and longs for the past. While she may mean well her behavior and talk are grating and ultimately demeaning, and she does not even realize it.
    • The Misfit—the violent felon who orders the murder of seemingly innocent people without blinking an eye, yet ponders religious topics with deep sincerity.
    • Bobby Lee—young fugitive who is overweight and easily embarrassed by insults. He enjoys killing people.
    • Hiram—a member of The Misfit's gang who speaks very little but is gifted mechanically.

Christian Realism

Flannery O'Connor was a Roman Catholic, and her religious views affected her writing: "I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic," says O'Connor. Her modern consciousness influenced her views on religion. She believed that "church makes the current world tolerable, and, one must suffer ... from the Church." One must appreciate the world even though it is a challenge to endure. The strength to do so comes from faith in the divinity of Christ. This paradox leads to the bitterness that shows up in many of O'Connor's stories, including "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." O'Connor's beliefs led her to label herself a Christian Realist.

Reinhold Niebuhr was the founder of Christian Realism, and he influenced many people. This belief "emphasized the persistent roots of evil in human life." However, there is the view that man has great potential. The Christian Realist believes that religion has a role to play, "dealing with social problems as a method to reduce the influence of selfishness through contrition and spirit of love."

The grandmother of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is a selfish person who, in dire circumstances, is only concerned about saving her life. When she says to The Misfit, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" she is showing genuine concern for another. This act is her saving grace and the mark of a Christian Realist who is concerned about everyone.

Pre–Civil Rights South

The grandmother's condescending and biased attitudes toward African Americans were nothing unusual in the pre–Civil Rights South of the story's setting, when segregation, discrimination, and blatant inequality were still the norm. When the grandmother calls an African American child a "cute little pickaninny!" and notes, "Little niggers in the country don't have things like we do," her family doesn't blink an eye because her point of view is perfectly mainstream in that time and place, as is her belief that good character can come only from "good people."

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