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In her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” Flannery O’Connor tells the story of a family taking a trip down to Florida. Man known as “the Misfit” has escaped police custody and is claimed to be at large around the area. The story centers around Bailey, the patriarch of the family, his wife, his children John Wesley and June Star, his infant son, and his mother. The group gets into an accident and run into the misfit, which eventually leads to their deaths. The grandmother thinks highly of herself in comparison to others and feels that she is the model for perfection and virtue. She consistently refers to herself as a “lady” to describe her supposed self-righteous nature. Throughout the story, her personality and selfishness leads the family down the path to their eventual deaths. She talks down to everyone in an effort to make herself seem superior; she is unable to own up to her mistakes and lies to her grandkids in order to have them persuade their parents into taking a detour that will lead them into meeting the Misfit. When she realized she has misidentified the location she wishes to take a detour to, she keeps quite among other things.
In the end, her final moments truly showcase her selfishness, as she begs for her life as her family is mercilessly murdered. Throughout the story, there are moments of religious referencing, as well as the grandmother openly discussing her faith. This is done purposefully as she and the events that take place represent something. The Grandmother’s self-righteous and egotistical behavior is metaphorical for the Catholic Church’s behavior throughout history and modern society’s eventual rejection of it. Throughout history, it’s no secret the Roman Catholic Church held unprecedented power in Europe and whatever lands they colonized. Once they held power, their influence spread and soon they were the leading religion. The basis of the catholic faith, like many, promises one how to live virtuously and righteously. The grandmother throughout the story constantly tries to represent herself as virtuous. She feels superior to the rest of her family, and mirrors the way those in the past would feel about nonbelievers. She is the oldest in the family and thus represents a sort of authority figure, or at the very least one that seems to demand respect or acknowledgement. Just as the Catholic Church attempted to hold power by making itself seem like a superior and more ancient institution.
When she describes herself as a “lady,” she is doing so as a way to let the reader know she is maintains a certain standard and holds strict values. Her referencing of a “good man” represents the same idea, but in an outward sense. Here, she is the institution upholding their supposed values and virtues while a good man represents the seeking of these same ideas in others. Just as the church in the past made strict guidelines for one to follow, if one did not follow those guidelines, it was seen as blasphemous and unvirtuous. Through the story she is also unable to see her own flaws. She is unable to recognize the danger she has placed her family in by sneaking onboard her cat, lying when she realized she has remembered the wrong house, she lies to her grandkids to make them convince their parents to take the detour, she is the one who waves down the Misfit, and finally she does little to nothing to help her family survive the ordeal. Just as the church has done in the past, they’ve caused great atrocities and unrest with little to no public remorse. Their actions in the past have led to the suffering or endangerment of countless lives. They’ve overlooked their mistakes in the past, and have chosen to ignore their faults than to acknowledge them and find solutions. On their way to Florida, the grandmother notices a house that brings back old memories of her past and urges them to make a detour. She tells the grandkids that in the house is a secret panel, and the children become excited and urge their parents to make the stop. This false promise is synonymous with the church’s behavior throughout most of medieval Europe. From selling indulgences to fighting in the crusades with the promise of entry into heaven was a common practice.
During the black plague, the church advised against the cleaning practices some physicians were suggesting. Their stubbornness and inability to see their error would eventually lead to millions more dying. Here, although not as extreme, the grandmother’s inability to admit she has led the family on the wrong path will lead to their demise. In today’s world, the Catholic Church still holds a lot of power and influence, but its days of committing mass atrocities on a global scale have ended. This was due to the changing social climate, as we modernized, our ideas changed and we began to reject that past when we took note of how to was harmful to our future. Here, the other characters all represent the changing and modernizing our society. The Grandmother has to trick her grandkids to convince their parents, just how in the church’s attempt to maintain power, it had to get those more easy to coerce to convince the rest to follow. The grandkids were young and naïve, while the parents represent a population that is beginning to move away from the church. When they family makes a stop along the way and she converses with red Sammy about the good old days and the decline of the world in the present day, this is metaphorical for those who wish to keep things the way they had been going. The state of the world changed, and for those who were unprepared, it seems to be heading negatively. When Sammy states that “a good man is hard to find,” this could be referring to those who no longer share the same worldview as the Grandmother and him. Finally, when the Grandmother comes face to face with the Misfit, they discuss Jesus. She asks him if he prays, to which he responded not anymore. He does mention his past experiences in the church, claiming to have been a gospel singer. As she continues to speak to him, he grows increasingly angry until finally, once she grabs him by the shirt, he shoots her three times in the chest.
The scene here solidifies the idea of the new world tossing aside and rejecting the old ways. The Grandmother has represented the church throughout the story, preaching virtue and self-righteousness. In the end, she tries to appease to her captor. She discusses religion with him, hoping to inspire good or mercy. The Misfit represents the modern age. As he discusses his past experiences with religion, it’s obvious he seems to represent someone who has outgrown it. He finds it boring and believes the world should “indulge in meanness” which is one way of saying the world should indulge in the things the church has kept under guard. Even shooting her in the chest three times could be representative of the holy trinity, a fitting end.
The Roman Catholic Church has had a long history, and although not necessarily a force of evil in the world today, it has a spotty past. O’Connor uses the character of the Grandmother as a token to represent the Catholic Church, and its hypocritical ways. Her belief in her own self-righteousness and overly lifted image ultimately cost her not only her life, but the lives of those he loves. Her inability to admit wrongfulness in the face of mistake is synonymous with the church’s long history of poor judgment and lack of taking responsibility. The supporting characters of this story play the intricate role of being the changing time that would eventually lead to the church’s decline. Her death at the hands of the misfit resembles the way new generations that came after were angry with the church, and sought to put an end to its old ways.
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