How many people do you encounter each day whom considers themselves to be a righteous person? Do you agree or disagree with this persons judgement of their own character? Often a person might hide behind his or her religion as a justification for the actions made in every day life. Perhaps some people may decide that commiting enough positive actions can some how cancel out their negative actions, allowing them to consider themselves a righteous person. In Flannery O’Connors story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”, the author challenges her readers to consider what it truly means to be a “good man” and why these qualities are so hard to find in a person.
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As the story opens we are introduced to a grandmother who is having an external conflict with her family over the vacation location they have chosen. The grandmother thinks very highly of herself and her decisions, so she begins to try and manipulate her family into agreeing with her on going to a different place. The author hints to us that the grandmother thinks highly of herself by the way that she descibes her clothing to the reader. She picks out her clothing based upon her thoughts that “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.”(Paragraph 12) The reader can only wonder why such a self righteous woman could be so focused on the opinions of others even in her thoughts of afterlife. The grandmother also selfishly brings along her cat in secrecy, despite the fact that her son Bailey “didn’t like to arrive at a motel with a cat”. (Paragraph 10) She puts herself to such importance that she does not believe that she needs to listen to her sons requests, but rather do what she wants to.
She scolds the children about the way they act in the car and claims that she herself would not act in that manner, which also signifies the fact that she thinks of herself as a righteous person. Immediately after scolding the kids for their actions, the grandmother points out a child to the family with the words “Oh look at the cute little pickaninny” (Paragraph 18) which tells the reader that she is describing the child by his or her skin color. She even uses the childs skin color to pass a judgement that as a “little nigger” he probably did not own any britches.(Paragraph 19-20) The author uses this as more evidence to the reader that the grandmother thinks of herself as superior to others, just by her skin color. She continues throughout the story to attempt to manipulate her family with stories of a huge house that she wanted to go back and visit. The more she tells of the house, the more fired up the children become about going to it and they begin to make a fuss to their parents. The grandmother is pleased with this and continues to feed the fire she has built in the children, despite the fact that she knows it is causing distress to her son. The elderly woman even offers up small suggestions stating that the trip to the house would be very “educational for them” (Paragraph 53) in an attempt to say anything so that she can to get her own way.
After she has finally got her way, the grandmother finally realizes that she was so caught up in what she wanted that she had not correctly remembered the location of the house. At the realization that someone like her has made a mistake, she becomes embarrassed and her feet jump up. This is when we see another one of her selfish actions come back to haunt her, since the cat becomes startled and causes the grandmothers son Bailey to lose control of the car. Through her horrible actions, the grandmother has caused her family to wreck their car and put them all in danger but yet she has no remorse to apologize for her mistakes. The reader Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her all at once”. (Paragraph 67) Even with all of the trouble she has caused the elderly woman is so concerned with the belief that she is a good person that she uses it as a justification for her wrongdoings.
It is not until the family is faced with a criminal who calls himself “The Misfit” that the truth behind the grandmother really comes to the surface. The grandmother immediately recognizes him and ignorantly calls him out on his identity, which puts her family into more danger than before. Her son Bailey is so angry with his mother at this point that he “says something to his mother that shocked even the children” (Paragraph 85) and it becomes even more evident that the woman has been provocing angry feelings from her family for some time now. Even the children have made remarks towards the woman throughout the story, which is a devastating blow when even your own family has negative feelings towards you. Throughout all of the responses from her family, the grandmother still continues to act in her usual selfish ways.
Once she is faced up against The Misfit, the grandmother begins trying to manipulate him just as she has done to her family. She tries to persuade him into trusting that she believes him to be a “good man at heart”.(Paragraph 91) At this point the grandmother has always been able to manipulate those around her, but The Misfit proves to be not so easily fooled by her. The grandmother even begins to try and use her religion as a way to persuade The Misfit into letting her go. The elderly woman makes the remark to him that “If you would pray… Jesus would help you”(Paragraph 119), but The Misfit can easily see through what the grandmother pretends to be. The grandmother has always believed herself to be a righteous person, but she has not proven herself to be one through her actions. She has not mentioned the Lord until she is faced with a circumstance of certain desperation and this is obvious to The Misfit. He has never claimed to be a devout person but it is shown in his talks of Jesus with the woman that he has thought long and hard about religion. There is a glimmer of hope in the thoughts of The Misfit that allow the reader to believe that, in the slightest moment, he could actually be a good person if given the right guidance. The Misfit seems as though hes considering religion at one point, but the grandmother pulls him away from it more with her insencerity. She goes from speaking to him about relying on Jesus and begins offering him money in exchange for her life, which is something that crushes all possible visions of her being a truly faithful woman.
Though he can see her for who she is, the thoughts of religion can still be seen bouncing around in his head a bit and this becomes evident to her grandmother as well. She sees that there is a possibility of a good person in the man who she described earlier as a “criminal” whom she would not take her children in the direction of. (Paragraph 1) This makes the grandmother open her eyes to her own life and she begins to realize that she doesn’t have to be the selfish person she has been, but her realization comes far too late. In the line “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (Paragraph 141) we see that The Misfit saw the difference in her in her last moments, but that these last moments could never cover up the evidence of who she had always been before.
The grandmother spent way too much time in her life focusing on what a good person she was, rather than reflecting on the actions she took. The irony of the story is that there is more good seen in the sincerety of The Misfit, rather than in the grandmother who thought so highly of herself. Any person can claim to be a righteous person and manipulate those around them into believing this to be true. Although in the end, it all comes down to the evaulation of the actions that a person makes as to whether or not they can truly be classified as a good person. It is evident by the end of the story that a “good man” is hard to find simply because so many people are going around claiming to be one themselves.