A Good Man Is Hard To Find
In contemporary society, many people tend to categorize others into good and bad. However, the notion of a “good man” is dependent on human subjective attitudes and views. In this respect, numerous convincing opinions, arguments, and expectations of people that influence general understanding of a “good man” are very diverse. That is why it is difficult to define whether a person is good or not, as well as identify him or her in the modern world. In the short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, the writer raises a particular controversial issue showing how negative traits of human character can harmfully affect one's life and fates of other people. In her literary work, Flannery O'Connor portrays a family vacation that ends with violent murders of all family members. In this shocking way, the author provides the audience with issues to be considered on the notion of a “good man”. Through the depiction of a grotesque female character, as well as her arrogance and selfishness, O'Connor conveys a moral lesson to readers underlying the fact that a human has a dual nature, which combines both good and bad traits. Therefore, the grandmother's portrayal as selfish, arrogant, and haughty person displays the writer's understanding of a “good man”, as well as his attitude towards categorization of people.
In his story, O'Connor provides the readers with a controversial definition of a “good man”. According to Cofer, the writer's definition of the above mentioned word combination is elusive (15). For example, one of the main characters of the story, the unnamed grandmother, perfectly demonstrates this controversy. The woman believes that she belongs to the so-called list of good people, whereas actually she combines all the traits opposite to the notion of a good person. In fact, the grandmother is confident that while she is a “lady”, she is morally superior to any other character in the narrative. Moreover, this label allows the woman to judge and criticize other people teaching them how to behave (Cofer 16). The character uses the label “good” referring to everyone arbitrarily, without paying attention to person's actions and deeds. In this respect, such woman's attitude towards others blurs the definition of a “good man”. Firstly, the grandmother calls Red Sammy a good person though he angrily blames people for their untrustworthiness, “A good man is hard to find,” Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible. I remember that day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more” (O'Conner). Thus, grandmother's definition of Red Sammy shows her gullibility and poor judgment of people she meets. Using the words flippantly, the grandmother applies the notion of a “good man” to every character, even to the Misfit. Once the woman recognizes the criminal, she anxiously asks him whether he has shot a lady or not, worrying about her life. Since the woman considers herself a lady, she a priori is a good person, and thus cannot be killed. Thereby, this false view of people around her makes the grandmother a victim of her arrogance.
Furthermore, O'Conner represents a grotesque female character in order to emphasize the danger of selfishness. Thus, the unnamed grandmother is a manifestation of the self-destructive power driven by arrogance and self-centeredness (Yaghjian 31). Although the woman is blinded by her selfishness and lacks self-awareness, she remains confident that she is a lady and, in turn, people around her should treat her as a good woman. The grandmother believes that being a lady means being a moral and good person, but her self-centeredness becomes a reason of fatal ending involving all members of her family. When taking into consideration grandmother's arrogance and selfishness, it is possible to assume that her manipulating behavior, frivolity, and dishonesty put her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in a serious danger (Eder 62). For example, when the grandmother prepared for a trip, she dressed in such way that, “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O'Conner). Thus, woman's vanity and self-centered attitude does not make her a good woman, but rather an arrogant and disrespectful person. She pays greater attention to her appearance and lady-like manners than to her family and their safety. The woman values more external representation than spiritual nature of a human. Furthermore, when she convinces the criminal not to kill her, she constantly calls herself a lady believing that this label will protect her. The grandmother considers that it is improper to kill ladies because they have immunity from shooting. Therefore, the grandmother is so anxious about her fate that she is able to think only about herself, instead of beseeching the criminal not to kill her family.
While the grandmother always depicts herself as a good person, her actual deeds and behavior have nothing in common with the principles of morality and ethics. In O'Connor's story, the woman is so absorbed with her own thoughts on how to maintain the status of a lady that she categorizes all people into two groups – good and bad (Giannone 118). As a result, the particular attitude towards people around her including her own son and his family leads to the tragedy. Thus, manipulations of the grandmother can be regarded as one of the main reasons for fatal ending. For instance, she refused to visit the place everyone in the family wanted, “The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind” (O'Conner). The woman is determined to do everything in order to get what she wants. Moreover, the grandmother has a similar attitude not only to her son, but also to her grandchildren. The character educates them to listen and respect her in order to grow up good people. Nevertheless, the grandmother is not a good role model and a bad example – teaching her grandchildren manipulations underlines that she has never behaved as a good woman.
At the same time, when the woman attempts to persuade the offender who killed her family to save her life saying that he is “a good man at heart”, she continues to behave as a selfish and arrogant woman (O'Connor). The grandmother tells the criminal that she needs “only one look to recognize” that he is a good man (O'Connor). The particular behavior of the woman underlines her egoistic and artificial nature. Instead of grieving and mourning the loss of her family, the character cares only about her self-image naming the murderer a good human. In this respect, woman's understanding of good does not necessarily imply moral or kind. For the woman, if a person fits her values and attitudes, he or she is good and vice versa. Thus, the character considers Red Sammy “good” because the man reminds her of herself. More specifically, he trusts people blindly, as well as lives in his own world with specific moral norms and principles. At the same time, she believes he cannot shoot a lady, and this assumption will play an evil joke on the woman. Additionally, in case the criminal will save her life, the woman promises to give him all her money. The particular act of ransoming shows how selfish and sinister the grandmother is. Compared to the attitudes of her family, the woman relies on different manipulative techniques in order to gain the desired. Nevertheless, it is hard to expect mercy from a man who dares to kill women and children.
In this respect, the above mentioned and analyzed traits of grandmother's character, her behavior, attitudes, and values allow to determine her psychoanalytic portrait. Thus, the woman can be regarded as a selfish, hypocritical, and proud person who puts her needs above others. While the character categories people simply dividing them into either good or bad, she can hardly be attributed to neither of them. Similar to all humans in the world, the grandmother combines good and bad qualities that make her a human being. In this respect, this categorization of people is subjective because pretending to behave as a lady or naming people as good or bad does not actually mean that they are moral, kind, or sensitive (Hendricks 206). The grandmother herself can hardly wear a label of a good person, but her self-centeredness blinds the woman to such extend that it is hard to convince her in the opposite. Although the grandmother and the Misfit have their own understanding of morality, even the latter is aware that he is not a “gentlemen”, “I'm not a good man, but I'm not the worst either” (O'Conner). On the contrary, the woman follows her artificial conduct until her death. In addition, the grandmother never supports her categorization of people with facts. Even when she talks to Red Sammy or the Misfit, she views them as good people, but she actually does not know them. The grandmother names the two men good because she can just look at them and tell the truth about everyone. To her mind, the particular behavior underlines the fact that she is a lady.
At the same time, the psychoanalysis of the Misfit also deserves further evaluation. Taking into consideration his childhood trauma and antisocial behavior, it is the Misfit who can be put into the group of bad people. However, on the contrary to the grandmother, the criminal is more self-critical than the woman is. Moreover, the Misfit recognizes that his acts are immoral, “it's no real pleasure in life to kill anyone” (O'Connor). Nevertheless, the man knows that he has to kill her because of his moral principles. This episode shows the difference between the grandmother and the offender. While the woman fails to live by her own moral code, the criminal follows his cruel distorted understanding of fairness. At the same time, the Misfit shows very deep conviction that together with his moral dilemma he is the only character in the story. In the contrast to the grandmother who considers herself as a lady (a representative of the upper class), the offender knows that he is not a good man. The Misfit understands that a series of severe crimes he committed do not make him a worthy person. In this respect, the criminal can be viewed as an exact antithesis of the grandmother because he follows his principles (Eder 65). While the Misfit never violates his morality, the “superior” grandmother, who remains in continuous search for recognition of her moral principles, betrays them when challenges appear (Eder 66). Although the Misfit and the grandmother have some similarities, they are completely opposite characters.
Consequently, after psychoanalysis of the grandmother and the Misfit, it is possible to disprove the claim that “a good man is hard to find” (O'Conner). The mother's categorization of people as good ones is blurred and vague because she never provides the readers with argumentation. Moreover, the woman always bases on untruthful assumptions, poor judgments, and arrogance. It is easy for her to put a label of a “good man” on everyone she meets. Whereas the grandmother believes that it is hard to find good people, the reality is completely different. The human cannot be absolutely good or bad because everyone possesses certain good and bad traits. Moreover, many people misjudge others because of their subjective conclusions and attitudes (Eder 68). Thus, people take into consideration person's background, education, and behavior as the main factors for indication whether the human is bad or good.
At the same time, most people support the idea that those humans who are in jail are bad while the individuals who go to church every Sunday can obviously be defined as good. Nevertheless, this classification of people is absurd because it is subjective and limited. In this respect, O'Conner's short story perfectly demonstrates how a person, who views herself as a good human and teaches others to follow her example, can be wrong. The grandmother's description of the criminal as a good person seems unnatural and inadmissible because the murderer cannot be good. Thereby, the notion of a good man is controversial and dependent on subjective views of people.
Therefore, the portrayal of the grandmother and the Misfit helps the audience to understand the main reasons why the woman believes that it is hard to find a good person. Throughout her life, the grandmother puts labels on people even though she cannot be characterized herself as a good woman. The character does not empathize with others, specifically her family. She does not feel compassion or sensitiveness for her relatives, as well as never puts the needs of her family before her own desires. In this respect, the grandmother can be observed as a bad person because she manipulates and uses others, what makes her a selfish woman who lacks courage to sacrifice her life for the sake of her family. Being subjective arrogant person, the grandmother considers that good people are hard to find basing on her judgments and beliefs.