The Evil in Everyone
Flannery O’Connor’s 1953 short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a testament to the fact that indeed a good man is hard to find. The story may at first seem like a brutal and meaningless murder of a family of six by an escaped convict named Misfit but in the end one realizes that each of the characters deserves his or her own death for truly not one among them is indeed good, and he irony is that Misfit seems to be the good guy. This paper will therefore serve both as a defense of Misfit, the antagonist in the story, and an exposition of the evil in each of the other characters particularly those that are murdered. There is evil in everyone and this evil will in one way or another result to certain death or destruction. Similarly, there is goodness in everyone and this goodness will in one way or another make someone triumph. This paper will prove that in fact the family deserves their death and that Misfit is actually a good man deep inside, or at least, “ain’t the worst in the world.” (O’Connor)
The Evil in the Family Members
As previously mentioned, O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” may mask itself as an unjust killing spree which claimed the lives of three innocent children and three otherwise good adults. The weak mother and the screaming baby are perhaps only victims of circumstances but one cannot exactly say that they are innocent just because they are mentioned only a few times in the story. However, on the whole, the murder of the family is in fact an act of punishment or retribution for their own evils.
The Selfish and Manipulative Grandmother. The grandmother is in act one of the most important characters in the story, with her age as a proof of her supposed wisdom and her mention of “If you would pray…Jesus would help you” (O’Connor) as a symbol of her religiosity. She may also have shown kindness in offering “to hold the baby” (O’Connor) early on during their trip, and his last act of kindness by touching Misfit on the shoulder while telling him “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children” (O’Connor). Nevertheless, all these are but a façade of the selfish manipulator that she truly is.
At several instances throughout the story, the grandmother tells lies almost unconsciously and for selfish and manipulative ends. The first instance of this form of manipulation is the fact that despite the family’s original plan to go to Florida, she insists on going to Tennessee because “she wanted to visit some of her connections” (O’Connor) there, yet she does not admit the truth of her motives but instead says that “the Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida” (O’Connor). Nevertheless this does not work.
The second instance where she tells another manipulative lie is when she tells the family especially the kids of an old plantation house where “there was a secret panel…[where] all the family silver was hidden…” (O’Connor). This act may not have been exactly a lie but perhaps a rather unconscious manipulation of someone who wanted to delay the trip for selfish reasons. This very lie and the grandmother’s realization of it is actually the one thing that led to the unanticipated car accident and finally to their eventual deaths in the hands of the escaped convicts.
Another evil of this grandmother is the fact that she is really one of those old Southerners who still look down on blacks. When the car they are in passes by a black kid, she harshly says, “Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!…wouldn’t that make a picture, now?” (O’Connor) and she adds something not only critical of blacks but also their economic state: “Little riggers in the country don’t have things like we do” (O’Connor).
Lastly, the grandmother is vain and hypocritical. Her vanity is shown when she puts on “a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet…so that anyone would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor). Her hypocrisy, on the other hand, is shown by the rather blasphemous line “Maybe [Jesus] didn’t raise the dead” (O’Connor), which is a line only a religious hypocrite would say. Overall these actions somehow make her deserve her death.
The Mean John Wesley. John Wesley, whose name is ironically the same as that of the founder of the Methodist Church, is actually a little rascal in his words and actions.
Eight-year-old John Wesley is utterly disrespectful and does not have loyalty in his words especially when he says, “Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground” (O’Connor) and when he calls Georgia “a lousy state” (O’Connor).
John Wesley, the kid whose name ironically symbolizes the founding of the Methodist Church, is highly methodical in that in order to get his message through, he “kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his kidney” (O’Connor).
John Wesley’s rudeness and disrespect for authority certainly does not qualify him as a good boy, hence he deserves such death in the hands of the “Grim Reaper” Misfit.
The Equally Mean Daughter June Star. As a symbol of the typical brat, June Star is rather hypercritical of almost everything she sees.
She starts by criticizing her grandmother by saying, “She wouldn’t stay at home [even] for a million bucks” (O’Connor). On the road, when they see a black kid, the first thing June Star notices is that “he didn’t have any britches on” (O’Connor). Then she snaps at Red Sam’s wife when she says, “I wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this [even] for a million bucks” (O’Connor). Perhaps, one more instance of June Star’s unbelievable cruelty is after the accident when she feels disappointed upon seeing her grandmother still alive and she mentions: “We’ve had an accident!…but nobody’s killed” (O’Connor). Last but certainly the worst mistake June Star has made was to call Bobby Lee “a pig” (O’Connor).
Based on the aforementioned statements, June Star is far from the idea of a good girl and she is therefore deserving of what has become of her at the end of the story.
The Ill-Tempered Bailey. Bailey is portrayed as the typical strict father who does not seem to have any emotional connection with those around him, not even his own family. One hears Bailey snap out at the kids saying, “Will you all just shut up for one second? [for] if you don’t shut up, we won’t go anywhere” (O’Connor), while back at The Tower restaurant, when the grandmother “asked Bailey if he would like to dance,…he only glared at her” (O’Connor). These two instances show the evil of his ill temper, and for this, Bailey also falls short of the description of a good man.
The Goodness in Misfit
Misfit is admittedly evil for he is the one who directs the killing of the whole family. However, unlike the other characters mentioned above, he possesses a kind of goodness as he admits his evil as he says, “Nome, I ain’t a good man” (O’Connor). This sort of honesty somehow makes him less evil.
Perhaps the most “honorable” thing about Misfit is the fact that he recognizes this evil in him and he has somehow learned to choose it freely. He himself says that he “found out the crime don’t matter” (O’Connor) and in fact he has developed a philosophy from thinking about it: “No pleasure but meanness” (O’Connor).
One last thing that is not purely evil in Misfit is the fact that he somehow knows the difference between good and evil. At the end of the story, he realizes the grandmother “would have been a good woman” (O’Connor) and he even tells Bobby Lee that killing people “is no real pleasure in life” (O’Connor).
Based on his stories of the past, Misfit has been through hell and back and having come face to face with evil, he has somehow consciously made it his free choice over goodness. The thing is that Misfit does not live a life of hypocrisy unlike the grandmother and her family.
When one consciously and freely chooses evil, he is apt to see the goodness in people and more importantly he lives a life of truth, which somehow makes him less evil than what he seems on the outside. This is the example of Misfit, whose very name is even misjudged for its negative connotation. Based on his experience, Misfit has somehow learned how to control his evil and choose it freely, thereby making him honest and therefore less evil. Moreover, he knows whether a man’s true intentions are good and evil and he indeed punishes the truly evil. This true evil is the mask of hypocrisy which is found in the character of the grandmother who proclaims herself as good despite her evil, as well as in the other family members who unconsciously do not realize the evil in them. Indeed “the wages of sin is death” (NIV Holy Bible, Rom 6.23) but “a good man obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov 12.2). Yet above all, a good man is indeed hard to find.
NIV Holy Bible. Textbook Ed., Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1980.
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” 29 June 2008. Universiteit Utrecht. 20 Apr 2010. <http://www.phil.uu.nl/staff/rob/texts/HumeStandard.shtml>
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The Continental Aesthetics Reader. Ed. Clive Cazeaux. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.