The conception of what actually qualifies a “good person” has been the topic of much discussion. Considering the case of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find “the main character, the grandmother exhibits a skewed conception on life. She struggles to find the qualities of a good person not only in others, but also in herself. Literary elements, such as characterization and flashback have been used by the author to discover what it means to be a good person. As the story advances, it is apparent to the grandmother that the only good person is the soul she is becoming through her struggle with the Misfit. O’Connor pushes the notion that the “good” can only be found through conflict.
The grandmother has old fashioned ideas and manners. She is full of herself, talkative, directive and not very aware. This is because she considers herself to be a kind person and because she loves her family, she thinks she is a good person;
[The grandmother] Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is a loose from the Federal pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what he says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloosein it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did (O’Connor 1).
The grandmother introduces the Misfit to the reader in the first page and in it she warns of the misfit’s character. The grandmother gives the picture that the confrontation with the Misfit could not be avoided. She is in fact in an implicit way, right at the beginning, portrays herself as a “good” person. The grandmother also refers to her “conscience,” which is suggestive because only good people follow their conscience.
O’Connor also uses another character, Red Sammy, who also talks about being good. “A good man is hard to find,’ Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible. I remember that you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more” (O’Connor 43). At this point, Sammy complains that at that time it was hard to come by a good man unlike in the past. He equates god people to being trustworthy, respectable or descent; his view of good people resembles that of the grandmother. When the characters encounter what evil actually is, then the author implies that being good means so much more than what the grandmother or even Sammy think it does.
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To try and illustrate what a good person is, the author illustrates how conflicted one of the characters, the grandmother is at some point on the notion of a “good” person. “You must have stolen something,” [the grandmother] said. The Misfit sneered slightly. “Nobody had nothing I wanted,” he said. “It was a head doctorat the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I know that for a lie.” (O’Connor 116-117). At this point, the grandmother is making an attempt to convince the Misfit that he is, in fact, a good man. She makes the assumption that the crime that the Misfit committed to land him in prison was a “respectable” crime. This is not the case and she knows it. It was the grandmother at the beginning who introduced the Misfit as a dangerous person. The response from the Misfit is revealing; he stated that his involvement in a crime was not with an aim of getting rich or taking away other peoples’ stuff. His motivation, he claims, is the pleasure that he derives from damaging things because of his mean nature.
Apart from the grandmother, the author also uses another character, the Misfit, to talk about a good person. “She would have been a good woman,” the Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” (O’Connor 140). Here, O’Connor has used an individual who is not good to talk about it. Given all that the grandmother had said throughout the story about being “good” and what is expected from people who are “good”; furthermore, the grandmother had also pointed out that the Misfit was good, he judges that the grandmother would have been good given the unlikely circumstance of the Misfit continuously threatening to kill her. At this point, The Misfit appears to recognize that the final act of the grandmother, that also got her killed, was good. This goes to illustrate that it was her confrontation with the Misfit and also with death that made the grandmother to be good. If at all the grandmother became genuinely good at the time of her death, it begs the question of what it really means to be good. O’Connor makes it absolutely clear that it is only through confrontation that good can arise.
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