The Children’s Mother in O’Connor’s
“A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
A. Stephen C. Bandy and Kathleen G. Ochshorn try in separate occasions to analyze the final scene between the grandmother and the Misfit.
C. Gary Sloan analyzes the Misfit behavior.
D. C. R. Kropf tries to analyze the grandmother and the Misfit.
B. Characters in Flannery O’Connor “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” are often compared to animals and their behavior.
2. Terry Thompson analyzes the Misfit as an doodlebug.
A. Flannery O’Connor did not give the mother a name, she is referred to as the children’s mother.
D. The children’s mother is a housewife and her family treats her in that way.
1. Flannery O’Connor allows her to speak up few times in the story.
2. She is inexperienced as a mother and a wife.
in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
Critics of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” have agreed mostly when they have tried to analyze the grandmother and the Misfit. One of those critics, Stephen C. Bandy, says that there are only two characters in the story, the grandmother and the Misfit. Bandy feels that the Misfit is capable of irony and the Misfit means what he ways. In the grandmother’s case, Bandy says that readers get emotional about her, because how she died, but also because she is a grandmother.
One of the most criticized sentence in “A Good Man….” is “ Why you’re one of my babies….”(577), Bandy feels that O’Connor made the grandmother a savior, to save the Misfit from his earlier actions. However, Bandy also says that the grandmother is “manipulative….selfish” (113). Bandy feels that the Misfit has a least one advantage over the grandmother: “he knows who he is, and who she is” (114). In the sentence “Why you’re on of my babies. You are on of my own children” (O’Connor 577). Bandy feels that the Misfit is only a more completely involved form of the grandmother. Kathleen G. Ochshorn, writes about the grandmother’s twisted judgment of others. The few pleasures in the story involve the grandmother’s false sense of superiority. For the sentence “Why you’re on of my babies…..” (O’Connor 577), Ochshorn writes that the grandmother mistook the Misfit for Bailey, her son, because the Misfit was wearing Bailey’s shirt. Ochshorn also writes that “the grandmother dresses for accident; the
Misfit for murders” (116). Mitchell Owens writes that the grandmother does not accept the changes in her life, from being in an “ante-bellum to a cash-oriented culture” (101), that the grandmother believes that you are what you are worth, and should dress according to your social status. Owen tries to analyze the southern gentleman “A southern gentlemen is therefore as good as his word, because his word is as good as his blood; his blood is his worth, and that worth is the Word” (102). Owens also says that the grandmother’s sign and signified are one and the same; the grandmother fights on behalf of blood. Gary Sloan thinks that the Misfit is “…an informed skeptic, he is woefully barren” (120). That “he seeks to destroy his compulsion to believe because, in his moral computations, belief cannot be squared with pleasure” (119). The critic C. R. Krofp says that neither the Misfit nor the grandmother were in contact with reality in the final scene. Kropf feels that the grandmother is confused, a misfit in her own right, and like the Misfit “….confused about the nature of right and wrong” (206). Krofp assumes that the tile phrase “A Good Man…” “…applies only to Red Sammy, Grandmother, and the Misfit; the color red is associated only with them; and all three are linked with animals” (180-81). Kropf says all three are evil, and after find that out “….rest of the story’s details fall into place” (181).
Critics disagree in very few cases, except where O’Connor found the material that she used to write “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and which animals the characters look
and behave like. Many critics have compared “A Good Man….” to other stories, and some even feel that O’Connor took some materials and characters from these sources.
Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet write about the influence of Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” on O’Connor’s writing. Blythe and Sweet write that both stories,
“have the same central theme” (51, Explicator 55(1)). The names of one of the characters are very similar, in Chaucer’s it is Bailly and in O’Connor’s, Bailey. “Like the three revelers in the Chaucer (The Pardoner’s Tale), each member of Bailey’s family is driven by selfishness. Both groups set out in search of death…..” (51). In another essay Blythe and Sweet compare “A Good Man….” to Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming.” Yeats’s poem opens with the loss of secular authority and “A Good Man….” starts with a family in “turmoil” (Blythe & Sweet 185, Explicator 50(3)). Both works conclude with images of birth. Doyle W. Walls compares “A Good Man….” to Matthew 25:31-46, to the scene where the grandmother points out a black child without pants. Walls argument in Matthew 25:31-46, “Jesus mentions the separation of the sheep from the goats, the sheep having clothed him when they found him naked, and administered aid in several other ways. The righteous, the goats, try to defend themselves by claiming never to have seen Jesus naked…” (44). William J. Scheick tries also to show G. K. Chesterston’s influence on O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Scheick writes that the sentence “would have been a good woman…if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor 577), comes from Chesterston’s “Manalive.”
Scheick says that both Chesterston and O’Connor “describe their characters in terms of animal imagery” (243).
Critics have in many ways tried to understand O’Connor’s characters in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Many have found their way by comparing characters to animals. Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet call Georgia a “jungle” (Blythe & Sweet 8, Notes on Contemporary Literature, 21 (2)). Blythe and Sweet write that Bailey’s wife looks like a
rabbit “whose major function is reproduction” (8). The grandmother behaves like a “cat,” is “feline,” and “sneaky” (9). Bobby Lee wears a T-shirt with a picture of a “silver stallion” (9), and June Star describes his as a “pig” (9). Red Sammy is introduced “lying on the ground” (9), in the same sentence as his pet monkey is described. Red Sammy
entertains the adults, while the kids are entertained by the monkey. The grandmother valise looks like “the head of hippopotamus” (O’Connor 568). Blythe and Sweet use the same quote as the Misfit when he describes himself to the grandmother about what his father used to say about him, “a different breed of dog” (O’Connor 574) and O’Connor writes that “his voice had become almost a snarl” (575). Blythe and Sweet have also noted that the only family member to survive this massacre is the cat Pitty Sing, “perhaps because it is an animal” (9). In another article, Terry Thompson compares the Misfit to a doodlebug. “The misfit doodles in the dirt…scratches around with the toe of his shoe, digs a little hole, and then fills it back in” (Thompson 8). The doodlebug described by Thompson tells us that the doodlebug makes a trap, and any passing insect that happens to tumble in cannot escape and will, in very short order, become a meal for the
doodlebug” (8). Thompson even says that O’Connor “supplied” (9) the Misfit with his prey in a red ditch beside the road. Thompson also notes that “the family tumbles right into the Misfit’s carefully prepared trap” (9). Thompson also compares the shooting of the grandmother to how the doodlebug kills: “by draining the juices from its victim…the family dies to keep the Misfit alive” (9). Thompson also tells us that the doodlebug is just a “larva…and like the Misfit, will continue to grow, to change, and above all, to survive” (9).
A few critics have tried to find where O’Connor found her material and how she described the scenery. Hallman B. Bryant connects the scenery of the story with the landscape surrounding Atlanta. Bryant show that there are a least two scenes that don’t compare to Georgia’s geography. When the family passes Stone Mountain, Bryant writes that Stone Mountains is about “15 of 16 miles from Atlanta on the northeast side of the
city” (302). Bryant has also found out that there is no town in Georgia by the name Timothy. However, Bryant gives the explanation that the town name may come from the Bible, from the Pastoral letter, in the New Testament. Victor Lasseter has found evidence that O’Connor got information for her story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in newspaper articles from papers like “The Milledgeville Union Recorder” and “The Constitution.” Stories that appeared in those two newspapers gave O’Connor ideas, names, and scenery for “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” “ On February 22, O’Connor may have noticed the story of Jack Ellis Vines, who had been sentenced to one hundred twenty years in prison for thirty armed robberies. As part of his rehabilitation for parole, Mr. Vines announced
flogging by the Ku Klux Klan” (Lasseter 228). The name Lee was involved in “armed robbery” (Lasseter 228). There were some “dangerous prison escapees” (Lasseter 228-29). A young man named James Francis “Maniac” Hill, a dangerous criminal had the same apperance as the Misfit in O’Connor’s story, “ A photograph show a young man (Twenty-nine) whose wire-rimmed spectacles and graying hair give him a look of age, wisdom, and kindliness” (Lasseter 229).
After looking trough little over dozen of journals, and finding that no critics have tried to analyze the mother, Bailey’s wife. The mother, which O’Connor does not name, is referred to as the children’s mother. She is a young woman, married to an older man, and has three young children. She does not seem to have time for herself, “The children’s mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief” (O’Connor
568). She does not show her mother-in-law respect; she does not answer her questions or comments, as shown in “The children’s mother didn’t seem to hear her” (568). The children don’t show the elders, including their parents any respect; “John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mother’s shoulder and whined desperately into her ear” (571). It does not seem like her husband care that much about her; they never have a conversation during the whole story. However, after the car crash Bailey is concern for her well being “ ..he got out of the car and started looking for the children’s mother” (572).
On the other hand, the children’s mother lives with a man that does not show respect to his own mother. “Bailey…said something to his mother that shocked even the children. The old lady began to cry” (573). So the question rises, does Bailey take his wife and mother for granted. It looks like he only wants a wife that will take care of him, the household, and to raise his children. Bailey is older than his wife “…his bald head” (568). And the grandmother describes the children’s mother as “…young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage” (568). The mother never complains, no reason is given, but you wonder is it because she grew up in a household where the man was the head of the household and the woman did what the man asked for. O’Connor allows her to speak up five times; each time she has a reason: She tells her children that they are going to stay in the car after they arrive at the mansion; she hopes that a car will come along to save them after the crash; she tells her children to be by her side when the Misfit is bothered by them; she asks the Misfit where his partners in crime are taking Bailey and her son; and she thanks the Misfit for helping her up out of the ditch after the Misfit’s partners have shot her husband and son. She is polite, inexperienced, lawful, and loving. However, she is alone, does not seem to have an adult conversation, she goes where her husband goes, and tries her best to raise children in this new times.
The children’s mother could have considered the grandmother’s advice and asked her husband not to go to Florida, because of the Misfit. But, because the children’s mother obeys her husband, she will do whatever he has planed, even though it could risk her children’s life’s. When the children’s mother puts a dime in the jukebox at Red
Sam’s, and chooses to play “The Tennessee Waltz” (570), it tricks the grandmother’s memory. Which give’s the aging grandmother the feeling that they are traveling in the opposite direction, to Tennessee. That scene leads to the grandmother’s mix up with were the mansion was, that she used to visit when she was a young lady. Which ends up with the whole family dead in a red ditch somewhere in a remote place in Georgia.
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Blythe, Hal and Charlie Sweet. “Darwin in Dixie: O’Connors Jungle [“A Good Man is Hard to Find”].” Notes on Contemporary Literature. XXI (2): 8-9. March, 1991.
Kropf, C. R. “Theme and Setting in: A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Renascence. 24:177-180, 206. 1972.
Ochshorn, Kathleen G. “A Cloak of Grace: Contradictions in A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Studies in American Fiction. 18 (1): 113-117. Spring, 1990.
Owens, Mitchell. “The Function of Signature in: A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Studies in Short Fiction. 33 (1): 101-106. Winter, 1990.
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Thompson, Terry. “Doodlebug, Doodlebug: The Misfit in ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’.” Notes on Contemporary Literature. 17(4):8-9. Sept., 1997.
Walls, Doyle W. “A Good Man is Hard To Find.” Explicator. 46(2):46-45. Winter, 1988.