Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

16 Dec 2011

(Short Story) A Good Man is Hard to Find by: Flannery O'Connor

(Reaction) Nietzsche's Bed Time Story by: Antonio Conejos

O' Conner's title, A Good Man is Hard to Find, implies that someone has been actively searching for a good man. The short story indirectly details this search, the quest for someone decent and honest. Ultimately though the conclusion is that a good man is not hard to find; he is impossible to find.

Nostalgia is the primary means by which the story's principal character, the grandmother, conducts her search for a good man. People are certainly not nice like they used to be, she confides to Red Sam. He agrees with this dismal assessment, 'Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.' He and the grandmother discussed better times.

Implied in these exchanges is that there were good men in the past. The grandmother and Red Sam espouse a nostalgic view of the past, they affirm the belief that everything was better back then.

Yet looking to the past ultimately dooms the Grandmother and her family. A strong surge of nostalgia prompts her to urge her family to detour and visit a house she saw as a young girl, Outside of Toomsboro she woke up and recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady... the more she talked about it , the more she wanted to see it once again

Unfortunately the grandmother is mistaken as to the location of the plantation, The horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house she had remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee. The epiphany of the mistake causes a sequence of events which will leave the family stranded in the middle of nowhere with the villain of the short story soon to make an appearance.

Thus, A Good Man is Hard to Find vividly illustrates the point that nostalgia can lead you astray. (For if the grandmother had not been so nostalgic about visiting the old plantation the family would not have ended up in an accident on some lonely, backwater road.) As such, the earlier assertion that good men could be found in the past begins to look doubtful.

Nostalgia fails to find a good man. The grandmother looks to her faith and to a man who lived long before she did. Many (regardless of religious affiliation) would consider this man to be a good man: Jesus. She invokes Jesus in her pleas to the Misfit If you would pray... Jesus would help you.

Yet even Jesus fails as an example of a good man.This is because we of today need to take his actions on faith. For the Misfit this is simply intolerable, He [Jesus] thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow him, and if he Didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can... I wasn't there so I can't say He didn't... It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady.... if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn't be like I am now. (Emphasis supplied.)

The Misfit is ultimately a plaintive character, one who desperately wants a reason not to be who he is. But he knows that this reason is denied him. The Misfit's view is that he cannot be moral as he cannot be sure that the basis of his morality (ie. Jesus) really proclaimed what is attributed to Him. The Misfit was, as he puts it, not there when Jesus gave eternal life by raising the dead.

Thus, without any basis for morality, the Misfit simply does what he does. No pleasure but meanness.

O' Conner's short story ponders if there ever were any good men and ends with the conclusion that there were none. Without the example of a good man, lesser men descend into death without the hope of resurrection.

Review:

It was tough for me to read Flannery O' Connor's short stories. One feels morally fatigued after reading them. There are bad people in these here parts (I'm referring to her short stories). But they are bad not because they are evil but because they are amoral; simply put they have no basis for notions of good and evil. They exist and they find no reason to be moral in their existence.

I find this brand of cruelty, one where people are cruel because they have no reason not to be, as ultimately the most depressing form of indifference. In this conception of morality the only reason to be moral (ie. to be good) is because of some final judgment to be imposed at some later date by some almighty divinity. This is what the Misfit is ultimately saying in A Good Man is Hard to Find: since there is no God (or He has not proven Himself to me) I have no reason to be good.

Personally thought I can't subscribe to the Misfit's argument (and O' Connor does not either) because it reduces God to the role of a crutch: something to help man stand because we are too scared to come up with our own moral rules.

Whether or not God exists, we should be able to do right even without Him/Her/It. The basis of good is not for one to evade some eternal pain but to ease someone else's temporal pain in the here and now.

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