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Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People”

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    A Comparative Analysis of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People”

    Introduction

    Two of Flannery O’Connor’s masterpieces, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People,” not only reflect the life and sentiments of the South in the mid 20th century but also lend themselves to a number of similarities and differences mainly on the subject of pretense, violence and religion. This paper seeks to critically compare what aspects of the two masterpieces of O’Connor are similar and what are different. Furthermore, this paper seeks to explore what can be learned from such similarities and differences.

    Similarities

    The similarities that abound in both works of O’Connor are in fact all negative yet it is said that this main characteristic of O’Connor’s prose makes it “chaste and severe and realistic in its working out of narrative.” (Friedman)

    The Idea of Pretense. Both works are similar when it comes to the presence of characters that are pretentious, selfish and manipulative characters.

    In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” almost all the characters, who are presumably Christian in religion, are actually evil deep inside. Among the characters, the grandmother seems to be the most deceitful. Aside from the fact that she criticizes Negroes (see The Negative Reference to Negroes), she tells two lies to her family. First, at the beginning of the story, she tries to convince her son Bailey not to go to Florida for actually “she wanted to visit some of her connections” (O’Connor, “A Good Man”) in Tennessee. However, she instead says that the criminal named Misfit is on the loose and is headed towards Florida. Another lie that the grandmother tells the family is the one about the old plantation house with a secret panel that contained the family treasure. This second lie eventually results to an accident, their unfortunate encounter with Misfit and their consequent death.

    Other people in the story who are actually not that good include the two kids John Wesley, who was ironically named after the founder of the Methodist Church, and his sister June Star. Both of them have shown their meanness throughout the story especially when June Star somehow looks at the half-naked Negro kid with ridicule and when John Wesley insults his roots by saying, ““Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground [and that Georgia is] “a lousy state” (O’Connor, “A Good Man”). Bailey is not a perfectly good man either what with his ill-tempered behavior, and neither is the pessimistic restaurant owner Red Sam nor his extremely cynical wife who cannot even trust her own husband. The story is in fact full of characters who despite their being Christians, unconsciously do evil things.

    On the other hand, in “Good Country People,” where the title itself is actually an irony, the character named Manley Pointer is a seller of Bibles, or in other words, he is more like the messenger who brings the word of God to people. He is liked by Mrs. Hopewell herself and he is even invited to dinner, not only because he says, “I got this heart condition [and] I might not live long” (O’Connor, “Good Country”) but also because of his charm and politeness. Even at the end of the story, Mrs. Hopewell compliments Pointer by telling Mrs. Freeman that the world would be better if everyone were just as simple as Pointer. However, this façade of Pointer is unmasked towards the end of the story when he runs away with Hulga’s artificial leg after talking her into teaching him how to remove and reattach it. Pointer himself admits unmasks himself in front of Hulga by saying, “I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn’t born yesterday and I know where I’m going!” (O’Connor, “Good Country”). Pointer also accuses Hulga of not being smart enough to spot his pretenses.

    The Negative Reference to Religion. O’Connor’s criticism of religion is based on her belief that “the theological Puritanism in this country…continues to objectify evil through flesh and inanimate substance” (Carlson). She criticizes this rather pretentious form of Puritanism in both of her works. The Christian religion is portrayed as insignificant and negative as a whole in both works of O’Connor.

    In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the ex-convict Misfit admits that he himself was once a gospel singer but according to the story, he has ended up being a criminal. O’Connor then implies that being a gospel singer, which is the equivalent of being close to the Church, has not made anything to change Misfit and worse may have even help him become what he is at present. Moreover, the incessant prayers of the grandmother saying Jesus, Jesus while Misfit was talking to her are perhaps a portrayal of the futility of religion when one is in trouble. For when Christians mention the words Jesus, Jesus, they expect Jesus Christ to indeed save them but it is obvious that Jesus has not saved the grandmother, who was “shot [by Misfit] three times through the chest” (O’Connor, “A Good Man”) at the end of the story. Besides these, there are still numerous instances especially towards the end of the story where religion either has not transformed Misfit into a good man, and has in fact never saved the seemingly religious grandmother and her family from death.

    On the other hand, the negative portrayal of religion is more explicitly and more ironically stated in “Good Country People” for Manley Pointer, who turns out to be evil himself, has in fact disguised himself as a Bible seller. The attack on religion here in this story is more blatant and more negative on the whole. This is particularly proven by the fact that it is Pointer himself who admits to Hulga, “I hope you don’t think…that I believe in that crap!” (O’Connor, “Good Country”), after Hulga repeatedly accuses him in his face that he’s the perfect Christian. This polite and kind Bible seller in fact turns out to be an insane, neurotic man who collects items from women he victimizes. Moreover, another negative reference to religion in the story is the fact that one of the Bibles Pointer has brought with him was actually “hollow and contained a pocket flask of whiskey [and] a pack of cards,…” (O’Connor, “Good Country”). This is purely symbolic of the evil that hides itself under the cloak of religion.

    The Negative Reference to Negroes. Aside from religious pretenses, both works also give a sort of insignificant treatment to the subject of Negro slaves in the South. Thus this gives the readers an impression that the characters in both stories are indeed, just as what we have previously mentioned, pretentious people who may appear kind and religious and humane on the outside but who, in fact, keep slaves and regard them all Negroes with evil contempt.

    In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the only reference to Negroes and the only negative one is when the grandmother notices a Negro kid as they are traveling down the road to Florida. As soon as she sees the Negro kid, she cruelly remarks, “Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!…wouldn’t that make a picture, now?” (O’Connor, “A Good Man”) and she lashes out at the economic state of the Negroes when she says, “Little riggers in the country don’t have things like we do” (O’Connor, “A Good Man”). All these she tells her equally critical granddaughter June Star who is the one who in fact notices that the Negro kid does not have any underwear on.

    This negative reference to Negroes in “Good Country People” is however more subtle and implicit. Mrs. Hopewell seems to show kindness to Mrs. Freeman and her two girls and she is said to introduce them to almost everyone. Nevertheless, Mrs. Hopewell’s “reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash [and that] they were good country people” (O’Connor, “Good Country”). The mention of this motive of Mrs. Hopewell for keeping the Negro tenants is not at all a very positive one for “good country people” may even actually connote a certain kind of ignorance particularly attributed to people who come from the country. Moreover, when Hulga calls Pointer “good country people” towards the end of the story, he himself feels that she is insulting him. Thus, the truth is that Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga do not at all consider Negroes wonderfully special.

    Differences

    Aside from the fact that the characters in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” are more mobile and that there is clearly explicit erotica in “Good Country People,” both of O’Connor’s litearary masterpieces show other more subtle differences.

    The Degree of Violence. O’Connor’s works are said to possess a “mercilessly pleasurable tension” (Hawkes) and this tension may show itself through O’Connor’s portrayal of violence. It is believed that O’Connor “used violence to convey her vision [and that] man must reach God through…violence” (Shinn). This simply shows that whatever theme of violence is employed by O’Connor in her works must necessarily be a path to redemption.

    Although it is not graphic, violence in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is actually several degrees higher than in “Good Country People.”

    In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” six people are murdered at the end of the story: first, Bailey and his son John Wesley; second, Bailey’s wife, the baby and June Star; and lastly, the grandmother herself. The fact that three of the victims are children and three are females add more to the theme of violence. This violence may have been fully justified with the older kids, the husband and wife and the grandmother for in fact they have been pretentious people (see The Idea of Pretense). However, the murder of the baby is obviously unjustified and can never be justified. Nevertheless, the simple fact that one may be evil in his ways does not exactly mean that he or she should be punished by murder, which means that Misfit, Hiram and Bobby Lee may actually be already brutal men themselves who thirst for violence even though they have to deal with women, children or grandmothers.

    On the hand, in “Good Country People,” violence is a little bit less in intensity since there is no murder in the story. Nevertheless, anyone who views from afar an outraged and screaming Hulga and a perhaps half-naked Pointer holding her artificial leg would not hesitate to call the police and point out their location. Pointer lends his violence to the story by “[grabbing] the [artificial] leg [putting it inside a valise that] he swung…down the hole” (O’Connor, “Good Country People”). This act, though less violent compared to what Misfit did to the family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” is actually also violent in itself since Hulga is actually a helpless, handicapped woman who has had only one leg since she was ten, and Pointer takes away the very thing that has given her the ability to walk for 22 years. This story may in fact contain less violence than the first one but it is simply just as cruel.

    The Personal Nature of the Antagonist. When it comes to honesty, Misfit of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” fares so much better than Manley Pointer of “Good Country People” and the two characters may even actually be incomparable.

    First, Misfit, no matter how violent he deals with the family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” is in fact a person who is honest and truthful in front of others. First of all, Misfit does not deny his identity after the grandmother bursts out shouting his name and he even openly admits to her, “I ain’t a good man…but I ain’t the worst in the world neither” (O’Connor, “A Good Man”). This honesty is rare and cannot even be found in the seemingly religious but manipulative grandmother who tells lies to his family while they are on the way to Florida. However, Misfit may have chosen to be honest to the grandmother knowing that she would die in the end anyway. Thus, Misfit’s honesty may only happen under certain circumstances that warrant his favor.

    Manley Pointer, on the other hand, is the perfect impostor. He is unlike Misfit, who does not hide his identity in front of the grandmother. Pointer enters the story as a polite, humorous young gentleman who sells Bibles but one who effectively manipulates Mrs. Hopewell by saying, “I know that you’re a good woman [because] friends have told me” (O’Connor, “Good Country”). In order to further win her admiration, he also mentions, “I got this heart condition [and] I may not live long” (O’Connor, “Good Country People”). Whether or not Pointer has actually meant these two things he mentions to Mrs. Hopewell and whether or not he has got this from the nosy Mrs. Freedman, it is clear that his goal is manipulation and eventually to set Hulga into his trap. Pointer is a very good impostor and with his voice and kind words, he even projected pure innocence in front of the most incredulous and cynical Hulga. The only moment Pointer is honest is when he admits to Hulga that he actually does not believe in Christianity and that it is not his real name that he is using, and even before leaving Hulga, Pointer does not leave any clue as to who he really is. This is how deceitful Pointer is compared to Misfit. The difference may perhaps lie in their ages, as Pointer may have been typical of the teenager who perennially lies, while Misfit is a middle-aged man who at his age has already somehow come to terms with reality.

    Conclusion

    Both of Flannery O’Connor’s works are similar and different in a number of ways. The similarities lie in the idea of pretense, and the negative treatment of both Negroes and religion. On the other hand, the two works differ in matters of violence and the personal nature of the characters. However, more important that the similarities and differences is that both stories somehow reveal one simple thing about human nature – that most “good” people, especially those who say they are good, are actually not good, and may in fact hide under the cloak of religion.

    Works Cited

    • Carlson, Thomas M. “Flannery O’Connor: The Manichaean Dilemma.” The Sewanee Review. 77 (Spring 1969): 254-276. 10 May 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/27541719>
    • Friedman, Melvin J. “Flannery O’Connor: Another Legend in Southern Fiction.” The English Journal. 51 (April 1962): 233-243. 10 May 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/810724>
    • Hawkes, John. “Flannery O’Connor’s Devil.” The Sewanee Review. 70 (Summer 1962): 395-407. 10 May 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/27540793>
    • O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” n.d. University of Central Florida. 10 May 2010. <http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~surette/goodman.html>
    • O’Connor, Flannery. “Good Country People.” 2010. Yuku. 10 May 2010. <http://voodoopoets.yuku.com/forum/viewtopic/id/688>
    • Shinn, Thelma J. “Flannery O’Connor and the Violence of Grace.” The Sewanee Review. 9 (Winter 1968): 58-73. 9 May 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/1207391>

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    Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People”. (2016, Jun 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-comparative-analysis-of-flannery-oconnors-a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-and-good-country-people/

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