O'Connor and Lawrence on Problems of Society: A Comparative Essay
Literature has always been used by many as an expression of criticism of society - O'Connor and Lawrence on Problems of Society: A Comparative Essay introduction. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” aims to open the eyes of the people in God’s grace and redemption. On the other hand, “The Rocking-Horse Winner” condemns a materialistic society that prioritizes wealth than love and affection. Both Flannery O’Connor and D. H. Lawrence armed themselves with words to open the eyes of the people to the realities of the problems in society.
First published in The Berkeley Book of Modern Writers, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is the most shocking short story at the time it appeared in 1955. It carries the author’s social and religious influences as it showed the existence of evil, violence, self-sufficient ego, and a Christian philosophy. Although it has a gruesome effect, the story is told in a humorous manner.
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“A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a story of the disastrous fate of a whole family. The family, led by an egocentric grandmother and an overbearing son, was on their way to a vacation when they had a car accident. Unfortunately, instead of finding someone to help them, a group of escaped convicts found them, led by the Misfit. Even if her family is taken off one by one into the woods and killed, the grandmother still tries to convince Misfit that he is a good man, equating dressing well with goodness. The most intensifying part in the story is when the Misfit kept on denying Christ and the grandmother is frantic to find something common with the Misfit to appeal to. With the murder of her family, the disinterest of the Misfit, and the rapidly approaching end of her life, the grandmother had a sudden realization: that she is as distant to God as the Misfit. Her egocentricity and self-created virtue had kept her away from God.
Because the family is traveling in an automobile, the setting of the story is in a number of states and ended in a rural landscape. The plot is linear and the ending is foreshadowed by the beginning, that is, they would meet tragedy if they continued with their vacation. The little twist is in the sympathy of the grandmother for the criminal and the realization of the criminal that his existence is characterized by misery.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” is narrated by a seeming omniscient storyteller. It gives the impression of listening to a traditional storyteller, one who gives keen description. Also, the readers are given a clue as to how each character thinks. The dialogues in the short story are important. From this, the readers gain an understanding of the mind of the characters. There are also shifting points of view in the story, specially that of the grandmother and the Misfit.
It is noticeable that the characters are stereotypes and are very human. Indeed, as every member of the family, save for the baby, is annoying, O’Connor made her theme more forceful. That is, God’s grace is not limited to the good, indeed, it is for every person. Specifically, the grandmother is the representation of mankind who, when confronted with death, wanted to evade it. The theological discussion in the story centered on her religious belief and deepest fear. When her mind had cleared and reached out to the Misfit, she had somehow touched his life. She had shown him a chance for redemption and had accepted grace. In their conversations, there is a trace of searching for truth and God in Misfit’s tone, although he does not realize it yet. However, through the grandmother’s last gesture, a notion that the Misfit would soon accept God in his life can be inferred.
The violence in the story is evident. It is used to show the best in the grandmother. Without it, she might not have recognized God’s grace when it was presented to her. It is not necessarily evil but a neutral force as it can be used to turn to goodness. Misfit, in fact, thought the grandmother would have been a good woman if she is constantly threatened by violence.
It is easy to predict the Misfit as the antagonist at first. Still, the grandmother and the Misfit are equal from a religious perspective. Both of them are self-serving. The blurred distinction of good and bad in the story makes it all the more compelling. Misfit’s lack of belief in redemption given by Christ is because of lack of physical evidence. He symbolizes today’s society which questions what it is not empirical. At the moment when he admits his need for grace and the grandmother becomes unselfish and reaches out to him, in that instant, she received grace. O’Connor brings to light the predicament of the world, people’s lack of faith.
D. H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner” first appeared in 1926 in The Ghost Book. It tackles human nature through a sardonic tale. It presented the problem of society through the eyes of a young boy. Lawrence being considered as a modernist, the story criticized materialism and the capitalistic society.
It is a dramatic story of a boy’s quest for his mother’s love in a detached world. It also shows the destructiveness of the desire for social status and money. In their household, there is a reverberating phrase, “there is not enough money.” Knowing that money would make her mother, Hester, happy, Paul gambles so that he would eventually give money to his mother. He speaks to his rocking horse which tells him which horse to bet on. Paul began to ride his horse in frenzy, believing that it would lead him to a place where there is luck. In his trance, he can predict the winning horse. Initially, his only partner in betting is Bassett, the gardener, but his uncle Oscar teamed up with them to profit with the boy’s predictions.
With the 1000 pounds that Hester received on her birthday, which was secretly from Paul, her insatiable desire for wealth becomes evident. The whisper that the children hear, rather than stopping, became a scream. It is precisely her mother’s greed that pushes the young boy to the edge. As the time of Derby was coming near, Paul had become more agitated and rode at a frightening pace. After saying the horse’s name, the boy collapsed and became unconscious. The day before he died, he explained to her mother that he is lucky (and thus must be loved).
The setting is in an urban society, the family living in a fairly affluent neighborhood. The “supernatural” element gives the story a fairy tale quality. It is narrated in a detached tone that ironically lectures on love and the harms of excessive desire for material advancement. Although the mother’s way of thinking is explicitly shown in the story, the focus of the story is on the perspective of Paul.
He presented the story by exploring the relationships of Paul with the other characters. The dialogue between Paul and his mother gives the readers an insight of how she feels about her son. Moreover, Paul associated money with love because of the idea her mother had given him. She said that she cannot be lucky because she had married an unlucky husband, implying that material success is essential for affection. He told her that he is lucky to receive love from her, but her mother failed to see that and instead commented sarcastically. It is this conversation that made Paul determined to be lucky.
Another evidence of the materialistic behavior of the family is Oscar, Paul’s uncle. He is an opportunist who uses his nephew’s “power” to gain more money. When Paul died, he comforted Hester by saying that she has “eighty-odd thousand to the good,” implying the equivalence of Paul’s life to this amount. It seemed that Paul is just an object to him that has a monetary value.
Lawrence utilized symbolism to contribute to the theme, most notable is the wooden rocking horse. It is the symbol of people’s desire to achieve social status and to gain wealth. Excessive effort put into it would lead to exhaustion and, ultimately, to self-destruction. The mother is the symbol of the capitalistic society, emphasizing the love of money over everything else. The whispers are the representation of the prevalence of this concept in the society. If uncontrolled and tolerated, this could only grow louder which can drive people into obsession and despair.
Lawrence used “The Rocking-Horse Winner” to critic modern society. Hester’s craving for wealth made her to disregard things more valuable, such as love. Her unquenchable greed led to the tragic death of her son.
Although the settings of the two differ, one in an urban and another in a rural area, the plots of the two stories are both linear and had tragic endings. However, the death of the characters is what accentuates the significance of the moral lesson. The death of the grandmother made her accept God’s grace as well as planted a seed of faith to Misfit that has yet to grow. On the other hand, Paul’s death made her mother realize what she has neglected because of too much importance placed on money. Their deaths allowed new beginnings.
Also, the use of dialogues for both stories are important. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” it is through the conversations between the characters that their personalities are known. In “The Rocking Horse Winner,” the conversation between the Paul and her mother regarding luck is what started Paul’s path to tragedy.
Interestingly, there is a wide age difference between the lead characters of the two stories. However, both of them had a misunderstanding of what is truly essential. In the end, both Paul and the grandmother inspired the people to change their lives for better.
Finally, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The Rocking-Horse Winner” both assert moral truths. The former criticizes the lack of faith of people and the inability to accept God’s grace in their life, whereas the latter laments the overpowering desire of people for wealth and high social status. Both written decades ago, the problems presented by the two texts still apply today.