Flannery O Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is a tale of manipulation, rebirth, and grace. The story opens with an unnamed grandmother pleading her son to take the family on a vacation to Tennessee, instead of the already agreed upon, Florida. The grandmother attempts to manipulate the son, as if she were concerned for the safety of the family, by telling him news of a just escaped murderer from jail in Florida, however the family continues upon the trip Florida, with the grandmother attempting to manipulate and deceive them the entire time.
The vacation results in the death of the family, but also in the salvation of two unlikely souls. Utilizing the literary element of characterization O’ Connor illustrates the effect of divine grace on unlikely recipients. The grandmother’s many attempts to dissuade the family from vacationing in Florida and other such events epitomize her manipulative tendencies. To manipulate means to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner. Flannery O’ Connor illustrates the grandmother’s urge to manipulate when she attempts to persuade Bailey, “her only son”, into changing the family vacation’s from Florida to Tennessee. 378) She tries to strike fear in him by telling him “Here this fellow that calls himself the Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. ”(378). The grandmother does not actually believe that the family will run into the Misfit, but due to her selfish want to go to Tennessee instead of Florida, she tells Bailey this in an attempt to change his mind, not out of genuine fear. Criminals are everywhere, not just limited to Florida, and every vacation bears the risk of calamity.
The grandmother’s attempt to manipulate goes even further. Hoping to appeal to Bailey conscience and love for his children she brings the safety of the children into question by stating “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did” (378). Bailey’s mother cares not for the safety of the children, but only for her desire to go to Tennessee. If she indeed cared for the safety of the children, she would have put up much more of a fight in going to Florida.
What grandmother would allow, although begrudgingly, her only grandchildren to walk willfully into danger? The grandmother’s manipulative tendencies extend also to those not in the family, in particulate the Misfit. She tells the Misfit “You wouldn’t shoot a lady would you? ”(388). The characterization of the grandmother over the course of the short story from a selfish, materialistic, to a person filled with love and grace showcases that even the most unlikely of us can receive grace.
According to Christian theology, human beings are granted salvation through God’s grace, or favor, which God freely bestows on even the least likely recipients. This “moment of grace” happens when the grandma reaches out to touch the Misfit in a final moment of grace and charity in an effort to redeem him and her. The grandma was able to see the Misfit as a fellow, suffering human being and comes to the conclusion that she does love him, this is evidenced by her epiphany when O’ Connor states “She saw the man’s face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies.
You’re one of my own children! ” (393). O’Connor presents both the perception of The Misfit as a fellow human being, and the sudden but real feeling of love for him, as gifts from God. From a Christian religious view, the grandmother, as a human being is inclined towards evil, pettiness, and selfishness, so could never have come to feel such love without God’s mercy and grace. At her death, the grandma has grown and transformed more than she ever has during her life. The grandma’s “moment of grace” also saved the Misfit.
When the grandma “reached out and touched him on the shoulder” the Misfit “sprang back as if a snake had had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest (136). At this moment, this Misfit recoils as if he has encountered something threatening, something alien to himself. What is especially ironic about this image is that the snake to which the grandmother is compared is often a symbol of evil, especially in Christian theology. It would seem this is how good, and in extension love, appears to evil, the Misfit.
The Misfit’s reaction to this act of kindness, show us that he recognized it for what it was; an act of love. He recoils from this act, but it does indeed change him and views of the world. Initially he stated there was “No pleasure but meanness” but after the grandma’s “moment of grace” his worldview and guiding moral code changed to “It’s no real pleasure in life. ”(393). Killing the grandmother gave him no pleasure, but instead troubles him. This is the beginning of the Misfit’s transformation and is evidence that the grandmother’s grace worked on him too.