In introductory remarks she made before a public reading of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor said, “Properly, you analyze to enjoy, but it’s equally true that to analyze with any discrimination, you have to have enjoyed already.” This, I believe, should be a foundational principle of the Flannery O’Connor Summer Reading Club. There is a kind of insight that is available only to those who have enjoyed a thing.
And I do enjoy Flannery O’Connor’s stories. Writing The Terrible Speed of Mercy, my forthcoming biography of O’Connor, was a pretty grueling two-year process (O’Connor herself described book-writing as “a terrible experience, in which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay”). Nevertheless, the day after I submitted the manuscript, I couldn’t resist the urge to pick up the books I had inhabited for so long–The Complete Stories, The Habit of Being, Mystery and Manners–and flip through my favorite passages. Which is to say, any insights I might offer over the next few weeks grow out of my pleasure in the stories and will, I hope, increase your pleasure in them.

When it comes to “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” hardly anything could increase your enjoyment more than hearing O’Connor read it herself. I mentioned this yesterday, but if you have half an hour or so, do listen to it here. On that same page, you can find O’Connor reading a paper called “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction,” which you can also read in Mystery and Manners.

Enough preliminaries. On to the story proper.

O’Connor has a reputation for unexpected endings. But in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” she telegraphs how the ending from the first paragraph, with the Grandmother rattling the newspaper at Bailey’s head and announcing that it would be a bad idea to drive south, where the Misfit lurks: “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.” On the next page, with reference to the Grandmother’s carefully chosen traveling outfit, the narrator remarks, “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.” From the conversation with Red Sammy and his wife to the fact that they get off the road near Toobmsboro (about twenty-five miles south of Milledgeville), the specter of sudden death haunts the story throughouth.

I don’t remember what it was like to read this story for the first time. I’m hoping to hear from a reader who didn’t come to the story already knowing that the Misfit was going to wipe the family out. I’d be curious to know what a first-time reader does with all that foreshadowing. Even as O’Connor puts prescient words in the grandmother’s mouth, she gives us reason not to trust a word the old woman says. In the beginning of the story, her warnings about the Misfit appear to be manipulative nattering; when Bailey ignores her, I’m not thinking “Bailey, you fool! Listen to your mother’s wisdom!” I’m thinking he probably has to do a lot of ignoring just to get by in that house. When the grandmother discusses the Misfit with Red Sammy, to me it feels like the kind of “hell in a hand basket” talk that one expects to hear from the elderly.

The grandmother speaks almost exclusively in cliches. Those cliches insulate her from the ultimate realities that surround her–sin, redemption, judgment, mercy, death, life–even when those cliches speak of those ultimate truths. She tells the Misfit, “If you would pray, Jesus would help you.” Which is true enough, but in her mouth–at that point in the story, anyway–it is as much a cliche as “People are not as nice as they used to be,” or “It’s a beautiful day,” or “You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?”

A key moment for understanding the Grandmother comes immediately after the grandmother is left alone with the Misfit:

Alone with the Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally she found herself saying, “Jesus, Jesus,” meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing.

A good Southern lady, the grandmother would never dream of taking the Lord’s name in vain. But, as it turns out, she has been taking the Lord’s name in vain all her life. Her telling the Misfit to pray, that Jesus would help him, was simply another way of manipulating to get her way. Here at this moment of extremity, she is about to come to terms with the ultimate truths that she has been mouthing about. “Jesus, Jesus,” she says, in what might as well be a kind of profanity. And yet Jesus intervenes anyway. By invoking the name of Jesus, the grandmother elicits a speech from the Misfit in which, ironically, he tells the truth about Jesus: “He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw everything away 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.”

And now, finally, the grandmother says the first honest thing she has said the whole story. She expresses an honest doubt:

“Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,” the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her.

That honest doubt cracks open the door for an honest acceptance of truths to which the grandmother had only given lip-service before. Just before her death, she finally realizes that she is a sinner herself, more kin to the Misfit than she would have ever been able to acknowledge. In an instant of clear-headedness she tells the Misfit, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” She has finally pushed through the cliches that have preserved her self-righteousness and is ready to meet her Maker–and not a second too soon.

I realize that it is not self-evident that this is a moment of grace for the grandmother. I speak so confidently about it only because of what O’Connor herself said about it: “…I am interested in the indication of Grace, the moment when you know that Grace has been offered and accepted–such as the moment when the Grandmother realizes the Misfit is one of her own children. These moments are prepared for (by me anyway) by the intensity of the evil circumstances” (Habit of Being, p. 367-8).

In remarks prefatory to a reading of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” O’Connor said

In my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world (Mystery and Manners, p. 112).

Elsewhere O’Connor wrote, “There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may not recognize this moment.” The trick in reading O’Connor’s fiction is to learn to recognize those moments; she was perfectly willing to leave them obscure, which troubles many Christian readers. But those of us who believe that grace intervenes in our real-world existence acknowledge that those interventions are often (perhaps usually) obscure, don’t we?

My next post will be about that Satanic figure, the Misfit, and the ways in which he inadvertently “accomplishes a good deal of groundwork that seems to be necessary before grace is effective.” Meanwhile, I would love to hear your thoughts on the grandmother and on the foreshadowing that seems so glaringly obvious once you know how the story ends. And I would especially like to hear from anyone who is coming to the story for the first time or who at least remembers the experience of reading it for the first time.

  • Chris
    3:35 PM, 4 June 2012

    I think I read this for the first time in my Intro to Lit class in college. I had never read any of O’Connor’s stories before, so the whole thing took me completely by surprise. It was so long ago that I don’t really remember if I picked up the hints along the way. I do remember the gut-punch feeling of the ending though–“Did she just do that? I can’t believe she just did that.” Reading it again this time, I was quite struck by the words out of the Misfit: “He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw everything away 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.” That’s quite a bit of theology right there, and about sums it up. Out of the mouths of babes–and criminals.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      5:11 PM, 4 June 2012

      Yes, Chris. I’m hoping to spend a little more time on that speech from the Misfit in the next post. In your Intro to Lit class, do you remember what your perfesser had to say about this story? I was talking to somebody the other day who said his English teacher used this story to demonstrate that O’Connor viewed the universe as meaningless.

      • Chris
        5:15 PM, 4 June 2012

        I honestly don’t remember, no. 

      • Amy L
        12:15 AM, 5 June 2012

        I recall a Lit professor in college using Good Country People to argue the opposite, but I feel like I can’t explain the argument well without giving away key points of that story.  In general:  if you really believe that the universe is meaningless, then why are you so upset by this turn of events? 
        Hopefully I’ll remember to come back and discuss when we get to that one.

  • Easy Money
    4:10 PM, 4 June 2012

    This was not only my first time reading this story, but my first time reading anything from O’Connor. I have been waiting for the perfect time to start and your Summer Reading Club seemed like as good a starting point as any.I think you were wondering what a first-time reader would do with the foreshadowing in this story. Honestly, since I am completely new to her work, I had no expectations whatsoever. I had no clue what the tone of the story would be or what message (if any) might be hidden inside it. So when the grandmother talked about the Misfit early on, I wasn’t necessarily expecting him to come into play later in the story – but I wasn’t expecting him not to either. The same goes with the comment about her dress and being recognized as a lady if she was found on the side of the highway.
    Of course, when the beat up black car pulled up after the accident, my first thought was that it could be the Misfit. But, not knowing anything about O’Connor’s stories, I wouldn’t have expected it to get dark and violent. So that part definitely came as a total surprise. I think it was a surprise because I was listening to this southern lady tell the story (yes, I listened to the audio – and read along) from 60 years ago. I guess there is part of me that thinks that stories from back then would always end more like an episode from The Brady Bunch than a Tarantino movie.
    So I guess my initial response as a first time reader was that I just enjoyed the ride of it. It was entertaining and humorous and then disturbing and redemptive. I didn’t know if I should be reading it looking for a twist or something like an early M. Night Shamalamadingdong film, or if it was just going to be an entertainingly detailed retelling of all of the annoying little things that can happen when you take your family on a road trip. Because of that, I think I was able to experience the shocking and surprising nature of the story more than I would have if I was really familiar with her work.
    People have always told me (you included) that I would love Flannery O’Connor’s stories. Now I know why.
    And about the grandmother – let me just end by saying that I have been on many “road trips” with my mother and my mother-in-law (not both at the same time, thankfully), and let me just say that I felt the portrayal of the grandmother to be quite … true.

    (and with that last sentence I realize that it would not be in the best interest of anyone to post using my real name)

    • Jonathan Rogers
      5:07 PM, 4 June 2012

      Hello, Easy Money, and welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed the story; I thought it would be right up your alley. You say you found it redemptive. I have two questions about that: 1) Did you come into the story expecting it to be redemptive, and 2) What, exactly, did you find redemptive about it? FYI, should I ever get a nickname, “Easy Money” is on my short list…I could see it stitched on a bowling shirt. 

      • Easy Money
        6:34 PM, 4 June 2012

         I didn’t come into the story expecting any redemptive turn. As for your second question, I felt like all of the grandmother’s talk about prayer and Jesus as she was talking to the Misfit – like you mentioned – had more to do with what she had been taught growing up (like “wash your hands before dinner”) and was being used to try to manipulate the situation in the same way that she manipulated the kids into wanting to see the plantation house. But the Misfit didn’t disagree with what she was saying about Jesus – it seemed like he agreed with it and then some. So then I imagine that she had a moment when she wondered if this killer knew more about who Jesus was than she did.But ultimately, the redemption came as her being able to see herself in this person. She started off by saying he didn’t seem like a “common” man – and must come from good stock. I am guessing she was trying to tell him that he was like her. But her lesson was the other way around. She was like him. She ended up seeing herself in him. To me, that is one of the most redemptive things we can experience here on earth – seeing ourselves in the good AND bad of the people around us.

  • yankeegospelgirl
    6:59 PM, 4 June 2012

    I read this back in highschool. I was brought up on great English literature, so the harsh American spareness of her style was a new experience for me. But Mom assigned it just so I could get a taste.  I definitely appreciated the power of her writing. I guess the main impression I came away with is, “This is an author who doesn’t seem to craft her characters with very much love.” That was only strengthened as I browsed through some of the other stories in the collection we had checked out (with the exception of “The River,” which our whole family unanimously agrees is a classic even though we never did hop on board the O’Connor bandwagon).
    The main problem with “A Good Man” as I see it is that the grandmother’s judgment is put in the Misfit’s mouth, when he’s in no position to pass judgment on anybody, least of all a person he’s just murdered! “She should have had somebody to shoot her every day of her life,” coming from him… I mean, are we expected to treat that as carrying any sort of moral weight? The implication seems to be that the reader is supposed to go, “Boy, that’s profound” or “That bears thinking about,” but my reaction is, “Who the hell do you think you are? You’ve got innocent blood on your hands.” If that’s meant to be the moral, O’Connor makes a huge misstep by having him of all characters be the one to deliver it.

    • John
      7:23 PM, 4 June 2012

      This comment is an example of near perfect irony. (I hope.)

    • Abby Pickle
      6:54 PM, 5 June 2012

      Yankeegospelgirl, you said you come away from O’Conner’s stories with the impression, “This is an author who doesn’t seem to craft her characters with very much love.” That got me thinking, and I realized that I got the exact opposite impression. I think O’Conner is showing love to her characters by being honest about who they are. It’s not the kind of love that feels good; I imagine she was hurt by the cruelty of her characters, she had to sacrifice to portray them truly.    In a way, it’s a picture of who God is. (I love how he’s always putting those in creation and in the work of his children!) God loves us, that is certain. But he does not force us to love him. He won’t take control of our actions, he lets us choose, and we go about sowing discord in our spheres of existance. It’s awful, and yet beautiful. Because God didn’t take our free will, but he found another way to save us.

      • yankeegospelgirl
        1:31 PM, 6 June 2012

        I guess what I would say is look at what Marilynne Robinson does with _Gilead_ and _Home_. Look at how she portrays Jack. He’s hardly a one-dimensional character, and he has plenty of unredeeming qualities. Yet there is so much palpable LOVE in Robinson’s crafting of that character, and all the characters for that matter. With O’Connor, she’s just writing these unlikable characters and then killing them off in unpleasant ways. Now here she does try to squeeze in a rushed moment of grace (not very convincingly IMO), but in some of the stories she doesn’t even give us that much. I understand the darkness is thickest just before the dawn, there’s no redemption without something to redeem, I get all that. But if there’s no dawn, or if the most we see is just a pale, sickly sliver peeking over the horizon… then all you’re left with is the coldness and the dark.

        • Bjohnson
          2:12 PM, 6 June 2012

          I think I just heard Marilynne Robinson faint.

    • Savage Spirit
      7:15 AM, 20 June 2012

      In a court of law, you’d be right of course.  But O’Connor isn’t writing in a legal, or even moral context.  She’s writing in a divine context, a context in which the grandmother is no more or less sinful than the Misfit; a context in which a murderer might be an instrument of grace.  O’Connor understood and expressed the essence of divine grace: It is not fixed by a human standard.

  • CyndaP
    7:15 PM, 4 June 2012

    I’m sure I read this in college, but the first time I remember reading it was when my son was in high school and he was reading it.  It had long been my habit to read things that my children read so we could discuss them.  I remember thinking from the title and the opening of the story, that the Grandmother was going to meet the Misfit at some point in the story, but I was taken aback by the violent ending.  My son and I discussed the story, but I don’t remember anything specific, except that my son said he expected the ending (although I don’t recall why) and I was clueless.

  • AS Peterson
    7:21 PM, 4 June 2012

    Having just listened to her read the story (again), I just wanted to stop by and remark on how smack-down awesome the Misfit’s final dialogue with the grandmother is. It never gets old. It’s perfect. In my dreams, Joel and Ethan Coen make short film versions of all her stories.

  • Amy L
    1:09 AM, 5 June 2012

    Like others, I remember reading for the first time and being aghast at how the story ended.  I didn’t mind the grandmother getting shot, I suppose, but the children bothered me.  I remember thinking hard about it for a while, then deciding that’s really the way it would have ended.  He wouldn’t have had a change of heart, certainly not one brought on by the awful old lady.  So, though the ending struck me as wrong, I also knew that it was true. 
    This was my first time reading it after having babies of my own.  I hadn’t thought about the character of the mother before.  She is such a non-entity!  She feeds the baby, wears uninteresting clothes, and puts dimes in the jukebox.  She says nothing at all until they take her husband away.  She doesn’t say “where are they taking them,” either – only “him”.  Presumably she means Bailey, not John Wesley.  She doesn’t get a name, though neither does the grandmother or Red Sammy’s wife.  Even the stupid cat gets a name!  June Star, the worst jerk of the lot, is the only female character who is named.  Where’s a feminist reading on that?

    When I first read the story, I remember thinking that the mother’s agreeing to go quietly was a brave act, accepting her fate without fighting, but later readings showed that it was simple giving in.  I guess my initial reading had pictured her walking with her head high, clearly missing the “faintly” and “helplessly.”  Now that I’m a mother, I still hate this part, but I can’t imagine myself being able to do anything differently.  (Maybe to beg them to take the baby, who can’t identify them anyway, or at least to leave the baby there for someone to find.  They don’t shoot the cat, so why not ask them to leave the baby?  But, the mother seems not to have spoken any word of advice or correction to her children, husband, or mother-in-law ever in her life, so there’s no reason to think she would start now.)  I want this to be the mother’s moment of grace, but I feel like she needs another movement, another statement, to make it a full picture.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      11:28 AM, 5 June 2012

      Amy L, you’re right on re: the children’s mother. “Nonentity” is the best possible way to describe her. Bailey’s passivity is pretty disheartening too.

  • Ty
    5:51 AM, 5 June 2012

    I’ve read this story before but this time, with her Southern accent drawling me in, it felt like a completely new experience. To start off, I’ve always enjoyed O’Connor and know all about her moments of grace but I’ve always walked away scratching my head, unaware of where to look. So when this Summer Reading Club popped up, I knew this could be the time to figure out how to read the woman! Anyway, I still have trouble understanding the redemption. I mean, I see it when other people point it out to me, but it just doesn’t stand out to me. Why is the moment when she reaches out and touches the Misfit her moment of redemption? And perhaps I should be completely honest: I grew up on sentimental redemptive stories so maybe I was expecting something in that vein. I know what O’Connor thinks about sentimentality, so I won’t begin to broach that subject. I’m excited to continue reading her and I hope my ability to discern her style will grow over time.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      11:20 AM, 5 June 2012

      Ty, you say you’ve always enjoyed O’Connor, and that’s a lot more important than figuring her out. As O’Connor said, a story isn’t a puzzle to be worked out; if you don’t get enjoyment out of it, you’re not going to get much else out of it either. I’m convinced that the stories will do their work on you whether or not you understand what they’re doing or how they do it. 
      Still, I’ll offer this tidbit: pay attention to those moments when a character’s vision changes. O’Connor’s stories are almost always about a character going from blindness to sight. When the grandmother’s “head cleared for an instant,” that’s a clue that you’d better pay attention to what’s about to happen. 

      One more thing I should point out: just because grace is revealed to a character, that doesn’t mean the character is going to receive that grace. So while there is the potential for redemption in each of O’Connor’s stories, that redemption isn’t necessarily consummated…which, of course, is a big no-no in the “sentimental redemptive stories” that you mentioned.

      • Anonymous
        3:26 PM, 18 June 2012

        “One more thing I should point out: just because grace is revealed to acharacter, that doesn’t mean the character is going to receive that
        grace.”  That’s a great point, and reveals that FO wasn’t naive about the fact that the reception of grace doesn’t simply come about via a simple, logical argument such as the grandmother poses to the Misfit.  She’s trying to argue him to faith, so to speak, quite apart from the mysterious blowing of the Holy Spirit. 

  • Micah Hawkinson
    6:17 PM, 5 June 2012

    I am a sucker for happy endings.  I also have a hard time accepting the temporal triumph of evil and the suffering of innocents.  I was the 5-year-old who didn’t understand why the police hadn’t come to arrest Darth Vader yet. 
    As you might expect, when I first read this story in college, I didn’t like it very much.  I figured it was just another symptom of my liberal perfesser’s depravity that she liked it so much.  I remember her saying that O’Connor was a devout Catholic and that this story had something to do with original sin, but I had a hard time with that since this  was like no Catholicism I had ever encountered. 

    I never really gave O’Connor another thought, other than being amused in passing by “Good Country People” in my short story writing class later in college.  I guess I just assumed she was some sort of bent person not worth my time. 

    I read O’Connor’s complete short stories last summer before Hutchmoot 2011.  When I revisited this one, I found myself a lot wiser and more prepared to see flashes of grace than I was as an 18-year-old college freshman.  I didn’t see it back then, but there is an unspeakable beauty when the grandmother reaches out in compassion to the man who shot her family.

    Guess I just wasn’t reading close enough.  🙂

    • Jen Rose
      9:33 PM, 5 June 2012

      Micah, I had a similar experience… this story freaked me out terribly when I first read it in high school. (In my uber-conservative Christian curriculum, no less!) And I read the complete stories last summer too. I was definitely able to appreciate the flashes of grace a little more too, but I still wasn’t ready for that much Flannery at once.
      Maybe if I stick through this summer reading group I’ll finally get it. 🙂

  • Bailey Boy
    6:40 PM, 5 June 2012

    The grandmother’s notes about their departure time and the odometer reading remind me of the kind of thing you find in a police report of a crime.

  • Jen Rose
    10:01 PM, 5 June 2012

    First, I have to say reading this while planning a road trip from Florida to South Carolina was probably not the best thing for me. It’s like hearing plane crash stories before flying. ANYway….
    This is my third time reading this story as far as I remember. The first time was in high school, with no real idea what I was in for, and the ending kept haunting me. (Same reaction to “Revelation.”) As I recall, I hated it. I wanted a happier ending, a better show of redemption, even though I probably wouldn’t have thought of it that way then.

    Now when I read her, I mostly appreciate her craft. The characters feel so real, and the foreshadowing in this story is so well done. This time around, I noticed the details like the grandmother taking the cat in her bag and how they fit the plot together. Everything she did, it seems, pushed this story to the end. But most intriguing to me was that O’Connor noted that she was sort of smiling in death. I wonder if it was her revelation and acceptance of grace that put the smile on her face.

    Really looking forward to revisiting these stories and discussing them this summer!

  • Luke W
    3:15 AM, 6 June 2012

    I read this story for the first time about a year ago at the age of 40. With a fundamentalist upbringing in my distant past, I read it with a lens that recognizes the grandmother. I’ve known that grandmother at my church, my school, even in my family. But the story allowed me to watch that familiar character grapple with dramatic violence and I found the moment enlightening. The grandmother operates by categorizing everyone and everything around her, putting the world into columns of bad and good — a popular fundamentalist approach. It’s easier to condemn people in groups (evolutionists, homosexuals, criminals, Democrats, etc.) and feel like I’m taking a righteous stand. Grand opinions about people I’ve never met. All the while I sit as judge over all, clucking my tongue at “the world”. It’s a system of thinking that by definition cannot include grace, for the people lumped into categories or even the judge (because I don’t need it, since I don’t fall into any of the bad categories). Yet, as the grandmother is forced to engage the Misfit, her categories collapse. The Misfit doesn’t operate by her system, despite her appeals that he do so (telling him he must come from “good stock” – encouraging him to upgrade his category). When her worldview fails, her faith is shaken (“Maybe he didn’t raise the dead”) because she’d ascribed to a salvation that granted her superiority, a position in the top category of “the saved”. And in the moment, for the first time, with her black-and-white view pulled from under her feet, she has a chance to see that she and the Misfit and everyone needs the same grace. The story leaves an unresolved feeling because nobody really jumps up and grabs hold of that grace. We catch a glimpse of it, but little more.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      4:31 AM, 6 June 2012

      Luke W, this is a very strong reading of the grandmother. Does anything about the story change the way you think about the grandmother-ish people you’ve known?

      • Luke W
        3:40 AM, 9 June 2012

        Jonathan — the story crystallizes some ideas that I hadn’t gotten hold of. One is that the grandmother-ish people I know can only maintain their outlook by keeping their distance from those in other categories. Once a Misfit enters their sphere, the categories are shaken. It’s much easier to talk “us vs. them” when “us” doesn’t know any of “them.” This challenges me to extend myself into relationship outside of my usual routes.
        The second idea the story helps me understand is one of mercy. Just as the grandmother’s own family had long given up on challenging her, I usually can’t cajole those people into awareness. But should circumstances confront them, whether it’s by gunpoint on the side of the road, or more likely, something like a granddaughter bringing home a boyfriend of the wrong category, the circumstances will bring suffering. Can I have compassion when they twist and suffer under the sudden arrival of grace? In that moment it’s a choice between compassion or honestly, the pleasure of meanness.

    • Rebekah
      6:29 PM, 8 June 2012

       When I taught this story last year, this is one thing that stuck out to me as well–how the grandmother’s prideful “categories” fall to pieces.
      At the beginning of the story she never would have imagined taking someone like the Misfit into her home. He belongs in one slot, she belongs in another, and never the twain shall meet. In her world there are good folks versus bad folks, well-mannered people from the past versus ill-mannered moderns.

      Yet there at the end, she actually acknowledges a blood kinship with this unreachable man. That, to me, was one of the most significant parts of her redemption: the newfound ability to have compassion on someone who didn’t “deserve” it, much as Christ had compassion on those who killed him. Such love required humility, a quality she lacked through nearly the entire story. But she gets it at the moment of her death.

      • Jonathan Rogers
        7:25 PM, 8 June 2012

        You’re right on, Rebekah. What age students did you teach this story to?

  • Madeleine
    4:54 AM, 7 June 2012

    As usual, I am a bit behind with my commenting, but I
    thought I’d add to the discussion since I remember well my first time reading
    this story.

    The first time I read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” was for
    Hutchmoot 2010. I had never read any of Flannery O’Conner’s works. I had heard
    she was dark, but redemptive, so that’s what I was expecting. First off, I
    loved her style. The descriptions, the dialogue, I felt like I was right there.
    Every word was just right and I was enjoying myself. If only it hadn’t been for
    that nagging question about Misfit (how’s he going to play into this story
    after being mentioned in the beginning?) and the known reputation of being a
    dark writer.

    I was not prepared for the ending. Sickened would be the
    word for how I felt. Sickened and shocked. There’s dark, but wow, this was
    something else. I did not see any redemption at all. To me the grandmother was
    just saying whatever she could to avoid being killed, even to her last comment
    about Misfit being one of her babies. And then I took his comment about “somebody
    there to shoot her every minute of her life” to just underscore his estimate of
    her worthlessness and the cheapness of life in general. I felt abused and
    discouraged as if left in the thick darkness of the brutality and emptiness of
    life without a true understanding of Christ. “There’s no pleasure in life” is
    how it ended and it felt like Ecclesiastes without chapter 12.

    It was before bed when I read “A Good Man…” and I’m pretty
    sure I had to read something else before I tried to go to sleep. I was not sure
    I ever wanted to read more O’Connor. Sure, her writing was great, but did I
    want to endure more abuse? Later I did give her another try by reading “The
    River” which wasn’t so bad, but I still felt like I might be somehow missing
    the point. Finally I read “The Artificial Nigger” and enjoyed that the most.
    There seemed to be more humor and, again, the style knocked me off my feet.
    Honestly though, most of the time I pick my reading to be in the less stressful
    vein. My everyday life has enough emotional drama that by the time I squeeze in
    some reading I’m ready for a mental break or spiritually challenging and
    uplifting themes that I don’t have to hunt for. That said, I am looking forward
    to reading more of her stories with you all. Perhaps I will find them more worthwhile
    in a group setting.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      7:51 PM, 8 June 2012

      Madeleine, I hope a group setting will make FO more palatable to you. This may or may not help, but for FO it was a matter of faith to look unflinchingly at the world at its ugliest and most unsettling, because it way that world that Jesus came to redeem. It is the sick, not the healthy, who need the Great Physician. Her approach was the opposite of, say Thomas Kinkade, whose art depicts a world that doesn’t really need Jesus (I suspect Kinkade will figure in a future post in the FO Summer Reading Club).

      • yankeegospelgirl
        7:40 PM, 10 June 2012

         Interesting you should say that considering the pain and turmoil of Kinkade’s personal life. Perhaps it was his way of finding an escape.
        I look forward to seeing how you expand on the theme of “depicting a world that doesn’t really need Jesus.” Surely you would not go so far as to argue that every Vermeer still-life or Monet landscape is cheap/shallow/void of greatness simply because it portrays an innocent, unspoiled beauty? Or that a portrait of a perfectly lovely face couldn’t possibly be great art because it’s too pretty? That would obviously be absurd. But it seems one could extrapolate from your comment that way. You seemed to be implying at least that there was something wrong with any kind of art, even painting, that offers a glimpse of beauty with no trace of ugliness. But again, that would be absurd. So I must assume you meant something else.

  • April Pickle
    4:39 PM, 7 June 2012

    Elsewhere O’Connor wrote,
    “There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be
    felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may not
    recognize this moment.” The trick in reading O’Connor’s fiction is to learn to
    recognize those moments; she was perfectly willing to leave them obscure, which
    troubles many Christian readers. But those of us who believe that grace
    intervenes in our real-world existence acknowledge that those interventions are
    often (perhaps usually) obscure, don’t we?

    Just a note to
    our professor: I’ve been chewing on this paragraph since Monday! I’m new to O’Connor
    (was intrigued by the Rabbit Room post, especially as it relates to the idea of
    being offended). THANK  YOU for bringing
    O’Conner to our attention and for hosting this reading club. It is excellent
    stuff. We so desperately need these pictures of Costly Grace, and this forum is
    providing just that.

  • Matt Owen
    4:08 AM, 8 June 2012

    This was my first reading of the story and my first reading of anything by O’Connor, so the only expectation I had was good writing. The foreshadowing was strong enough that I could feel the horrifying end coming. The closer I drew to the end, the more I kept thinking “no, no, no” as the inevitable unfolded. I thought it was fascinating that O’Connor used the Misfit to voice the most truth about Jesus while the religious person just kept blathering on with religious words that had no real meaning. But I totally missed the redemptive moment for her at the end. I took it as one desperate attempt to endear herself to the Misfit and thus save her own life. But FO obviously meant it another way. Knowing that about her writing will make me read her a different way now because I’ll be on the lookout for that.
    This is a great idea – thanks for leading this discussion!

    • Philip Wade
      3:16 AM, 15 June 2012

      I think is about how I felt, as a first time reader. I didn’t know the full ending, but I knew they would meet the bad guy. I kept hoping they wouldn’t all die.  I wasn’t sure if the grandmother was remembering the truth, now that all cards were on the table, or if she was manipulating still. She seemed to believe in good stock more than Jesus’ help. 
      Listening to The Misfit was fascinating, because I didn’t believe anything he said, though he picked up some truth about the Lord from somewhere. I misunderstood the ending, but your explanation, Jonathan, make sense. I’ll look for those moments of grace in the future.

  • Loren Warnemuende
    7:19 PM, 8 June 2012

    I finally picked up my copy of O’Connor’s stories last night. I’m stilljust borrowing from the library–not ready to take the full plunge and
    commit to her yet, I guess. I realized I didn’t have a single story of
    hers at home despite having studied a couple in college, and taught a
    few in years after that. So last night, I plowed through “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and came out, I hope, the wiser. I’ve also made my way through the posts and comments of this week and have come to appreciate more of what O’Connor was doing through this story.

    And I guess that sums up the main feeling I’ve had of her writing over the years. I appreciate it, and I admire it. I’m looking forward to learning and growing from it, but it’s not go-to pleasure reading for me. In fact, her bare honesty and tendency to emphasize the warts of life and individuals always makes me uncomfortable. I suppose that’s not a bad thing if I can find the grace in the process! And I caught the grace of this one.

    I hadn’t read this story before, but I knew from a different book how it would play out, so in a way I was prepared. As a result, too, I saw a lot of the foreshadowing and paid more attention to plot points that might seem random otherwise. I think, like one of the other moms who posted, that I focused more in on the mother and the kids, and was struck by the family dynamics that were there.

    Anyway, that’s my ramble and response. It’s good to be stretching with this. Thanks!

    • Jonathan Rogers
      7:27 PM, 8 June 2012

      Loren, I can foresee a “Teacher Day” in the FO Summer Reading Club in which we hear from people who have taught before. You may be on the hook.

      • Loren Warnemuende
        2:10 AM, 9 June 2012

        Yikes! That was an awful lot of years ago, and I’ve have to dig back to see what story or stories I taught. Hmmm, wonder if I have that stuff still…. Now I’m hooked!

  • c. m. gerbman
    6:20 PM, 16 July 2012

    I’m coming late to this summer reading club – hope that’s okay.  I listened to the audio (truthfully, I listen to it up until the ‘Accident’ – but wasn’t able to listen to the rest until a week later).  This is my first encounter with FO, so I had no expectations from the story, other than the obvious- that it had to be good (otherwise why would it be on the Rabbit Room website??).  During my initial listening I recognized the Grandmother as an amalgam of several of the women I knew growing up, and didn’t “hear” the hints as foreshadowing but rather heard them as the nagging rambling of fine Southern women.  I found the first half of the story hilarious!  The same way I find Bailey White a funny author.  I stopped the audio at the “Accident” with everyone in shambles, one with a broken shoulder and me in tears from laughing at the detailed description (I could see that cat around the son’s neck!).  On the second listening I heard the story in its completion.  I was shocked that it turned so dark and ended violently!  I actually had a little bit of trouble processing the ending.  I saw the Spiritual truths and was completely confused by their delivery.  In my baffled confusion, I was left to chew and digest what ever on Earth it was that she was trying to communicate to me.  It took a while before I could see that it was the Grandmother’s own spirituality that was being analyzed, and not the Misfit’s.  I’m still processing, but anxious to read the next story…

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