The Flannery O’Connor Summer Reading Club continues this morning with a discussion question about the Misfit. The Misfit tells the grandmother that if Jesus did indeed raise the dead, there is nothing to do but to throw away everything and follow him. If, on the other hand, Jesus didn’t raise the dead, “then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can—by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.”
No pleasure but meanness–that’s precisely what Milton’s Satan would have said if Milton had been from Middle Georgia instead of London. But at the very end of the story, after he has shot the grandmother, the Misfit rebuffs his sidekick Bobby Lee, who says it’s been “some fun” killing the family: “Shut up, Bobby Lee. It’s no real pleasure in life.”
What do you make of this apparent reversal by the Misfit? The floor of the Flannery O’Connor Summer Reading Club is now open for discussion.
Ok, so this is a little daunting, seeing as how I just commented yesterday on how I have a difficulty figuring out what O’Connor is up to most of them. And I’m the first comment, but here goes. Jonathan, you mentioned in your comment to me that some characters are presented with grace and redemption and yet they do not receive it. Could this be the reason the Misfit has a change of mind? “No pleasure but meanness” morphs into “It’s no real pleasure in life” due to the fact that grace touched him like a snake bite and he recoiled? The grandmother receives the grace but the Misfit rejects it. I don’t know but what I do know is that I’m really excited to begin analyzing her stories. Who would have thought it could be so fun?
Similarly to Ty, I am thinking that the Misfit has been offended by the grace of the grandmother in telling him that he is one of her babies. He is not overcome by it, but he is definitely caught off guard. Does he shoot her because that was his plan, and he is not willing to betray (despise, deny) himself, or does he shoot her because he fears more offensive grace and wants none of it? Or something else?
I think it’s a combination of both. He seems to have plotted beforehand to kill the others, so killing the grandmother was likely part of the plan as well. Yet at the very moment of murdering her, I think he was motivated by hot-blooded terror (fear of grace, and of the compassion that he has so often rejected) more than by his original cold-blooded purpose.
Fear of grace and compassion is a huge theme in O’Connor. In Wise Blood, poor Hazel Motes spends his whole life trying to get away from Jesus. “He saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown.”
Thank you for replying to that. What you said makes complete sense. The Misfit is having A FIT at the end. Makes me ponder the idea that the fits we throw are all a result of fear. Thanks be to God for that Terrible, Painful, Perfect Love which casts it out.
Maybe it’s a contrast to her constant pleading with him to pray and ask Jesus for help? If grandma only speaks in the cliches of “good people” and what they do, this sounds like a cliche of his own.
That’s my quick guessing thought anyway. 🙂
If the grandmother was, at the last, redeemed, then it was no longer meanness to kill her, and therefore no longer pleasure either. I mean if Satan wants to reek revenge on the world, and then God uses Satan’s means of revenge to save more people, Satan would be pissed. I might be way, way off.
By the way, thanks so much for starting this O’Connor discussion, I have been waiting for just such an opportunity to read her! I really enjoyed hearing people laugh at the jokes in the the audio.
It seems like the Misfit’s final answer is tucked into his first answer: “Then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can”. Pleasure in meanness is the best resort, but even that isn’t really meaningful ultimately. I think the Misfit lives a life of violence just because he doesn’t know what else to do, or that’s his particular form of “meanness”, but it seems like ultimately he’s just a nihilist, which just makes it more depressing. There may be some pleasure in meanness, but by now he knows there’s no ultimate pleasure in it. All is meaningless.
I read his first statement – the pleasure of meanness – as the rational justification of what he does. He’s decided “[Jesus] didn’t rise” so this is the only logical path: nihilism. But he’s been down this path for awhile now. His name’s in the paper, the bodies have stacked up. And by the time we meet him on the side of the road, whatever thrills he once felt have dried up. He’s chosen his path and he’ll continue to, even as the pleasure dissipates. In a dark way, you can appreciate that he can articulate his reasons and keeps to his principles, even when the pleasure of meanness is gone. His violence is neither mindless, nor just for a sick thrill. It’s a picture of the man that decisively turns from God and keeps walking.
I don’t think “No pleasure but meanness” means that the Misfit considers meanness to be pleasure. It’s not ‘fun’ it’s just mean. I don’t see his comment to Bobby Lee as a reversal, just a continuance of his attitude all along.
“Without his glasses, The Misfit’s eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking.” It is such an interesting sentence, particularly if you look at the rapid succession of what has just happened.
1.) The Misfit’s face looks as if it will cry
2.) The second truly authentic naming/recognition of the grandmother occurs. (The first is “You’re The Misfit!” the second is “You’re one of my own children.” Twice it would have better if she had not recognized him.)
3.) Human touch/ springing back as if a snake has bitten him/shooting
4.) Gun on earth. Cleaning glasses.
All of that happens so quickly. Within seconds, it seems.
The shooting falls between a such a striking parallel: (1) the grandmother insisting that The Misfit had “blood” and could be a good man if he would only turn to Jesus, and (2) the Misfit’s final declaration that the grandmother could have been a good woman if someone had been there to shoot her every day of her life. I don’t think that is accidental.
I could be wrong, but I think both figures had a moment of clarity. The grandmother sees at last all she doesn’t know, recognizes herself in The Misfit, and lands on her knees. The Misfit sees at last what he doesn’t know, puts words on the hopeless void left from not seeing Christ raise the dead with his own eyes, and shoots. Penitence and despair.
Yet there are three marks this moment of clarity has left. First, the gun is placed on the earth. Secondly, there is a desire to clean the lens through which he sees. (“Out, out, damned spot.”) Thirdly, the lie is exposed… this despair is not pleasure. Will The Misfit ever know a Christ who raises the dead? I don’t think the story shows that. Was he affected by this encounter? I think the story says, “Yes.”
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” gives me hope, because I see myself in The Misfit. Though I am not a violent person, I see in his despair what I truly doubt when I fear Christ cannot forgive me. I see also the effect of my unbelief. How often I have chosen to continue in darkness because I have not seen Jesus raise someone as wicked as I have been. The Misfit embodies the impersonalization of grace. He gives me the courage to run to Jesus and say, “Even this great death I have chosen ten thousand times, take it. Take it and raise me from it. I believe You can do it.”
This is fantastic, Rebecca. As usual.
I love this response and analysis.
This is a bit random, but I listened to the to story read by O’Connor from the link provided, and I heard 2 minor difference.The first, she changed on reference to the N-word to “colored boy”,
and the second she said the waitress brought 4 plates, and the text said 5.
I’ve never read O’Connor before, so this is all new to me. Great story. Very engaging.
Oh, and on the audio, you can hear the audience laugh at times near the end when I don’t think O’Connor was intending the story to be humorous.