When a good piece of a literary work penetrates into the world of literature, it evokes a great deal of responses among critics and enthusiastic readers. Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Be Find” is not an exception. This fascinating short story gained great popularity immediately after its publishing and caused a wave of critical articles and essays. Connie Ann Kirk, John Desmond, Carl Horner, and many others suggest their remarkable and interesting works, interpreting and analyzing the story from religious, moral, social, and medical perspectives.
Kirk (2008) sheds the light on the better understanding of the analyzed short story in her “Critical Companion to Flannery O’Connor.” Her brief but very consistent, clear, and precise analysis of “A Good Man Is Hard to Be Find” is worth getting acquainted with. Critic’s article includes three logical units: synopsis, commentary, and characters. Kirk mentions the facts about the story appearance in the literary world, dwells on its popularity.
The author introduces the origin of the title and suggests the explanation of O’Connor’s choice in details, proposing several perspectives – social, moral, and religious. She views the title from O’Connor’s Christian perspective, stating that “the title suggests that the story may be concerned with faith and resurrection” (p.76). She makes an assumption that ““A Good Man”, perhaps meaning Christ himself, is hard to find in the sense that faith in the resurrection can be a difficult gulf for nonbelievers or agnostics to cross over” (p. 76).
Kirk clearly presents her interpretation of the story’s main theme from religious and moral point of view. Special attention is paid to the category of resurrection. She explains her vision of the Misfit through this Christian phenomenon: “Because of his lack of faith, he is not only unable to find the good man, Christ, but he is also unable to be a good man himself as a believer. The truly devoted and ever faithful are just as hard to find as the belief in Christ’s resurrection.” Kirk challenges the Grandmother’s impossibility to find a good man and states that it happens because she is “a believer at superficial level”, proving her thought with illustrative examples from the story. The author focuses on the transformation that happens to the Grandmother at the end of the story and mentions that she “dies in the state of grace.”
Kirk, like Desmond, suggests O’Connor’s own commentaries to the story, especially, about the Misfit and the Grandmother’s comparison, about faith, calling the Misfit “a prophet gone wrong”. O’Connor’s arguments with other critics are briefly mentioned in the text what makes it more motivating to read: “the man in the violent situation reveals those qualities least dispensable in his personality, those qualities which are all he will have to take into eternity with him” (p. 77). It helps to understand the moral of the story better. Kirk declares that “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is a good sample of O’Connor’s chief fictional concerns.
The characters’ analysis is presented very distinctly, accurately, and in comparison with each other. She dwells on Catholic doctrine, relates the Misfit to faith in Jesus, and construes him through this faith. Kirk suggests her own explanation of the Misfit name in such a way: “The Misfit is more of a misfit because he cannot resolve the question to his satisfaction than for any other reason” (p. 78). This attention-grabbing article can be recommended for reading after the story itself.
One more interesting interpretation of moral categories discussed in the short story is proposed by John Desmond (2004) in “Flannery O'Connor's Misfit and the Mystery of Evil”. He reflects on eternal categories of good and evil. He makes an attempt to reveal “the depth and complexities” of “the mystery of evil” embedded in the story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. The author deals with the mystery of evil and its relation to the action of grace.
As Kirk, he dwells on the problem of a title, referring it to the words of a popular blues song on one level and relating it to religious story about Chris’s rebuke to Peter because of calling Him good on another level. Desmond points out that: “Good and evil, as potentialities and as actualities, are inextricably intertwined in human beings, and this is true for both the Grandmother and the Misfit” (p. 129). Like the vast majority of literary critics, Desmond tries to interpret story’s themes and characters from the religious perspective. The attention is drawn to the Misfit’s search of answers to the mystery of evil and his justification in the face of it. Desmond proposes multilevel analysis of the Misfit.
We cannot but mention that Desmond recommends us to understand the Misfit’s “paradoxical identity through the lens of a writer who deeply interested Flannery O’Connor – the French philosopher SimoneWeil” (p. 135).
One of the values of the article is that it contains other critic’s arguments as for the Grandmother’s final words. He advocates the following explanation: “The truth of compassion, and being named a child of the human community, is for the Misfit an “evil” he must escape.” Trying to find the mystery of the Misfit’s evil, Desmond notes “the Misfit acts under the delusion that his actions are somehow good, i.e., good for him” (p. 136). The author states that the Misfit “himself is his own deepest mystery, a profoundly human condition which he can neither fathom nor abide. His violence is projected back onto himself as self-hatred.”
Desmond’s article includes O’Connor’s “after-story” explanation of some disputing moments in the story. The article is concluded with O’Connor’s explanation: “For the Misfit, evil may, in the end, through the grace of charity, bring about his ultimate good” (p. 137). Desmond’s presentation of moral categories helps to construe the general impression of the analyzed story.
We cannot but mention about one more extraordinary response to O’Connor’s story that propose understanding of the Misfit from the medical point of view. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” echoed with reaction in Carl S. Horner’s article “Misfit as Metaphor: The Question and the Contradiction of Lupus in Flannery O'Connor's “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”” (2005). This article presents quite an interesting interpretation of the Misfit, different from others.
Horner considers O’Connor’s Misfit not from the religious perspective but from the medical one. Horner tries to penetrate deeply into Flannery O’Connor’s physical and mental state of health, because, in such a way, he seeks for the reasons of writer’s creation of "a violent and self-contradictory figure as the Misfit” (p. 1). A critic makes a connection “between the self-attacking, self-dismantling, killing violence of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Flannery O’Connor was suffering from, and the Misfit, who emerges on one level of O'Connor's ambiguous literary universe as a metaphor of the baffling disease” (p. 1).
Horner goes into minute details of such a medical case as what is SLE, reveals the circumstances caused by a disease that influenced O’Connor’s literary work. Lupus makes the immune system attack its own tissues, affects the blood, joints, and internal organs. Moreover, the author claims that “without an adequate context in which to understand how the immune system misfits its own potency – literary specialists would fail adequately to interpret the contradiction of SLE or its influence both on O'Connor's intuition and on her fiction” (p. 4).
A great deal of the article “Misfit as Metaphor …” is devoted to the disease description for the readers’ better understanding a literary Misfit as a metaphor of the disease that makes body “attacking and killing itself.” Horner brings the evidence to facts using the letters the artist wrote to friends S. and R. Fitzgerald, M. Montgomery, C. Dawkins, E. Fenwick and doctors.
In the second part of the article, with new insight about SLE, Horner discovers “another key with which to probe the shocking questions and contradictions of O'Connor's literary Misfit” (p. 9). He mentions that “in the voice of her truth-seeking Misfit, O'Connor questions not only the injustice of fear and pain in the human universe but also the contradiction of lupus, a human body allergic to itself” (p.10).
So, Horner quite subsequently delivers us the message that agony of lupus is projected into the metaphor of biological reality that uncontrollably drops sickness, accident, and death.
Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, different points of view to Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Be Find” contribute to versatile and complete text interpretation and analysis, aid in better understanding of author’s ideas, make the audience read between the lines and think critically.