Commentary by Karen Bernardo
O’Connor’s apocalyptic fiction attempts to show her readers their limitless need for God’s mercy. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” she does this through the interaction of a prim little old lady (who is never named) and a serial killer, known as the Misfit.
We would normally expect that a grandmother should represent goodness while a serial killer should represent evil. O’Connor, however, seems to hold precisely the reverse in this case. Similarly, we would expect the old woman to represent life and the Misfit death; again, O’Connor suggests the opposite, believing that life without spirituality is a living death, and through meeting the Misfit—even though the meeting is fatal—the old woman gains a chance of attaining salvation.
This fateful meeting occurs when the car occupied by the old woman and her dysfunctional family takes a wrong turn, and breaks down on the way to visit an old family homestead. The old woman has insisted that they visit this place because she identifies it with the sort of Southern gentility that her wishy-washy son Bailey, his insipid wife, and their bratty children lack. This not-so-wise woman is under the mistaken opinion that being well-dressed and respectable is next to Godliness, when in fact there is no relationship whatsoever. Nothing is next to Godliness, O’Connor argues; there is only Godliness. Either one is a believer, or one is not—and the old woman is not.
Because God wants to draw his strayed sheep back to himself, one way or the other, He causes this misguided family to cross paths with someone who will bring them back to Him—forcibly. One by one, the entire family is killed by the Misfit. The grandmother, the last to go, is the only one to recognize the Misfit’s cosmic function: “Why, you’re one of my babies!” she tells him in astonishment, right before he kills her. Like the old woman’s children, the Misfit has been raised without spirituality; and without spirituality, as the Misfit remarks himself, one might as well “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.” In effect, the Misfit has said that if a person is not willing to accept God, then he or she might as well throw propriety to the winds, and go out and become a serial killer. In O’Connor’s view, to reject God’s love in small ways is just as sinful as rejecting his love in big ones, because without God there is no value system left.
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