A Good Man Is Hard To Find
“It is hard to make your adversaries real people unless you recognize yourself in them—in which case, if you don’t watch out, they cease to be adversaries.” – The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor knew how to write about real people—with such attention to detail and brutal honesty that readers might think her characters were her real-life adversaries. Indeed, she did find herself at odds with her contemporaries, a born-in-the-wool Roman Catholic among a racially broken and often-bizarre offshoot of folk Christianity in the Deep South of the early 20th century. In those characters, however, she wrote about herself, too.
O'Connor's stories, as dark as they may be, are not dark for the sake of denominationalism, nor for the sake of petty shock. She wrote to a friend, “The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. . . . when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.” Flannery O'Connor's stories concern humans stumbling upon unmitigated truth in the most dire of circumstances: grace.
Nowhere is this more evident than in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the title story for this collection, when the garrulous grandmother and the morally unhinged Misfit find grace in each other on either side of a loaded gun.
“Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” the grandmother says, acknowledging at last the bent and wandering soul of the criminal she's facing. The endearing words startle the Misfit and steal from him what little joy he found in the world through violence.
“'She would of been a good woman,' The Misfit said, 'if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.'”
This reluctant stumbling upon sometimes-brutal grace forms the through line of all of O'Connor's work.
In “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” a woman and her grandfather pine for the glories of the Confederacy in a pathetic grasp at gentility they no longer possess. In “The Displaced Person,” a widow and her farm hand encounter the “tragedy” of cross-cultural assimilation in the form of a family of WWII refugees. And in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” a poor woman and her unmarried daughter fall for their good impressions of a one-armed handyman.
This collection of stories is paramount for readers interested in Race, Southern Gothic literature, unbelievably sharp dialogue, and the complex nuances of uninhibited grace. Any reader—Christian or not—searching for true, non-didactic, fully realized religious fiction, is incomplete in their journey without reading her work once or twice.
"Mr Head stood very still and felt the action of mercy touch him again but this time he knew that there were no words in the world that could name it. He understood that it grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children. He understood it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame that he had so little of it to take with him."