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“A Good Man is Hard to Find” (thoughts)

March 16, 2009

100 Shots of ShortThis review is part of John’s Short Story Monday! Last year, I read Flannery O’Connor’s Collected Letters (over five hundred pages of them!). And yet, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is my very first experience with her fiction. In her letters, she often talked about writing (of course), but her discussion of her fiction didn’t make me want to read it. It sounded depressing, to be quite frank, and I’m not usually a fan of depressing stories.

The story starts off with an overbearing grandmother, who is never actually named. She’s tagging along on her son’s family vacation, but she wants them to all go to Tennessee instead of Florida. Of course, she’s over-ruled, but she gets her revenge:

The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn’t intend for the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of the gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn’t like to arrive at a motel with a cat.

The rest of the story deals with the road trip. It’s a funny look at mildly dysfunctional family dynamics…until the last third. And then the story suddenly swerves (there was foreshadowing), and it becomes intense and depressing.

The thing about this story is, it’s the kind of one that implies there’s a deeper meaning. But I have no idea what that deeper meaning might be. O’Connor is a polished story teller; I could tell while reading that O’Connor had laboured over word choice, sentence construction, etc. Not that things felt strained, they just had a perfect sense of balance that doesn’t really come without effort!

So I loved the writing, and while the story kind of tramautised me, it was the good kind of trauma.  Anyway, I think I’ll have to read this a few more times, and mull over it, to try to decide why O’Connor wrote the ending that she did.  If you’ve read this story, I’d love to hear what you thought of it!

22 Comments leave one →
  1. Vasilly permalink
    March 16, 2009 6:26 pm

    The story traumatized me too. It’s a great story, but ugh. I can’t help you with analyzing it. Wait until you read “The life you save may be your own” or “The River”. Both are as compelling as “A good man is hard to find”.

  2. March 16, 2009 6:29 pm

    Why, as a matter of fact, I have a post on the subject!

    I love O’Connor, but I feel I’m only beginning to understand her after years of having her stories in my head.

  3. March 16, 2009 6:29 pm

    I always get frustrated with these stories that seem to have a deeper meaning. They are the ones I always wish I had a Lit class to discuss with! :)

  4. millerclasses permalink
    March 16, 2009 7:17 pm

    I love O’Connor and I happen to teach this one and “Good Country People” to my literature classes. I first read O’Connor’s work as a high school student and found all the trauma absolutely shocking and addictive. lol Now I like to look at issues of grace in her work. The baddies often are the ones that get the grace it seems.

  5. March 16, 2009 7:42 pm

    Oh, I remember that story; the grandmother is such a piece of work. And the ending is harrowing. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it though. I agree about the “perfect sense of balance”: she’s doing a high wire act, but unlike the girl she strands in a hayloft (“Good Country People”??), O’Connor knows how to get herself down. Looks like I’ll be doing a lot of rereading…

  6. March 16, 2009 11:42 pm

    Interesting enough, I had never heard of this writer or this story until this weekend. I purchased an anthology at the monthly library sale, and yes, this story is in it!

    Now that I’ve read this review, I will definitely give it a read. Thank you for the recommendation.

  7. March 17, 2009 4:16 am

    I’ve never read the story. In fact, I’ve never read anything by her. She kind of scares me. But now, I must say you have me totally intrigued…I will definitely be reading this later today. Thanks, Eva!

  8. March 17, 2009 5:41 am

    I read O’Connor’s stories as a part of a “out of school” school project. (Thoughts here.) So I was trying to find the meanings. I’d already read most of them years ago. I think you have to read them multiple times. O’Connor is commenting on religion a lot. Her stories all seem to end on a depressing note because she’s pointing out how far we all have to go to be saved. Kind of tongue-in-cheek religion because I’m not sure if she believes it at all. She’s kind of making fun of Southern religiosity. But maybe she’ encouraging it?

    But I really don’t know. I’m missing a lot too!

  9. stacybuckeye permalink
    March 17, 2009 6:26 am

    I agree with Debi. Never read her work, but your review has piqued my interest.

  10. March 17, 2009 6:33 am

    Vasilly, now you have me nervous! lol I think I’ll save her other stories for when I’m at a very, very happy point in my life. ;)

    Dorothy, ohhh-thanks for the link! :D

    Darcie, having had friends who were lit majors, I’m glad I don’t have to listen to pretentious nineteen-year-olds blather on and on about the symbolism, lol. But I do wish I had an awesome lit prof to grab coffee with. ;)

    Andi, that’s so funny…in high school, I think I would have eaten this style up as well (ah-the cynical years, lol).

    DS, yeah-I felt so bad for daughter-in-law. One of my nightmares for my future is that I meet a great guy, fall in love with him, accept his marriage proposal, and then he has an evil mother. Highwire act is a good way to describe this.

    J.C., can’t wait to see what you think of it!

    Debi, she kind of scares me too, even though I’ve read all of her letters! lol This story is going to depress the hell out of you, Debi-I feel like I should really warn you.

    Lynda, thanks for the link!

    Rebecca, since I’ve read her letters, I know that she was a very devout, intellectual Catholic. So I’m trying to figure out how that shows through in the story. But I’m glad that the consensus seems to be these aren’t the kind of stories you get on the first go round.

    Stacy, I hope you write about your reaction as well!

  11. March 17, 2009 7:05 am

    I love Flannery O’Connor. You never know what’s coming next in her stories. She also uses humor in some of her work, but there’s still a darkness to them — but not darkness just for darkness sake. I know what you mean about wondering about deeper meanings. But, I’ve decided that sometimes it doesn’t matter if I get exactly what the author meant, as long as I get something out of it.

  12. March 17, 2009 7:14 am

    I made the mistake of reading her collected short stories all in one go. I had loved Good Country People in high school, because of the wonderful way she made us pull a 180 in that story. But I discovered that I really do not want to spend that much time with her characters. She seemed to have a fascination with despicable people. It’s true: in O’Connor’s world, a good man, or a good woman, is terribly hard to find.

  13. March 17, 2009 3:07 pm

    I think she scares me even more now. Kind of wish I’d read your warning before the story. Though I’m sure I’d have read the story anyway. Traumatized. I think that was the perfect word, Eva.

  14. March 17, 2009 8:59 pm

    Now the idea of traveling with a cat, whether it has to do with the swerving or not, piques my interest. Thanks for the heads up. I think I might enjoy this one. :)

  15. March 18, 2009 7:43 am

    Ok, I’m off to look for this on Daily Lit because I’ve yet to read any O’Connor and I get the feeling I’m missing out!

  16. March 18, 2009 8:30 am

    This is one of my favorite stories. O’Connor is a master at dealing with hypocrisy and the little lies people tell themselves and all the places they hide. Her stories are frightening–they don’t call it “Southern gothic” for nothing.

    But even more terrifying? I live in Georgia. The people in O’Connor’s stories are very real…and they’re still here.

  17. _lethe_ permalink
    March 20, 2009 10:47 am

    When I was in my late teens (I think), a Dutch author who always spoke denigrating about feminists (albeit in a humorous way) recommended her and I was curious to see what kind of woman author he would like.

    This was the opening story of the eponymous collection I borrowed from the library and it traumatized me too, but in a bad way. I don’t remember anything about her other stories, I raced through them in order to get that book out of the house and back to the library ASAP!

    I think now that I may have been too young at the time to appreciate it, but I still have no urge whatsoever to pick up any of her other writings.

  18. March 23, 2009 11:22 am

    Thanks for making a comment on my review. I should have stated that it was because of this post that I decided to read it.

    In terms of analyzing – it helped me to do a little research on the author. I found out she was a practicing Catholic and had written a lot of articles for a Catholic magazine.

    It is then that the ending, and the character the Misfit, came into clearer focus, hence the questions I was left with regarding the perception of good and evil, salvation and redemption.

    However it does not detract from the fact this was a very disturbing story.

    Thanks again for a great post and the visit.

  19. March 27, 2009 7:17 am

    I love this story for the story. Like you, I have no idea what the bigger meaning is. Then again, I haven’t read it in years, so the details of the story are a bit foggy.


  20. Rusty Dominick permalink
    May 25, 2009 7:45 am

    I agree with the traumatized! O’Connor’s works have always provoked very different reactions in her readers. Many readers find them consistently “grotesque” in their depiction of debased, repulsive (and usually unsympathetic) characters and their displays of violence or cruelty. Some appreciate them as comedies for this reason, while others react with disgust. O’Connor saw this story as realistic, demandingly unsentimental, but ultimately hopeful. Her inspiration as a writer came from a deeply felt faith in Roman Catholicism, which she claimed informed all of her stories. A recurrent theme throughout her writings was the action of divine grace in the imperfect but funny world of human beings, a theme very much present in A Good Man is Hard to Find. For more refreshing and irreverent insights into ( A Good Man is Hard to Find, I would recommend you check out Shmoop. It was an eye-opener to me.

  21. May 22, 2010 5:11 pm

    I just read this story and it is also my first O’Conner-I am trying to figure out what the theological or other meaning of the speech of the Misfit is-followed by what happens-I liked the story a lot-and I am glad she did not make the rural characters seem like total buffons

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