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In the following excerpt, Ciuba examines how most of the characters in Wise Blood are unable to look beyond the surface of people and things. Only Hazel Motes, who himself begins by judging people at "face value," learns how to look beyond the literal and thus understand the divine nature of the universe.
"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" ranks high on the short list for most violent finales in American literature. Held at gunpoint, an elderly grandmother clutches her handkerchief and blurts out one last cry of despair: "I know you wouldn't shoot a lady!" (The Complete Stories 131-32). Leave it to Flannery O'Connor to amuse readers by pumping a granny full of lead, then handing over her pet cat to the man behind the trigger. It is Southern gothic at its best, and O'Connor pulls the whole thing off with deadpan humor. Apparently certain feminist critics take O'Connor completely seriously. Sarah Gordon, for one, winces from the violence targeted at the grandmother and her female characters more generally. (1) To her credit she spots the stock image for womanhood "embedded in the grandmother's consciousness, preoccupied as she is with ladylike appearance and with Tara-like plantations." While Gordon admits that "O'Connor was rebelling against that silly image," what she fails to grasp is the grotesque violence has more to do with hostility to clichés than cruelty to women (Gordon 13). By the 1950s the Southern belle had circulated widely as an iconic figure in both literary and popular culture. The grandmother's unseemly exit, more than anything else, bids good riddance to a worn-out type for fictional heroines.
Writing in 1961 to a teacher who had sent her an interpretation of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" that she found especially misguided, Flannery O'Connor described that story as "a duel of sorts between the Grandmother and her superficial beliefs and the Misfit's more profoundly felt involvement in Christ's action which set the world off balance for him." (1) In general, critics have directed their efforts to explaining how the grandmother attains her "moment of grace" when she reaches out to touch the Misfit's shoulder. (2) Few critics have tried to explain the Misfit's part in the duel or how he is involved in Christ's action. The Misfit is in fact a fully developed character with intelligible motives. He is also a prophet, albeit a misguided one, like Hazel Motes in Wise Blood and the two Tarwaters in The Violent Bear It Away. If we consider the Misfit m the light of O'Connor's view of the role of the prophet, we see that he is not a monster, but a tragic figure, the victim of what O'Connor regarded as a profound misunderstanding of the relation between humanity and God.
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