Flannery O'Connor's Murderous Imagination: Southern Ladyhood in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"
"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.