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.
"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.
"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is Flannery O'Connor's most famous and most discussed story. O'Connor herself singled it out by making it the title piece of her first collection and the story she most often chose for readings or talks to students. It is an unforgettable tale, both riveting and comic, of the confrontation of a family with violence and sudden death. More than anything else O'Connor ever wrote, this story mixes the comedy, violence, and religious concerns that characterize her fiction. This casebook for the story includes an introduction by the editor, a chronology of the author's life, the authoritative text of the story itself, comments and letters by O'Connor about the story, critical essays, and a bibliography. The critical essays span more than twenty years of commentary and suggest several approaches to the story--formalistic, thematic, deconstructionist-- all within the grasp of the undergraduate, while the introduction also points interested students toward still other resources. Useful for both beginning and advanced students, this casebook provides an in-depth introduction to one of America's most gifted modern writers.
The form of the genre, as well as the various ways in which it has evolved, is highlighted along the way with a display of the essential nuts and bolts of storytelling-- plot, character, setting, style, point of view, and theme. A mix of critical approaches will also be brought in to enhance analysis and interpretation and to explore some of the ways we judge and evaluate short fiction.
There are thirty-one stories here in all, including twelve that do not appear in the only two story collections O'Connor put together in her short lifetime--Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find. O'Connor published her first story, "The Geranium," in 1946, while she was working on her master's degree at the University of Iowa. Arranged chronologically, this collection shows that her last story, "Judgement Day"--sent to her publisher shortly before her death is a brilliantly rewritten and transfigured version of "The Geranium." Taken together, these stories reveal a lively, penetrating talent that has given us some of the most powerful and disturbing fiction of the twentieth century.
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