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July 15, 2005



What's your take on "A Good Man is Hard to Find"? Some say the old woman achieves grace when she calls the Misfit "my baby," just before she's shot (and F O'C apparently endorses this view). My reaction has always been the opposite: the old lady is revealed to be so utterly selfish - she's making a last desprate attempt to save her life by being motherly - that her very touch makes the Misfit himself so disgusted that he blows her away then and there.

Gerard E.

Will echo these sentiments. The Habit of Being got me hooked big-time on our favorite Hillbilly Thomist. She should get more recognition in secular circles than even Papa Hemingway. In God's good time, perhaps this will happen.


Interesting. I tend to go for the more conventional interpretation. That the bigoted, judgmental old biddy finally could see life as it is, (faith being, in part, seeing the world as God sees it, and seeing other people in that light) and that confronted with grace, the Misfit blows her - and it - away. It's one of O'Connor's themes - faith is all or nothing.

K Hammer

I think "Parker's Back" could be the "new" introductory O'Connor story, since tattoos are so popular...


Here is a blog that liberally quotes The Habit of Being.



That's how I read A Good Man is Hard to Find, too. But recently I read the "Flannery-endorsed" reason and was stunned. I never read it that way and am eager to read it again with this interpretation in mind.


Amy, Suibhe,
I was stunned to read the "conventional" explanation, too.
In my mind, the Misfit had this spark of potential goodness in that he realized that faith really was an all-or-nothing thing. He simply couldn't believe, but he understood that what you believe really matters.
But this grandmother was pure selfishness. It was her fault they took the dirt road. She brought along the stupid cat that caused the wreck. She identified the Misfit and ensured their deaths. As they dragged her own grandchildren off to die, she plied the Misfit with flattery, telling him what a good man he really was, how Jesus loved him, etc., even saying, in the face of the Misfit's doubts, "Maybe He didn't rise from the dead."
To me, her "my baby" comment was the Devil recognizing the Devil, so to speak: I took it as a stark self-realization that she was just as evil as the Misfit and saw the Evil Misfit as kin - something so bad that even the Misfit rejected it, shooting her: as if to say: "*You* may be the Devil but I'm not your child."
Of course, the problem with this interpretation is the last line of the Misfit, which I always took as irony:
"She might have been a good person if she had had someone to shoot her every minute of her life." (I'm paraphrasing). I always took that to mean, "She's better off dead," but I think what F O'C wants us to take is, "She could only be good in the face of her death."
But one critic, Stephen Bandy, argues that the story as written doesn't support F O'C's assertion. See
He basically argues that we should "trust the art and not the artist." -


"The Grandmother's role as grace-bringer is by now a received idea, largely because the author said it is so. But one must question the propriety of such tinkering with the character, after the fact. It reduces the fire-breathing woman who animates this story to nothing much more than a cranky maiden aunt. On the contrary, the Grandmother is a fierce fighter, never more so than in her final moments, nose-to-nose with the Misfit.

"Granted, the Grandmother is not a homicidal monster like the Misfit, and she certainly does not deserve to die for her minor sins. And yet, does she quite earn absolution from any moral weakness beyond that of "a hypocritical old soul" ? For every reader who sees the image of his or her own grandmother printed on this character's cold face, as O'Connor suggested we might do, there are surely many others who can only be appalled by a calculating opportunist who is capable of embracing her family's murderer, to save her own skin. Where indeed is the "good heart" which unites this unprincipled woman with all those "grandmothers or great-aunts just like her at home"? The answer to that question can only be an affirmation of the "banality of evil," to use Hannah Arendt's well-known phrase."


Inspired by the thread of a year ago, and Amy's piece, I've since read with enjoyment
'Habit of Being', "Mystery and Manners', and
presently, 'FO and the Christ-Haunted South.'

The actual stories and books of FO, however,
thus far I find unreadable and/or uninteresting.
Like those little old ladies of decades ago, I ask "Why can't she write about nice people?"



Trusting the art and not the artist is this world's singular vice: the creatures trust themselves and not the Creator.

Even though I also read the grandmother as "pure selfishness" (and I mean this as no slight to you), I'll trust the author that she knew what she meant when she wrote the story. Few authors have ever been so careful with their words.


Human creators are imperfect: hence their creations are imperfect and the creations' "meanings" are dependent on what they are, as finished products, not what their creator wanted them to be.

Stories have a way of turning out to be more or less or just plain other than what their creator wants them to be-I suppose that's more true of rather intuitive and slapdash authors than of intensely cerebral writers like FOC, but it's not like she's immune to the Frankenstein Principle (aka, the effects of entropy on non-divine creators).




Incidentally, you don't have to love Flannery O'Connor's short stories to enjoy The Habit Of Being. It's an astonishingly good book.


"The Habit of Being" and "Mystery and Manners" are certainly must reading for anyone trying to grasp the meanings behind O'Connor's writings. Even then she is still difficult for many. Here are some books that were a help to me. Even now, aggravation still sets in while rereading O'Connor because I know I am missing some of her intent.

Flannery O'Connor: The Woman, The Thinker, The Visionary – by Ted Spivey
Flannery O'Connor: A Proper Scaring - by Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner
Flannery O'Connor: An Introduction – by Miles Orvell
Flannery O'Connor: The Imagination of Extremity - by Frederick Asals
The Art and Vision of Flannery O'Connor - by Robert Brinkmeyer
Flannery O'Connor: In Celebration of Genius – 20 essays, edited by Sarah Gordon
Conversations with Flannery O'Connor – 16 essays, edited by Rosemary M. Magee
Flannery O'Connor: New Perspectives - 10 essays, edited by Sura Rath and Mary Neff Shaw
Flannery O'Connor: A Study of the Short Fiction - Suzanne Morrow Paulson
Flannery O'Connor: A life - biography by Jean W. Cash


The link about "A" says that it probably stood for "anonymous." However, "A" immediately made me think of that other famous Hester, Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter, who was known for her "A."

Have loved Flannery since college. Will have to read Habit.

Ron Belgau

For what it's worth, I've always agreed with O'Connor's interpretation of A Good Man is Hard to Find.

To me, the most important line in the book is the Misfit's "eulogy" on the Grandmother: "She might have been a good person if she had had someone to shoot her every minute of her life." I think there's profound insight into the connection between suffering and grace in that comment that ties up very well with what O'Connor says in the introduction to the Memoir of Mary Ann.

I'm not sure that I can articulate the idea clearly, but then, O'Connor would be disappointed if I could explain her point in an essay. She wrote a story because that was the best way to express it.

- Ron

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