The incorporation of universal ideas into writings is often used by prospective authors in order to demonstrate their opinions on various subjects. Addressing the problematic nature of distinct positive and negative concepts becomes possible through the creation of a comprehensive narrative that covers the desired topics, simultaneously presenting specific outcomes. Flannery O’Connor’s exemplary short stories are often connected to the motives of nonreligious and conservative people, who reject opinions of others or intend to force their desires onto them. Through constructing specific environments and portraying diverse sets of personalities, the author attempts to convey the outcomes of particular endeavors, from prideful behavior to coercive misdeeds. In Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People and A Good Man Is Hard To Find, the themes of grace, religion, and manipulation are essential and require thorough examination.
Divine Grace and Redemption from Past Misconceptions
The ideas of godly benevolence occupy a large part of O’Connor’s short stories, suggesting possibilities of vindication from evil for the protagonists. In Good Country People, the main character Hulga Hopewell encounters instances of betrayal and violence from a person she is dependent on, which forces her to grow emotionally and spiritually. In the events of the story, Ms. Hopewell, a woman following cliched and conservative beliefs, is compelled to reimagine her worldview, thus accepting her physical and intellectual defeat to a false Christian. Monty Pointer, a man who pretends to follow Christian doctrines to secure personal wealth, serves as an instrument of God’s grace for Hulga, both a method of humiliation and spiritual deliverance. Left alone in the hey barn with her wooden prosthetic leg stolen by a man she thought to be ignorant, the woman is finally provided with an opportunity to contemplate her faithfulness (Stambovsky 12). As Hulga’s convictions regarding philosophy, religion, and intelligence are shattered together with perceptions of her supreme intellect and enlightenment, the protagonist obtains the potential to be saved by divine kindness.
A similar envisioning of God’s grace is evident in another writing by O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find. In this short story, another woman becomes a recipient of divine benevolence, together with a criminal offender. However, the circumstances of obtaining faith are drastically different from the ones discussed in the previous writing, as individuals receiving godly kindness appear to be undeserving of these benefactions. The grandmother is portrayed as a manipulative person who lies to her grandchildren and constantly seeks to judge others based on her own moral convictions (Thornton 145). The Misfit, a recently escaped criminal, is described as a violent and ruthless individual, a murderer unlikely to repent his sins.
Nevertheless, O’Connor argues that it is possible to acquire God’s grace regardless of one’s past behavior, as both the grandmother and the Misfit are revealed to have the potential to be saved. In her last prayers, although incoherent and disordered, the woman proves her capability for compassion, and the offender realizes how little happiness killing has delivered him (Thornton 147). In the final moments of the story, the two characters who seem unlikely to be bestowed with divine benevolence demonstrate their capacity to change and become worthy of God’s kindness.
Religion and Modern Philosophy Encapsulated by O’Connor
O’Connor’s beliefs regarding faithfulness and philosophical ideals are represented in detail in Good Country People. This topic is crucial for this discussion, as it encompasses the author’s understanding of humane, moral values, as well as highlights the significance of the Christian faith for the writer. Both Hulga and Pointer signify the consequences of denying the necessity of religion, with the woman becoming a demonstration of the sin of pride (Ismail 38). As a follower of modern philosophical convictions, Hulga rejects Christian beliefs and attitudes, considering herself to be superior to the people who endorse religious worship (O’Connor 11). In her devout confidence towards atheism and believing in nothing, the woman experiences devastating humiliation from a false Catholic, prompting her to reconceptualize her philosophical ideals and understanding of her own intelligence (Stambovsky 6). From this standpoint, even though faith can bring significant vulnerability and pain, it is worth encountering authentic religious experiences in order to broaden one’s knowledge of the world.
A Good Man Is Hard To Find can be observed as a representation of the same notion of attaining deliverance through misery. The grandmother is confronted with a moment of crisis, yet more severe and damaging, which reshapes her attitudes towards religiousness. When detained by the Misfit, in the situation of extreme distress, the woman finds assistance in addressing the concepts of Christian faith and goodness, revealing that her soul has been redeemed (Ismail 39). This moment of moral clarity and acceptance of Catholic religion serves as clarification that any person, regardless of their previous misdeeds, can obtain deliverance, even the Misfit responsible for multiple killings.
Fulfillment of Aims through Manipulation
A concept crucial for both of the works examined is the action of manipulation, which serves as a strategy of goal achievement for the stories’ characters. In Good Country People, a remarkable example of manipulative tendencies is the behavior of Monty Pointer, who lies about being a Christian to accomplish his tasks. Being a disingenuous and corrupted person, the man secures Hulga’s trust by appealing to her ideas of admiration and simplicity, only to betray her and steal her prosthetic leg for his own profit. The woman’s arrogance and condescending judgment of her intellectual abilities as superior lead to the success of Pointer’s attempts, who later uncovers his true identity to her. Even though Hulga envisioned herself as a strong and enlightened person, the felon exposes her vulnerabilities through the acts of deception and manipulation, serving as both an evil and a savior (Foss 243). By robbing the woman of her most prized possession, Pointer presents her with an opportunity for future personal and spiritual growth.
As for A Good Man Is Hard To Find, a different approach to manipulative endeavors is evident in this work. Instead of portraying revelation of excellence misconceptions, the author depicts a person involved in numerous acts of manipulation, using others’ weaknesses for her own merit. The grandmother indulges in deceit and exploitation in order to enforce her desires, from compelling his son to change his intentions to pressuring him into altering their traveling route by coercing the children (O’Connor 15). Even under the threat of death to her and her family members, the woman still attempts to manipulate the Misfit into ending his criminal activities. However, at the very end of their interaction, she comes to a realization that her way of life was improper from a moral standpoint, offering her a possibility of transformation and redemption (Ismail 39). Although she implemented her intellectual abilities to secure the affluence of her desires and needs, the grandmother still deserves a chance of salvation as she begins to understand the gravity of her deeds. Furthermore, through initial manipulation, she guides the Misfit to similar contemplation regarding his endeavors, possibly prompting him to reshape his convictions.
To conclude, the major themes of grace, religion, and manipulation and the need to address them in the context of the two short stories were discussed in detail in this paper. Good Country People and A Good Man Is Hard To Find encapsulate several corresponding ideas, offering the author’s perspective on the possibility of receiving God’s forgiveness, understanding the importance of faith and coercion’s consequences. It is evident that O’Connor presents the notion of divine benevolence as feasible regardless of one’s prior beliefs towards faithfulness and past misdeeds, however severe they might have been. God’s kindness can be bestowed upon any individual open to such notions, even though enduring pain and humiliation are often required for this process. As for the subject of religion, it becomes a point of agreement for both narratives, which encompass the necessity to adhere to Christian values and withdraw from hypocrisy.
The prospects of manipulation are also discussed within the two stories, although explained within different circumstances. Believing in nothing and indulging personal superiority is investigated in the example of Hulga, whose pride and arrogance eventually lead her to deliverance. Alternatively, the grandmother in A Good Man Is Hard To Find attains God’s kindness by comprehending her faults and instilling similar notions in the Misfit. Altogether, while both short stories contribute to the understanding of analogous topics, they describe these ideas and beliefs by appealing to diverse personalities and contexts.
Foss, Jerome C. “The Contemplative Mentality in Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Good Country People.’” Catholic Social Science Review, vol. 22, 2017, pp. 237–47.
Ismail, Sezen. “Humor And Grotesque In Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” International Journal Of Education & Philology, vol. 1, no. 1, 2020, pp. 35-39.
O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977.
—. Good Country People. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2016.
Stambovsky, Phillip. Augustinian Evil and the Defeat of High-Modern Nihilism in Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People.” Fairfield University, 2019.
Thornton, Debra Lynn. The Incarnational Art of Flannery O’Connor: Grace and the Body in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” 1999. The University of New Mexico, Ph.D. dissertation. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.