Christian Analysis Of The Gothic Story By O'Connors

Often people do not practice what they preach. Many speak with spiritual eloquence, however their immoral actions reveal their true character. The Christian literary lens explores the religious nature of a text. Making an assumption that there is a God, and that both good and evil can manifest themselves in the everyday world. Therefore, many literary elements, such as characters, setting, and symbols can all point to or from the sacred. Through a Christian lens, the short story demonstrates Christian hypocrisy through the protagonist’s behaviour and emphasizes the difficulty of finding grace in ordinary life. As only extraordinary circumstances—such as the moment of death—can lead an arrogant person to a moment of Christian revelation and an opportunity for compassion. The high regard the grandmother hold on social class demonstrates how her personal beliefs contradict her religious beliefs. With this being said, her pretentious behaviour also influences her duty as a Christian to act on the bible’s teachings and have loyalty to God. The sympathy the protagonist and antagonist express for each other at the end of the story showcases the possibility for them to be better people. However, their contrasting reactions to each other’s morality exhibit their true fate. Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find demonstrates that a Christian’s values are often contradicted by their actions, however, in darkness, they are able to see grace and potentially act upon their humanity.

The grandmother’s high value on the upper class and materialistic attitude obstructs her ability to live a life exhibiting Christian values. Through her actions, it is evident she believes wealth and power triumph genuine contentment. The grandmother’s choice of dress for their family road trip exemplify her pretentious beliefs. She wears an elaborate outfit, “a navy blue straw sailor hat…a navy blue dress… her collars and cuffs trimmed with lace…” (O’Connor, 1-2), so that in case they got into an accident “anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (2) . Rather than being known for her character at the time of her passing, the protagonist would prefer to be known for her prominent place in society. On Judgement Day, the Lord assesses us on the goodness we contributed to the world, a concept the grandmother is unable to grasp. As she focuses more on her dress rather than her life actions. While driving through the country, she points out an African-American boy and says, “Oh look at that cute little pickaninny…wouldn’t that make a picture, now?” (2); the grandmother dehumanizes the boy, talking about him as if they are at a zoo observing animals. Also recognizing his impoverishment, she tells her grandchildren, “little riggers in the country don’t have things like we do” (2). A true Christian would be affected by this situation and feel sympathy for this boy. If she truly was passionate of her faith, she would’ve done something to help the young boy, following Jesus’ belief of helping the poor. The grandmother deeply confuses what characteristics define someone as a “good man”. When encountering the Misfit, she tells him, “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people” (7). The grandmother’s definition of ‘good’ is misrepresented, as her reasoning is based almost entirely on her belief that he doesn’t have ‘common blood.’ The grandmother applying the term ‘good’ so loosely implies that its actual meaning holds no value to her. Instead, to her, being ‘good’ means ones values matching up with her own: materialistic and shallow. To the grandmother, the most important characteristic of a person’s identity is their class, a belief that significantly contrasts with a Christian’s high regard of someone’s inner virtue. Thus, demonstrating her inability to exhibit a positive representation of her faith.

True Christians live their daily lives fulfilling their duty and loyalty to God. Although the grandmother claims she is religious, her decisions exhibit otherwise. The grandmother implies she values honesty significantly. While speaking to Red Sammy at The Tower she tells him “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you can trust” (4). She also then proceeds to say, “and I don’t count nobody out of that, not nobody” (4). Ironically, during their road trip she recalls an old plantation she visited as a child that she believes is nearby. She is aware her son, Bailey, “would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house” (4), so she forms a lie to manipulate him into making a pit stop there. Telling her family, “There was a secret-panel in this house… silver was hidden in it” (4). The grandmother’s actions defy her words. She preaches the importance of honesty however is quick to disregard this for her own selfish benefit. The Eighth Commandment condemns lying; ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’.The Church believes that everyone is obligated to honour the truth, something the grandmother clearly violates. The grandmother is very confident in her ability to pray, influencing the Misfit to do so, as she believes “If you would pray, Jesus would help you” (9). However, once she is the only one out of her family still alive and becomes quite fearful, her attempt to start praying “sounded as if she might be cursing” (10). Praying is essential in building a relationship with God. Prayer should not only be needed when we need something, but so that we can get closer with God and express our faith. In the grandmother’s case, it is evident she doesn’t even know how to pray and is only doing so because she believes it will spare her life. Psalm 40:4 preaches that we must have trust in the Lord and not turn to those who do not believe in him. When expressing their opinions on Jesus, the grandmother is quick to submerge into the Misfits belief that “Jesus shown everything off balance” (10). She states that “maybe he didn’t raise the dead” (10), questioning God’s abilities. The Eighth Beatitude states, ‘Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’; this indicates that

Christians are willing to stand up for God even if we are teased or insulted, they should not be ashamed but glorify God. The grandmother betrays her faith to avoid persecution, showcasing she is not a genuine follower of Christ.

Through accidental grace, the potential for goodness for both the Misfit and the grandmother is revealed. The grandmother’s intentions during her encounter with the Misfit are purely manipulative, as she believes that flattery will stop him from killing her. She is deceitful and unloving for the entirety of the story. However, during her encounter with the Misfit, the grandmother's beliefs begin to fall apart, exactly like her hat 'pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a jaunty angle and the violet spray hanging off the side” (6).When Bailey is led into the woods, the grandmother’s hat “came off in her hand…. she stood staring at it, and after a second, she let it fall on the ground” (8). In this scene, her superficial values are revealed as failing her, the hat symbolizing that class will ultimately not benefit her. The grandmother finally comes to terms with this, moments before her death, in her recognition of the Misfit’s humanity. For the first time, it appears that she is capable of compassion. She has just been looking for it in the wrong places—it’s been hard for her to find. The grandmother is moved by the Misfit’s remark that he wished he was there when Jesus raised the dead, as he believes if he was, he “wouldn’t be like I am now” (10). She experiences a moment of grace when her “head cleared for an instant” (10) and she exclaims, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” (10). The Misfit isn’t literally her son, however this suggests that this is the grandmother’s most genuine moment in the story, unable to even see the good in her own child and grandchildren. Even after attempting to manipulate the Misfit and solely perceiving him as a villain, she suddenly is able to see his humanity and value actual goodness. The Misfit experiences his accidental grace after he realizes he holds frustration with his own lack of faith. His frustration exemplified after he exclaims “I wish I had of been there” (10), and then proceeds to hit “the ground with his fist” (10). He believes, “It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known” (10). This suggests that he's given religion a lot more thought than the grandmother has, and if he had more guidance and was brought up a different way, he would not be the murderer he is presently. After his realization is exhibited, the Misfit’s “voice seemed about to crack” (10), his “face twisted…as if he were going to cry” (10). The grandmother feeling pity for him; her first instinct is to reach out and touch him, a sign of compassion. The Misfit is open to grace at this moment, a chance to change his perceptions on the world surrounding him. However, he finds this gesture, the only pure act of kindness the grandmother expresses, so distasteful that he springs back as if “a snake had bitten him” (10). Clearly, viewing this as if he’s recoiling from the devil, and then proceeding to shoot her three times through the chest. The Misfit is able to view her act as grace, however he rejects it. Whereas, one can argue the grandmother has grown more at the moment of death rather than she ever did before in her life. God has granted her grace at the time of her passing, and she dies with “her face smiling up at the cloudless sky” (10). Symbolizing something virtuous has happened and that she has finally understood the actual meaning of ‘goodness’. The grandmother was redeemed for her sins by seeing through the Misfit’s evil, and discovering the ability within herself to feel for him. For his part, the Misfit, although recoiling from her kindness, does suggest he may also have the possibility to change. While also having the ability to understand the concept of grace. After murdering the grandmother, he tells his accomplice, Bobby Lee, “she would of been a good woman… if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (11). The Misfit's response demonstrates that he does identifies her act as goodness, despite rejecting it. Earlier in the novel, he had claimed that there was “no pleasure but meanness” (10) in life. However, he now denies that meanness is “no real pleasure in life” (11) at all. Murdering the grandmother has given him no satisfaction, instead it bothers him. In that way, grace has been brought on him too, as before meeting the grandmother he was incapable of these views. The Misfit is a brutal serial killer, and the grandmother is a contemptuous woman incapable of compassion. Both “bad” people in their own unique way, they are each unlikely, arguably even not worth to be recipients of grace. Grace, however, settles on them both, suggesting that even villains such as the grandmother and Misfit have the potential to be saved by God.

Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard To Find reveals that ones improper behaviour can contradict their ethics as a Christian, but in darkness they are able to seek redemption and eventually act upon their goodness. Throughout the beginning of the story, the grandmother’s high value on societal ranking showcases her belief that a person’s goodness is defined by their class. Therefore, contrasting with her beliefs as a Christian; a religion that promotes empathy and kindness for everyone, regardless of where they rank in society. Her superficial attitude also hinder’s her loyalty to her faith. The grandmother puts her own selfish needs before her relationship with God, thus demonstrating she does not sincerely practice her faith. Through accidental grace at the time of the grandmother’s death, both her and the Misfit present they are capable of goodness. Although throughout their lives they have lived in sin, it is revealed in their newly discovered humanity, that in darkness we can see light. O’Connor’s short story allows readers to consider their own way of life, reflecting on their individual satisfaction with the way they positively impact those around them. Therefore, causing the reader to strive for a life with meaning, unlike the grandmother, who’s life only achieves genuine fulfillment moments before her death.

29 April 2022
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