Mary Flannery O'Connor "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"

Seminar Paper, 1999

19 Pages, Grade: 2- (B-)



Mary Flannery O’Connor

“A Good Man Is Hard To Find“
General Facts

Point-of-view shift



Mary Flannery O’Connor

Cursae vitae[1]: Mary Flannery O’Connor, American short story writer, novelist and essayist, born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925, was by birth and faith a Roman Catholic. As the only child of orthodox Roman Catholics from prominent Georgia families she attented local schools in Savannah before entering the public Peabody high school in Milledgeville, where the family moved in 1938 after her father developed lupus, an incurable skin tuberculosis that makes clinical treatment necessary.

With 16 she entered the nearby Georgia State College for Women, majored in social sciences and graduated in 1945. In the spare time Miss O’Connor not only wrote for school publications, but also presented linoleum block and woodcut cartoons. After having enrolled in the graduate writing program at Iowa State University, she received a Master of Fine Arts degree, which was earned in creative writing in 1947 with six stories. Her stories were easily published, occasionally by popular magazines, but more often by prestigious literary journals. A Flannery O’Connor story is always the slowly paced uncovering of a series of unusual people and circumstances.

Her independent writer’s life ended abruptly at the age of 25 when she suffered the first attack of lupus. From that time on she lived with her mother. There she maintained a steady if slow writing pace. Her production has been severely limited in quantity.

Miss O’Connor defined fiction as “the concrete expression of mystery - mystery that is lived.“ Flannery was a mystery fan, and what she wrote about might be comprehended by the word mystery. “There are two qualities that make fiction,“ she was fond of saying: “One is the sense of mystery and the other is the sense of manners. You get the manners from the texture of experience that surrounds you.“ For her, mystery was centered upon the three basic theological doctrines of the Church: Fall, Redemption, Judgment. She realized that a character makes itself known in extreme situations and used Georgia as the surface to express her mystery. She confronted life’s mystery with the extraordinary capacity for laughter.[2]

In all her writing Flannery O’Connor has certain preoccupations that seem almost obsessional. Her themes, as opposed to her language, derive less from her region than religion. A few simple images recur so strikingly that every reader notices them: colorful shirts, suns, treelines. Whereas the sun reflects impending light or enlightenment, the treeline suggests a delineation between the known and unknown. The sudden consciousness of the tree-line on the part of the character foreshadows an impending crisis. Altogether do half a dozen important themes run through all Miss O’Connor’s work. Fall and redemption; nature and grace; innocence versus evil, innocence victimized by evil - every one of her stories, revolves around these traditional Christian themes.[3]

The South was her great metaphor. It provided her with a language and social fabric. The basis of Miss O’Connor’s vision, the rational world, a world man can perceive through human reason - has replaced the spiritual world, the Body of Christ which can only be perceived through Grace and Mercy of God. She shows the world as it is as a way of emphasizing the need to see beyond the world.[4]

Flannery skillfully infused her fiction with local color, regional dialect, and rich comic detail of her southern milieu. The settings of her stories and novels are either Geogia or Tennessee. Only two of her stories are set outside the South. Where it is compared to the industrialized and intellectual North, it in general turns out as the more human habitat. “The image of the South is so strong in us that it is a force which has to be encountered and engaged, and it is when this is a true engagement that its meaning will lead outward to universal human interest.“ Present and past do not merge in her work but confront each other. Common within the southern landscape are everyday confrontations, such as a family trip being filled with horror. Essentially, O’Connor’s subject is acceptance, the point at which her sinners become aware of their awful unavoidability of Grace. Reading O’Connor’s tales, one feels that grace simply makes salvation possible.[5]

The key characters in her fiction are all ordinary, plain folk like those nurses or her mother who so devotedly helped her. They are rarely Catholic, and the criminals, her misfits and prophets are Evil and fighting a religious battle within themselves - their belief or disbelief in Christ is to them a matter of life and death. O’Connor’s heroes, the saints and martyrs of her fictive world have lost all sense of human kinship. Having taken the right to act as inexplicably as God, O’Connor’s hero finds himself in godlike isolation, alien to human suffering and joy. He can kill without pleasure or grief. O’Connor’s heroes are beyond sexual desire, love, compassion. They emerge almost historyless from the backwoods.[6]

While belief and grace offered a spiritual aim to her writing, death and devil offered the human terrors which make fiction remarkable: “I’m born Catholic and death has always been brother to my imagination. I can’t imagine a story that doesn’t properly end in it or in its foreshadowings.“ She quietly insists on viewing death from the perspective of eternity. By the means of evil an assault is made upon the psyche of the protagonist (hence upon that of the reader).[7]

Ironically some of the severest criticism about her fiction came from Catholic critics. It has puzzled some of her readers and annoyed the Catholic church that in her stories not only does good not triumph, it is not usually present. Furthermore, seldom are there choices and God never intervenes to help anyone win. To O’Connor Jesus was God, he won only by losing. She perceived that not much has been learned by his death by crucifixion, and that it is only by his continual, repeated dying that the meaning of that original loss is pressed into the heart of an individual.[8]

Her first novel, Wise Blood, published in 1952, was followed by the story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find of 1955. Her second novel The Violent Bear It Away appeared in 1960. Each volume attracted significant critical attention, and she was awarded three O. Henry prizes for short stories, several grants and two honorary degrees. As her reputation grew, the circle of correspondents widened. When her health permitted it she traveled, giving readings and lectures.

Her pastimes were oil-painting and raising exotic fowl. This lifelong fascination is said to reflect her interest in the grotesque. Even during her final illness - she was confined to the hospital in 1950, - she wrote devotedly. Flannery finished her final story, Parker’s Back, just weeks before her death. She died in 1964, 39 years of age.

In the category of Short Fiction there are Principal Works like: A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories (1955); and Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories (1971). Other Major Works are: Wise Blood (1952, Novel); The Violent Bear It Away (1960, Novel); as well as The Habit of Being (1979, Letters of Flannery O’Connor). In 1988 Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works (Fiction, Criticism, Letters) was published.[9]

Flannery O’Connor has a big audience in Germany, especially for her story collections The Lame shall enter first and A Good Man is Hard to Find.


“A Good Man Is Hard To Find“

General Facts

<<A Good Man Is Hard To Find,>> “also the title of a blues song, composed by Eddie Green in 1918,“[10][11] is one of the stories people know best of Flannery O’Connor. It is said to be one of her favorite stories, too. Critics say it contains much of her most characteristic work. Therefore it may be her best single volume and the one by which she is longest remembered. Furthermore, it includes ten stories, some of which are very shocking. The most typical is the title story.

Placed first its plot is childishly simple. In a southern setting, put together with a religious theme we find spiritually suffering characters. The action is frequently violent. Flannery O’Connor prefered to call it literal rather than grotesque. In terms of the time, the story divides into two parts. In the beginning the reader encounters the narrative of a family trip and how the grandmother tries to get her family to go to Tennessee instead of Florida on their vacation. It serves as a kind of brief prologue to the rest of the tale. The rest takes place the following day, as the family begins its fatal trip to Florida.

Miss O’Connor often asked herself what made a story work, made it hold up as a story. Deciding for herself that it probably was a gesture unlike any other in the story, she chose an action both totally right and unexpected, in and beyond the character, suggesting with it both world and eternity. It should be a gesture which somehow made contact with mystery.

In most of her major stories, the moments of violence or death occur on or near the last page. “The fact that the occasion for the moment of illumination arrives unexpectedly, indicates the unique power of the Divine intervention,“[12] says Patricia D. Maida. The story ends with the grandmother being shocked into spiritual awareness by the murderer who kills first her family, and then her.


[1] see: Sharon R. Gunton, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1982, pp. 254-279.

[2] see: Carolyn Riley, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1973, pp. 253-259.

[3] see: Dedria Bryfonski, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1979, pp. 364-371.

[4] see: Carolyn Riley, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1976, pp. 375-382.

[5] see: Laurie Lanzen Harris and Sheila Fitzgerald, eds., Short Story Criticism, 1988, pp. 333-371.

[6] see: Carolyn Riley, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1976, pp. 375-382.

[7] see: Carolyn Riley, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1973, pp. 253-259.

[8] see: Carolyn Riley, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1976, pp. 375-382.

[9] see: Tony Hilfer, American Fiction Since 1940, 1992, pp. 67-71, 191, 202, 278.

[10] see: Sharon R. Gunton, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1982, pp. 254-279. and see: Laurie Lanzen Harris and Sheila Fitzgerald, eds., Short Story Criticism, 1988, pp. 333-371.

[11] Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, 1994, p. 2147.

[12] Dedria Bryfonski, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1979, p. 365.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Mary Flannery O'Connor "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"
Dresden Technical University  (Institute for Anglistics/American Studies)
Proseminar: 20th Century American Short Stories
2- (B-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
464 KB
Mary, Flannery, Connor, Good, Hard, Find, Proseminar, Century, American, Short, Stories
Quote paper
Silke-Katrin Kunze (Author), 1999, Mary Flannery O'Connor "A Good Man Is Hard To Find", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Mary Flannery O'Connor "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free