Flannery OConnors personal views on the justification of religion and the resulting world or corruption and depravity are apparent in her short story A Good Man is Hard to Find. She analyzes the basic plight of human existence and its conflict with religious conviction. The first two-thirds of the narrative set the stage for the grandmother, representing traditional Christian beliefs, to collide with The Misfit, representing modern scientific beliefs. The core of symbolism and the magnet for interpretation is at the end, the conversation between the grandmother and The Misfit. The conversation represents the examination of the clash between animal and metaphysical human nature and the Misfit is the literary depiction of the outcome of that clash.
The grandmother is based on conventional Southern women. She dresses in her Sunday best so that noone would be mistaken as to her status as a lady, an issue at the heart of every true Southern woman. She related stories of old mansions and of the little pickaninny by a door. This was not a racial comment because for it to be there would have to be an intent to insult an African American and there was not. This was written to further convey the notion of her embodying all the true characteristics of Southern women, including their adherence to devout Christianity.
The Misfit exemplifies the cold, contemporary world. In the conversation The Misfits declares about Jesus, “I wasn’t there so I can’t say He didn’t…” and “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been there I would of known…if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now…. This is the central dilemma of human consciousness. We are mindful of ourselves but we are also basically animals with violent tendencies and primitive drives. Everyday, these two selves collide. The understanding or awareness of each person demands that we rise above our primeval instincts, and with this demand comes a need for meaning, a purpose beyond the material restrictions of our bodies and the world we see around us. Otherwise all that is left, as The Misfit comments, “‘…it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can–by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,’ he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.”
Yet, any belief beyond what we see and what we can touch or hear or smell or feel is just that, a belief. Consequently, any religious or spiritual or anti-religious and anti-spiritual ideology one wishes to take is a leap of blind faith. Eventually, as The Misfit perceives and in due course the grandmother perceives, the world of religious dogma and sacred creed are no match for the systematic observation based and amoral context of the modern world. Thus, we are left with no answer as to the existence of a Supreme Being and with no means to answer that question. Accordingly his frustration is not with Jesus and whether or not He personified the metaphysical, it was with the deep sense of loss and abandonment that this new age leaves us with. I wasn’t there so I can’t say He didn’t,’ The Misfit said. ‘I wisht I had of been there,’ he said, hitting the ground with his fist. ‘It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady,’ he said in a high voice, ‘if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.
In the end, OConnor puts forth the same question to the reader, as The Misfit does to the grandmother, how to address this spreading epidemic of nihilism in a way that conforms with the modern framework of the world. Yet, so far nothing has been offered much better than the grandmothers deplorable response; our society has the bullet holes to prove it. Ultimately there is no answer to her question. There are some meaningful substitutes, art, love, human contact, but there is no concrete answer to her question. No genuine sentence or scientific proof. The only sustaining reassurance is that the question is continually asked. As long as we keep inquiring, we preserve our worth as humans because we employ our exclusive ability to interrogate. We also feed this ruse that there is hope, an answer to seek and an answer to be found. It is a brave new world, tred lightly because the ground that appears to be of dirt, is made of crystal.
My daddy said I was a different breed of dog from my brothers and sisters. “You know,” Daddy said, “it’s some that can live their whole life out without asking about it and it’s others has to know why it is, and this boy is one of the latters. He’s going to be into everything! remarks The Misfit. This indicates that at one point he was good, maybe even Christian. He asked questions that matter, questions that help keep us human. Then, as a result of the continual exposure to the downfalls of society that has been left with no answer and no hope, he has changed. He has reverted into the primal beast, given into his primordial desire and wants.
In the end, each character and every commentary was not written in vain, it was written for a purpose, to accumulate into a greater statement. The grandmother in her simple ignorance and innocence represented goodness and plain faith. The Misfit was twisted into the product of new age technology and scientific theories being tube fed to the youth. And so, the conversation puts forth the eternal question of how to express a valid faith within these new unfamiliar boundaries. The misfit opposes the grandmother and is a reflection of society today. He is a reflection of ourselves, our own virtue, our own loss of humanity, our own spiritual barrenness.