Flannery O’Connor consistently references religion and its effects on American culture in her short stories. Her Catholic upbringing influences almost all her fiction, often paired with Postmodernism themes of dark imagery and skepticism. Although she often has a harsh portrayal of religion, Flannery’s point of view on religion itself isn’t critical.
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Rather, she criticizes any set of ignorant American morals, including Atheism. Moreover, her morally flawed characters often face a crisis that gives them clarity and truth in their beliefs: A moment of grace. O’Connor wished to reveal that America’s moral susceptibility to gullibility, poor judgment, and blind faith could be redeemed, but ultimately the destruction it causes may be irreversible. Throughout her short story A Good Man is Hard to Find, O’Connor ponders the moral journey of an old southern grandmother and parallels this to possible consequences of America’s undeniable culture of valuing ignorant beliefs. A family travelling by car to Florida gets into an accident, which becomes deadly when an escaped convict called The Misfit comes across the scene. Because the Grandmother recognizes him from a news report, he and his band of convicts decide to execute the entire family.
The Grandmother remains nameless in the story, which is significant in that a nameless character can represent a generic group, such as superficial Christians prevalent in the South during the late 20th century. Her religious beliefs are weak and merely surface level, as she constantly lies to her family and believes in the power of her dress and Southern manners to prove her religious piety and superiority; and she disguises her racism in kindly condescension (Boudreaux 151). Certain of the superiority of her rather half-baked Southern Christian morals, the Grandmother believes that she has the right to judge the goodness of others. When stopped at Red Sammy’s gas station and BBQ, she declared that Red Sammy is good because he let two strangers charge their gasoline on credit, leading to him be robbed of payment. This is significant, as O’Connor emphasizes how these Southern morals praise those who trust blindly, as opposed to valuing actual good qualities such as compassion or honesty. Flannery O’Connor allows the Grandma’s beliefs to be her downfall against the Misfit, emphasizing that feigned goodness can be more treacherous than genuine evil.
Although at first glance the Misfit’s code of violence seems senseless, it is the grandmother’s code that proves to be inconsistent and feeble in comparison. This irony emphasizes that compared with her hollow faith in Jesus”whom she invokes only to save her own life”the Misfit’s agnosticism is nearly admirable (Boudreaux 151). The grandmother naively calls him a good man, however; this only spotlight how her moral compass is skewed and based on customary and thoughtless morals handed down to her from the old South.
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