A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Overview

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Editor: Noelle Watson
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,516 words

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Flannery O'Connor claimed always to center her fiction on the extraordinary moments of God's grace, when it touches even the most maimed, deformed, or unregenerate of people—especially those; proper Christian literature, she remarked, is always "an invitation to deeper and stranger visions." Yet however willingly the most devoted reader might listen to such remarks, precisely those extraordinary moments when God's grace is meant to enter the lives of her characters have been the most troubling, even for such an admirer as Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk for whom she sustained the highest respect. Speaking once of another of her stories, "The Lame Shall Enter First," he notes that her good characters are bad and her bad people finally not so bad as they first seem, while her crazy people turn out to have a kind of sanity.

There are reasons for this difficulty. Throughout O'Connor's short stories and novels, God seems to spend his grace on the unlikeliest of people. Usually they do not appear to deserve his blessing; almost as often they appear to learn nothing from it. Nor is grace dramatized as a dazzling joy, a sweep of awareness. Rather, it can come in an act of random violence, a forceful accident, a blinding pain. It can be unexpected, intrusive, unwanted, ignored, baffling, misidentified, forgotten. It can bring suffering, wretchedness, even annihilation. Walter Sullivan has counted its cost. In the 19 stories published in her lifetime, he notes, nine end in one or more violent deaths, three others end in physical assaults and bodily injury and, in the remaining seven, one ends in arson, another two theft. This problem has left her apologist Frederick Asals to note that her fiction is meant to catch the reader unawares by being anthropotropic rather than theoropic, concentrating more on people than on God despite her concern with grace.

Yet throughout her life O'Connor was an ardent Catholic. She grew up in Savannah, Georgia, living in the shadow of the great spire of the cathedral and attending its convent school. When she later moved to Milledgeville, in central Georgia, her family contributed to the building of a Catholic parish church which she regularly attended until her death. Her own library, now at Georgia College, has a large collection of books on...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420006058