I met Kelly Fordon while I was pursuing my MFA. She was working on a novel told from the point of view of a U.S. Congressman’s young daughter. The chapter I read had a cameo by Richard Nixon. I was hooked.
Good versus Evil in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
I live in the suburbs, land of the crazy soccer parents, cynical, Ambian-popping teachers, in-laws and bylaws and neighborhood squabbles. For that reason, whenever anyone mentions the freak in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” I picture the Grandmother, not The Misfit. And I would argue, O’Connor, who spent her entire life ensconced in a town even smaller than my own, saw her that way too. Here’s why:
In the first paragraph of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” we are told that the Grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida, she wanted to visit her relations in Tennessee. She wants this so badly that she tells her family about a horrific killer who is on the loose from the federal pen and headed down the same highway toward Florida. “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”
This, however, is exactly what she does. Instead of staying on the highway, on the “straight and narrow,” she begs her son Bailey to turn off the road so she can see the old plantation she visited when she was a girl. She has forgotten about The Misfit because he hasn’t served his purpose and saved her from this cross-country trek. Once she decides she has to see the old plantation, she will do everything in her power to change Bailey’s mind, including lying:
“There was a secret panel in this house,” she said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were, “and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through but it was never found…”
After the children scream and shout, Bailey agrees to stop by the plantation and on their way there the cat, Pitty Sing, escapes from the basket where the Grandmother is hiding her and jumps on to Bailey’s lap causing the accident that will bring about the final fatal “collision” with The Misfit.
Here we are not even halfway through the story and the Grandmother has lied twice to get her way and expressly disobeyed her son’s request not to bring the cat. She’s a freak of the highest order—a narcissistic, self-centered, holier than thou, plopped into this story to drive everyone, including The Misfit, out of his or her mind.
In this story, O’Connor has upended our notions of good and evil. The Grandmother has no respect for anyone in her family. My feeling has always been that if The Misfit had killed her first and then stopped, the rest of the family might have been relieved and continued merrily on their way.
As O’Connor says: “The person who aims after art in his work aims after truth.” And the truth is that we all have a “Grandmother” in our lives, someone we are under obligation to who makes us long to hurl mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving Dinner.
We know the Grandmother is going to be killed. The real question for me is: will she remain annoying to the bitter end? In the suburbs, we all deal with mean neighbors by rolling our eyes and saying, “He’ll never change.” That’s why the ending in this story is redemption for the Grandmother and catharsis for the reader. At the last second, the Grandmother looks up at The Misfit’s face “twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry,” and says, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children.” And The Misfit, who has not noted this transformation, kills her on the spot. O’Connor uses extreme violence as the catalyst for change. We are given a prismatic view of both characters, with all their faults and virtues, and in the end, there are no heroes or bad guys, because we are forced to empathize with both.
* * *
Bio: Kelly Fordon’s work has appeared in The Boston Review, The Kenyon Review (KRO), Flashquake, The Windsor Review and various other journals. Her poetry chapbook, On The Street Where We Live won the 2011 Standing Rock Chapbook Contest and was published in February. Her new poetry chapbook, Tell Me When It Starts To Hurt will be published by Kattywompus Press in 2013. She has received awards and fellowships for both fiction and poetry. She is currently working towards her MFA in fiction writing at Queens University.
You can learn more at www.kellyfordon.com
* * *
This is the second essay about the story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. If you missed the other posts, you can find them here:
- A brief introduction and links to A Good Man resources.
- Heather Magruder writes: A Good Man…What’s in a Name?