A Good Man is Hard to Find

1 04 2008


 Can grace be found in violence, in the grotesque, in pain and falleness?  Flannery O’Connor spent her short thirty-nine years answering the question through thirty-three short stories and novels which delved into the full measure of human depravity in difficult, and often frightening, ways.  O’Connor’s work uses shocking, violent, or despairing themes to ultimately reveal to humanity its helplessness apart from the grace of God.  “I have found that violence is strangely capable  of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace,” she writes.  “Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work.”

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” a grandmother and her son’s family are ruthlessly killed by an escaped convict while on vacation.  Many struggle with the violent plot because the family and grandmother seem so innocent.   This gruesome scene does not, however, serve as senseless violence.  Beyond the disturbing imagery is a story that makes poignant Christian claims.  The grotesque scenes allow readers “to peer into the souls of the character.”  As O’Connor herself said, “Distortion in this case is an instrument; exaggeration has a purpose, and the whole structure of the story or novel has been made what it is because of belief.  This is not the kind of distortion that destroys; it is the kind that reveals, or should reveal.”  What it reveals is the total depravity of the human heart and soul apart from God.  What it reveals is the destruction sin brings and the need for an unfathomable grace.

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” the moment of grace occurs as the grandmother reaches out toward the convict, calls him one of her children, and then is shot three times.  The grandmother realizes that nothing is going to stop the convict but reaches out anyway.  Unfortunately, the killer is so in love with his falleness that he rejects her love and embraces death.  In this moment, O’Connor highlights the sad reality of so many who hear the grace of Christ but refuse to surrender that which enslaves them.

O’Connor wrote that “grace changes us, and change is painful.”  In “A Good Man”, the grandmother suddenly sees the convict as a creature Jesus loves.  If you read her stories carefully you see see beauty where you otherwise wouldn’t.  You will be encouraged to engage the culture in which you live without surrendering your faith, to honestly address the evil we encounter living in a fallen world, you see the grace of God in the brokenness.  “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

So to answer our question: Can grace be found in violence and the grotesque?  O’Connor believed it could.  However, if you do not believe her, look to Genesis and Noah or look to Joshua and the Israelites.  But, perhaps the best place to look is into the face of God as He hung on a cross so that you could become one of His children.



6 responses

1 04 2008

Thanks for the book recommendation. I had not heard of this author before. Guess it’s one I’ll have to check out.

And I agree – grace can be found in pain, despair and the grotesque. It shows us how powerful grace really is when it can overcome such perversity.


1 04 2008

Thank you for getting the point. Many Christians have critcised O’Connor over the years because they could not see past what shocked them and see why it was shocking them. It shocks us becuase it shows how fallen we truly are.

10 05 2008

I think we have similar tastes. I love O’Connor! Do you read any Malamud?

10 10 2008

We recently read this story in one of my classes at Towson. We’ve been reading a lot of O’Conner’s stories and I wasn’t really getting much out of them. I couldn’t see past the disturbing nature and dismissed them, as did most of my peers. I think after reading this post I may have to give O’Conner’s work another chance. My professor just won the “Flannery O’Conner Award for Literature” so he will most likely have us read more. And I’ll definitely be reading her stories in a different way!

~Heidi Straka

10 10 2008

Thanks Heidi! I beleive that writers like O’conner sho seek to use their talent to reach those who otherwise would not come to know Christ’s grace are needed more. She never comes out in a preachy manner becaue her readers would have turned her off. Instead, she creatively and gently uses her writing to reveal the truth of grace in a manner where it captures her reader’s hearts before it enters their minds. Keep up the good work at school! We are proud of you.

9 12 2008

It seems an interesting book that makes us to meditate on many things, but mainly to understand that there is always the possibility of turning bad into something good.
Thanks for the recommendation!

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