It is not difficult to label the agent of evil in Flannery O’Connor’s signature story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” An escaped convict, self-named the Misfit, objectively orders the murder of a Georgia family – everyone from grandmother to baby – after coming upon them when their car overturns along a dusty country road. The Misfit orders the murders because the Grandmother has, irrationally, recognized and named him, and also to steal the family’s car. But as in all of O’Connor’s stories, the violent surface action only initiate to suggest the depths and complexities of meaning embedded in the story. This is particularly true when considering the mystery of evil and its relation to the action of grace.
On one level the story’s title refers to the words of a popular song – “A good man is hard to find / you always get the other kind.” But on another level, it also insinuates Christ’s rebuke to Peter when Peter tried to call him good, and Jesus responded that no one should be called good (Mark 10:18) – a mistake the Grandmother makes constantly in her encounter with the Misfit. At the same time, it is also true to say that, excepting Satan; no one should be called absolutely evil, definitely not in any absolute sense. Good and evil, as potentialities and as actualities, are inextricably intertwined in human beings, and this is true for both the Grandmother and the Misfit. It is more precise to speak of gradations of human good and evil, and of the drama of choice in the face of competing for moral options. O’Connor’s story discovers a range of these options and their consequences, as well as suggesting the mysterious invisible forces beyond personality and situation that help to shape human destiny.
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