You Wouldn’t Shoot a Lady, Would You?: Feminism and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” was written in the 1950’s at a time where women were mostly homemakers. O’Connor herself was profusely talented and graduated from the most prestigious creative writing program at Iowa State University. O’Connor suffered from Lupus, the same disease that killed her father. Because of lupus, O’Connor lived a simple life raising peafowl, writing, and painting in her small town of Milledgeville, Georgia with her mother. In her writing of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, there is a dark sense of humor and a twisted ending that keeps readers intrigued and wanting more.the lack of women identity and the suffering of O’connor’s female characters in the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” will be under feminist criticism .
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” is about a family on a road trip to Florida. None of the characters are very likeable and they all possess undesirable traits. The grandmother is very outspoken and likes to try and control the family while making her opinion widely known. The mother of the children is very passive, while the father is rude and selfish. The children are loud and fight all the time, and the Misfit is an escaped killer. On the way to Florida the Grandmother points out an old plantation she visited when she was younger and she and the children try to convince the father to go. During this time the family gets into a car accident and that’s when the misfit appears. He and his men end up killing the entire family and the story ends with the misfit saying there is no real pleasure in life.
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, there are three major female characters: The Grandmother, June Star, and The Children’s mother. When introduced to these different woman in different stages of life there is never a deeper level of introduction or interaction other than vanity. For example, the children’s mother is only described as a “young woman in slacks, whose face was a broad and innocent as a cabbage” (O’Connor 611) . The children’s mother does not get a name, and her only interaction with the story is to take on the typical role of being a caregiver. Author and editor of “On the Subject of the Feminist Business; Re-reading Flannery O’Connor” ,Teresa Caruso, points out that “… Flannery O’Connor’s work indicates that her women, even those without a face or voice who haunt the backgrounds of her stories are imprisoned, within a culture that defines female only in opposition to male, a society that values its women only for their duty to men.”(Caruso 3). The children’s mother is oppressed in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” for her not being granted a true existence. Whenever she is brought up she is either feeding the baby, holding the baby, dealing with her shoulder being broken or joining her family in death. The mother is in the background the entire time, yet we never notice her. She only exists for Bailey and the children.
One of the major settings in the story takes place in a ditch on the side of the road. The family had just gotten into the car accident and and the grandmother is hoping she is injured to be protected from her son. “The grandmother was curled up under the dashboard hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath wouldn’t come down on her all at once”(O’Connor 617). In this setting after the accident the reader is able to see that the grandmother would rather be in physical pain as protection from her own son. Quoting Caroso, O’Connor is “…An author who routinely wounds, cripples, shoots and gores her female characters.” (Caroso 2). This shows us that the grandmother is apart of this wounded group with O’Connor’s characters; Adding to this thought, the children’s mother is the only one in the entire family to have an injury, painting the picture of women’s suffrage that exists in O’Connor’s writing and the hidden message between the lines of the pages. The theory is that O’Connor, using symbolism, breaks the mother’s shoulder, that bears the weight of the entire family, and has her be the only hurt one to show the reader that she was hurting long before the accident but her pain was not shown in a physical sense. It should be believed that the children’s mother has repressed emotions and her hurt is only to be healed when she joins her family in death.
Throughout the story O’Connor gives us a dark sense of humor with her conflicts she includes throughout the story. The grandmother and June Star show that their appearance matters. When June Star and the grandmother get into a fight the grandmother states that she will not curl June Star’s hair for anymore. “All right miss… Just remember that the next time you want me to curl your hair” (O’Connor 612). Then June Star replies and says her hair is naturally curly. What O’Connor shows us with this fight is how shallow the grandmother and June Star are. They seem to only care about their appearances. Another example of this is when O’Connor writes about the grandmother and the children’s mother and describes what they are wearing in full detail: The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know that she was a lady. (O’Connor 612)The wording of this shows that O’Connor is comparing the grandmother and the children’s mother. Because the children’s mother is wearing slacks and a kerchief rather than a dress, hat, pin, and gloves. This somehow makes her out to be “less than a lady”, although the fact if you are a lady or not comes from within and what you identify yourself with being
O’Connor suppresses the children’s mother’s womanhood by painting her to be less than the grandmother. This creates an internal conflict with the children’s mother because she is being painted out to be less than a lady. If the children’s mother was found dead on the side of the highway would a bystander assume she was not a lady because of her clothing? In the story June Star is a child and should be focusing on being such, but she is already thinking about what standards she should marry. After the grandmother tells the children a story from her past the narrator states: “June Star didn’t think it was any good. She wouldn’t marry a man that just brought her a watermelon on Saturday.” (O’Connor 614). Although the watermelon is a very sweet and kind gesture the grandmother does not focus on the man’s kindness but rather his wealth. It is told by the narrator “The grandmother said she would have done well to marry Mr.Teagarden because he was a gentleman and bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out… a very wealthy man.” (O’Connor 614). Instead of elaborating on how he was a gentleman, O’Connor shows us that the grandmother and June Star only care about wealth and other shallow values. This can be tied to Caroso who states that “Readers risk being drawn into understanding O’Connor’s female characters through those cultural (male) ideals presented as acceptable by a patriarchal society.” (Caroso 4). With these ideas in mind that money is a backbone in love, June Star is being repressed from finding true love instead of being financially stable.
Throughout the story the grandmother is routinely ignored by her son Bailey. The only time the son speaks out to her is when the children and the grandmother are annoying him to go to the plantation. When Bailey speaks it is with anger and aggression. For example the narrator states that “‘All right!’ he shouted and drew the car to a stop on the side of the road. ‘Will you all shut up? Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don’t shut up, we won’t go anywhere.’” (O’Connor 616) The grandmother has a lot of anger and hate thrown towards her throughout the story, although the grandmother is not the greatest individual one can come across she is spoken down to and ends up being killed by the Misfit and he states “She would of been a good woman… if it had somebody to shoot her every minute of her life.” (O’Connor 622) This needs feminist criticism because the Misfit does not know the grandmother but takes her life while commenting on her character. The entitlement the Misfit has to take a life of a women gruesomely while stating she was not a good person shows the reader that O’Connor allows a world where women are not created as equal.
Robert Donahoo notes in his essay “O’Connor and the Female Mystique: “Limitations that Reality Opposed”” that “O’Connor’s fiction offers memorable female characters who are multidimensional, vital, and complexity meaningful… yet… these women have tended to draw the ire of feminist critics, largely for their perceived failure to to champion female empowerment and equality.” (Donahoo 9) This quote helps us to understand that the grandmother is not created equal to her male counterparts in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.In conclusion, the women in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” are repressed and victim to the patriarchal world as seen from multiple examples that are painted throughout the lines in the story. Although they all seem to be hidden in the background and O’Connor didn’t bother to give two of them a name, they are there and they deserve to be recognised.
Caruso, Teresa. “Introduction.”On the Subject of Feminist Business; Re-reading Flannery O’Connor, edited by Teresa Caruso,Peter ang Publishing, Inc, 2004, pp.1-8.
Donahoo,Robert. “O’Connor and the Female Mystique: “Limitations that Reality Opposed”.On the Subject of Feminist Business; Re-reading Flannery O’Connor, edited by Teresa Caruso,Peter ang Publishing, Inc, 2004, pp.9-28
.O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, edited by Richard Bausch and R.V. Cassill, Shorter 8th edition, W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2015, pp.611-622.
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