“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The River”: Comparative and Literary Analysis

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In Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” which was published in the year 1953, the word “good” is considered to be poor judgement or blind faith. This is similar to the literary elements in “The River,” a short story as well about Reverend Bevel Summers, a traveling preacher who is going to perform a healing at a local river.

Two of Flannery O'Connor's short stories are 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' and 'The River' which were both published in 1953 in her collection of short stories. The author was a 20th century renowned American female essayist, short story writer, and novelist. From her novels and collection of short stories, O'Connor's writing style is unique and thematic. Her pieces are morally-grounded as they portray a sense of humility, faith in God, genuineness, and the realization of good behavior. As a Christian, O'Connor developed characters to show the evils in the society and short-lived experience for such instances as she focused on redemption and the moral lessons attached to them. Therefore, O'Connor's literary pieces are forums of enlightenment for the ignorant and other teachings that relate to faith and self-actualization. According to Yunfei, 'In one short story after another brings her characters to a moment when it is impossible for them to continue their accustomed manner, so the proud are humbled; the ignorant are enlightened; the wise are shown 'the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God…' (Yunfei 107). 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' is a short story about a family that experiences a tragic end when they all die as they go on a family trip. The grandmother is the main character who foreshadows the loss of her family. On the other hand, 'The River' is about a young boy, Harry Ashfield, who shows his alienation from his materialistic parents and the realization of faith through his babysitter Mrs. Connin. However, as he believes deep into the Christian faith, he attempts to baptize himself and drowns in the water. Primarily, the two texts share similarities in literary elements because of the morally-grounded writing style of O'Connor, and a comprehensive comparison show enhances the understanding of the circumstances in the story and what the author tries to achieve from the characters.

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The first literary element to consider in the two texts is the theme of alienation. The latter means the state of feeling detached or separated from another emotionally, mentally, spiritually, socially, or physically. O'Connor manages to show this theme in 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' when the reader learns how the grandmother's desires are different from those of the other family members and how she is it alienated from Gods teachings. Yet, she uses them to address everyone she indulges in a conversation. For example, when Bailey, the son, plans the family vacation to Florida, the grandmother wants to go to Tennessee (O'Connor 6). She tries to find any excuse that can prevent the trip as she tells Bailey about a dangerous fugitive in Florida who might cause harm to them if they travel. In the spiritual context, the grandmother claims that she is a Christian. Still, she is manipulative and self-serving in how she attempts to persuade Bailey to change the vacation destination from Florida to Tennessee (O'Connor 6). She is correct about the danger ahead. Still, her motives are selfish because she wants everyone to forego their desire to accommodate her desire to go to Tennessee and connect with her other loved ones. Harris affirms that this pride and selfishness are contrary to spiritual doctrine (Harry 7). In 'The River,' Harry's parents are alienated from the Christian faith or God as seen in his mother's actions and reactions. After Harry takes the book about the life of Jesus Christ from Mrs. Connin's pocket, he begins to read and enjoy it. His mother takes it from him without recognizing its value even when one of her guests notices its significance. Harry's parents are alienated from the Christian faith because they raise him without this knowledge as they are always organizing parties and waking up the next day with hangovers (O’Connor 457). Moreover, they are alienated from Harry because they are less concerned about his emotional, spiritual, and social desires. It is easy for them to replace Harry's toys when he breaks them than to show him affection (O’Connor 464). Harry is unhappy at home, but they do not realize it.

In the same light, another theme that is typical in the two texts as per O'Connor's unique writing style is the Christian faith. The author attempts to show the reader the nature of sin and evils, as well as their impacts on society. She makes references to the main figures in the Christian faith and significant teachings so that the moral lessons are clear. In 'A Good Man is Hard to Find,' the grandmother is the focus of the Christian faith, but O'Connor uses irony to show what people should emulate and what they should eliminate from their lives. O'Connor uses both the grandmother and Misfit, the murderer, to show Christian values, sin, and the need for redemption. The reader realizes that the grandmother's sinful nature is instigated by her materialistic mindset, pride, and self-serving attitude. She believes that everyone should emulate her lifestyle because she has no wrongs and knows the best ways to do things. However, O'Connor shows that, according to the Christian doctrine, the 'wisdom of the world is foolishness to God' (Yunfei 107). According to the grandmother, in case of an accident or her death, those who will find her will know that she is a lady (O'Connor 8). On the other hand, Misfit is a true criminal who lives up to the expectations of a sinner. He is already a criminal who escapes from prison, and he kills the entire family after ambushing them on the road. He tells the grandmother that he does not believe in Jesus Christ, who died for his sins (O'Connor 23). Therefore, while the grandmother experiences redemption in her death, Misfit is still caught in sin. In 'The River,' the idea of baptism, faith healer, preaching, and the teachings of Jesus Christ establish Christianity as the central theme. Through Mrs. Connin, Harry becomes interested in the Christian faith to the point that he takes the book about Jesus to read later. He dies attempting to baptize himself because he embraces the spiritual connection with God. Harry's parents have a lifestyle that horrifies him because they are not interested in both his life and God. Eubanks adds that Harry does not grasp the idea of baptism at his age and it leads him to do it to death (Eubanks 28). Although people like Mr. Paradise do not believe in the preacher's healing power, it makes them curious as seen in the last scene when he follows Harry to help him not to drown in the river (O’Connor 474). Harry reflects an innocently transformed individual into a Christian life with a strong foundation.

Characterization is another essential element in the two texts in line with O'Connor's morally-oriented writing styles. The author develops characters who show the sinful or evil ways that she is wrong to engage the readers in the trail of thought so that they can understand the need for transformation and the process involved. In essence, O'Connor views individuals as fallen creatures who should be humble enough to learn, such as weakness and work towards being better people in society (Yunfei 108). For example, in 'The River' the significance of Harry's parents is to show how sinful lifestyles can cause alienation in homes and traumatize children to the point that it affects their psychological and emotional being. Also, such a situation drives the child to make his or her decisions that might put him or her in harm's way. Nevertheless, Harry's curiosity leads to a positive outcome because he experiences spiritual nourishment at a tender age, and he can differentiate right from wrong. He is disgusted by his parents drunken and materialistic lifestyle that causes a rift between them (O’Connor 457). Mrs. Connin is a significant character, too because she is the 'bridge' between Harry's transformation to completeness in the Christian faith. She takes over the role of the mother and takes care of Harry by showing him affection and directing him towards self-fulfilment in the acceptance of the Christian faith. Most importantly, the preacher, Bevel, facilitates this process through his sermons at the river and passion for God (O’Connor 460). Similarly, in 'A Good Man is Hard to Find,' the grandmother and Misfit are notable characters because they show sin through alienation from God and criminal acts such as murder respectively. Thuan points out that O'Connor uses the same strategy as that of 'The River' to instigate a turnaround in behavior (Thuan 220). The grandmother is ignorant of her sin to the point when Misfit is about to shoot her when she experiences clarity and realizes that she has been wrong all the while. She also begins to eliminate her judgement of other people when she tells Misfit that he is her son (O'Connor 23). According to Harris, probably O'Connor also wants to show that she accepts that she is a sinner from seeing how sinful Misfit is in the moment (Harris 8). Similar to Harry, the grandmother shows an element of re-birth in her death. People such as Misfit and Harry's parents are doomed with their continuous sin and lack of self-realization and awareness.

The theme of identity is another literary element that is evident in both 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' and 'The River. ' Identity is the definition of oneself according to his or her self-realization and awareness. In her exploration of the theme of identity in the two texts, O'Connor illustrates how the main characters are unaware of their identity in the beginning. For example, in 'The River,' Harry is in search of identity because he does not feel that he belongs in his family. His parents have a lifestyle that makes him feel lonely and unappreciated. Thus, when she experiences Mrs. Connin's compassion, he begins to realize and understand who he is in society. He finds his identity in the Christian teachings and faith and becomes passionate about this particular lifestyle. When Mrs. Connin asks Harry his real name, he lies by telling her that it is Bevel after the woman talks about taking him to see Bevel the preacher at the river (O’Connor 458). This reply indicates that Harry feels quite lost, and he is uncomfortable with where he is in his life. He is interested in a meaningful new beginning. Harry always thought that Jesus was a mere word used for expression, but he realizes that it represents the main figure of the Christian faith when he asks Mrs. Connin about the picture he sees in her house. Also, in 'A Good Man is Hard to Find,' both the grandmother and Misfit lack knowledge regarding their identities. Eubanks also explains that he grandmother portrays herself as a staunch Christian, yet she embodies a manipulative, materialistic, and selfish personality (Eubanks 20). Unlike in 'The River' where the issue is the lack of identity realization, O'Connor illustrates knowingly shifts from one identity to another. Eventually, she realizes that her actions and thoughts were wrong (O'Connor, 23). The grandmother experiences this clarity for a short time before Misfit kills her. On the other hand, Misfit seems to know who he is and to embrace it as he continues to commit serious crimes (Thuan 222). He says he does not believe that Jesus Christ died for him and kills without remorse. Here, O'Connor develops a clear contrast that clarifies the moral lesson that the readers should learn.

In conclusion, O'Connor's uniqueness in writing is evident in both 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' and 'The River' as they share various similarities in the literary elements, particularly the themes. Readers develop a clear understanding of the circumstances in the texts, and they draw essential moral lessons as per O'Connor's intention. Much of the author's ideas revolve around the Christian faith and the consequences of following or ignoring it. Although I find Eubank’s approach comprehensive in the criticism of O’Connor’s fictional works, I believe that it is impossible to evaluate her pieces without basing them on her Christian, Catholic background. The concepts of this faith are what informed her creativity. Thus, her background should be used as the framework for studying her moral pieces. The available literature on the concepts of both works provides a clear perspective of the O'Connor as a renowned author and the moral issues to be considered. Nevertheless, further research should focus on the author's shortcomings to maintain a balanced review.

Works Cited

  1. Eubanks, Karissa A. 'Evangelicalism and epiphanies of grace in Flannery O'Connor's short fiction.' (2011). Thesis, www.etd.fcla.edu/CF/CFH0003807/Eubanks_Karissa_A_201105_BA.pdf. Accessed November 30, 2019.
  2. Harris, Abbie C. 'Jesus Thrown Everything Off Balance': Grace and Redemption in Flannery O'Connor's' A Good Man is Hard to Find.' Papers & Publications: Interdisciplinary Journal of Undergraduate Research 3.1 (2014): 5-9.
  3. O'Connor, Flannery. A Good Man is Hard to Find: And Other Stories. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1955. www.learning.hccs.edu/faculty/desmond.lewis/prer0100/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find/A%20Good%20Man%20Is%20Hard%20To%20Find.pdf Accessed November 29, 2019.
  4. O’Connor, Flannery. “The River.” The Sewanee Review 61(3): 455-475.
  5. Thuan, Bich The Li. “Character Analysis Through Politeness in A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature 6.4 (2017): 218-226.
  6. Yunfei, Deng. “Flannery O’Connor’s Original Sin and Redemption. A Close Reading of A Good Man is Hard to Find.” International Journal of Liberal Arts and Social Science 4.1(2016): 107-111.
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“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The River”: Comparative and Literary Analysis. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-and-the-river-comparative-and-literary-analysis/
““A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The River”: Comparative and Literary Analysis.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-and-the-river-comparative-and-literary-analysis/
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The River”: Comparative and Literary Analysis. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-and-the-river-comparative-and-literary-analysis/> [Accessed 23 Jul. 2024].
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The River”: Comparative and Literary Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2024 Jul 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-and-the-river-comparative-and-literary-analysis/
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