Christian Realism in A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor

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Author Flannery O’Connor was raised in an orthodox Catholic household in Georgia. This inspired her works, including “A Good Man is Hard to Find” as well as “Good Country People.” When describing why she writes the way she does, O’Connor stated, “It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.” Using her educated views on faith and the notion of “Christian Realism” to guide her in her writing, her phrasing and characterization display the harsh and unsparing reality of the world we live in.

“Christian Realism” is the process using the concepts of humanity’s sinfulness, freedom, and the Great Commandment to influence one’s works. Flannery O’Connor demonstrates this throughout her repertoire by describing the ideal of the forgiveness of God and Salvation. In her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, she introduces a grandmother who is led along on a disastrous journey involving a dangerous criminal deemed “The Misfit.” The grandmother prides herself on being a good Christian woman, always dressed in her Sunday best so just in case of an accident, “anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.” (“A Good Man”) Despite her proclamation of faith, she still is racist, narcissistic, and has a superiority complex. This is a perfect idealization of the religious believers from the old South. She throws around racial slurs and only cares for her well-being. When the Misfit was holding her down, she didn’t seem to notice that Bailey was killed, as one of the Misfit’s workers was clutching his shirt: “The grandmother couldn’t name what the shirt reminded her of.” (“A Good Man”). This shows the “Christian Realism' conception of humanity’s sinfulness; that no matter how holy one claims to be, there is still a level of fault to them.

In this story, the Misfit is symbolic of God’s mercy. When the family is taken into the woods by his cohorts, he converses with the Grandmother about how he has tried to accept God into his life, yet he still enjoys killing. She attempts to lead him to pray and think about his decisions, but she ultimately realizes that she can do nothing to get him to spare her. He holds to his beliefs until the very end, something that the grandmother has never quite done herself. In one of O’Connor’s many letters, she stated “The individual in the Church is, no matter how worthless himself, a part of the Body of Christ and a participator in the Redemption.” This can be applied to the Misfit, for he is a bad person morally but helped the grandmother realize what she had done wrong in the end. The Misfit is also representative of the grandmother’s lack of self-awareness; he acknowledges all the mistakes he has made in his past, unlike the grandmother. These realizations allow her to experience a final moment of grace. She deems him “one of [her] own children!” and is shot repeatedly through the chest. When she dies, it states that her face was “smiling up at the cloudless sky”, signifying bliss. (“A Good Man”)

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In O’Connor’s other major work, “Good Country People”, the characters who are labeled as Christian do not live out their lives as such. The protagonist, Hulga Hopewell, is an atheist who believes in nothing whatsoever. In part due to the fact that she is an atheist, Hulga has a superiority complex due to her Ph.D. in philosophy and her wooden leg, which is labeled as her badge of honor. She uses this to make herself feel important and to put other people down. Her mother, Mrs. Hopewell, is a “devoted” Christian, yet keeps her copy of the Bible in the family’s attic. Hulga is shown to have faulty beliefs when she is in a fight with her mother; she cries out a quotation from a Christian philosopher named Malebranche; “We are not our own light!” (“Good Country People”)

Farther into the text, O’Connor introduces a seemingly well-to-do Bible salesman named Manley Pointer. He is described in the fashion of your everyday boy next door: clean face, nice hair, a neat suit, and a briefcase for doing business. Mrs. Hopewell automatically assumes that he is “good country people” because he is a polite and outwardly Christian man who “wants to devote [his] life to Christian service” and was a missionary for a while. (“Good Country People”) Hulga opens up her emotions to this man and truly believes that she loves him. Later in the story, it is revealed that this poster child of religious devotion is truly a con-artist. His bibles are actually boxes where he keeps liquor, condoms, nude photographs, and other prosthetic body parts that he has stolen. He eventually steals Hulga’s leg, leaving her speechless. Stunned, she still insists that he is a pure country Christian man. He then states that “[He has] been believing in nothing ever since [he] was born”, revealing that he is the true atheist in the story. (“Good Country People”) The significance of Pointer stealing Hulga’s leg is that it reflects her losing her shield of protection. It takes her down a notch and reveals her true self. O’Connor writes in another one of her letters, “the operation of the Church is entirely set up for the sinner; which creates much misunderstanding among the smug.” (O’Connor) This can be applied to Hulga, for she was pompous and felt superior to others, however, she eventually let go of her atheism and showed faint signs of her hidden Christianity. She had faith in this man, yet he went and betrayed her trust. In terms of “Christian Realism”, this reflects the sinfulness of humanity. The loss of her prosthetic is her own “awakening”, in the sense that the removal itself was a form of God’s grace. It allows her to realize that she’s at fault with her attitude toward life. This will change the way she acts in the future, towards others, including her cruelty to mother.

Flannery O’Connor’s use of her Christian background to explain the morality behind her stories’ plots shows the conflict between true faith and putting it on for show. Her style of writing reflects her beliefs and how God’s mercy applies to all people, no matter what walk of life they come from.

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Christian Realism in A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
“Christian Realism in A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
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