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Flannery Oconnor And The South

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Flannery Oconnor And The South essay

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“A Good Man Is Hard To Find” and “Good Country People” are two short stories written by Flannery O’Connor during her short lived writing career. Despite the literary achievements of O’Connor’s works, she is often criticized for the grotesqueness of her characters and endings of her short stories and novels. Her writings have been described as “understated, orderly, unexperimental fiction, with a Southern backdrop and a Roman Catholic vision, in defiance, it would seem, of those restless innovators who preceded her and who came into prominence after her death”(Friedman 4). “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” and “Good Country People” are both set in the South, and O’Connor explores the tension between the old and new South. The stories are tow ironically twisted tales of different families whos lives are altered after trusting a stranger, only to be mislead.

Each story explores the themes of Christian theology, new verses the old South, and fallen human nature. In “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”, O’Connor introduces the reader to a family representative of the old and new Southern culture. The grandmother represents the old South by the way in which she focuses on her appearnace, manners, and gentile ladylike behavior. O’Connor writes “her collars and cuffs were 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 at once that she was a lady”(O’Connor 118). In this short story, “the wild diproportion of the terms, the vapid composure that summons up the ultimate violence only to treat it as a rare social opportuinty, and the cool irony with which O’Connor presents the sentence makes it both fearful and ludicrous”(Asals 132).

The irony that O’Connor uses points out the appalling characteristics of the grandmother’s self-deception that her clothes make her a lady and turns it into a comic matter. Flannery O’Connor goes to great length to give the reader insight into the characters by describing their clothes and attitudes. The fact that the grandmother took so much time in preparing herself for the trip exemplifies the old Southern tradition of self-presentation and self-pride. The grandmother takes pride in the way she presents herself because she wants everyone to know that she is a “lady”. Bailey’s, the grandson’s, family represents that of the new Southern culture that is more open to change, but they are not totally receptive to change.

O’Connor describes the children’s mother in contrast to the grandmother by what they are wearing; thus their clothes represent the age from which they are. The Children’s mother “still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white dot in the print”(O’Connor 118). The children’s mother is representative of the New South in which the Southern Lady is becoming less of a central figure within society. A lady of the old south would never wear slacks and tie her hair up in a kerchief to go out in public.

Under an old south mentality these actions would be considered very unlady like. O’Connor illustrates the tension between the old and the new south by the constant struggle between the grandmother, her son, and the daughter-in-law. O’Connor also poses the contrast between the old and new South in her short story “Good Country People”. Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman represent the old South because of the way in which they carry themselves and their traditional beliefs and values.

Mrs. Freeman works for Mrs. Hopewell who states “the reason for her keepin her so long was that they were not trash. They were good country people”(O’Connor 272). Mrs. Hopewell describes Mrs. Freeman and her two daughters as “two of the finest girls she knew and Mrs. Freeman was a lady and that she was never ashamed to take her anywhere or introduce her to anybody they might mett”(O’Connor 272). In contrast to Mrs. Freeman and Mrs.

Hopewell, Joy/Hulga represents the new south that is not concerned with self presentation in the way that the grandmother is in “A Good Man Is Hard TO Find”. Joy/Hulga did not care to participate in the morning gossip between the older ladies. O’Connor describes Joy/Hulga’s disregard for the old south and its sense of manners: When Hulga stumped into the Kitchen in the morning (she could walk without making the awful noise but she made it–Mrs. Hopewell was certain–because it was ugly-sounding), she glanced at them and did not speak.

Mrs. Hopewell would be in her red kimono with her hair tied around her head in rags. (275) O’Connor juxtaposes Joy/Hulga to her mother, Mrs. Hopewell, by contrasting her mannerism, clothes, and overall demure. Joy/Hulga is described as making awful noises in contrast to her mother whom is sitting in her red kimono across the kitchen from her. Mrs. Hopewell’s name is symbolic of her very hopeful and optimistic nature. Joy’s changing her name to Hulga represents her renouncing of the old Southern traditions imposed by her mother. Joy/Hulga does not conform to the social codes of the old south because she deliberately makes grotesque and unlady like noise and does not apologize for them.

Joy/Hulga is “forced by her physical disabilities to live at home, the girl’s existence has become one continuous of outraged rejection of the life around her”(Asals, 103). Joy/Hulga is also set apart from the old south because she has obtained a PH.D. in philosophy. O’Connor writes Mrs. Hopewell thought it was nice for girls to go to school to have a good time but Joy had “gone through”. .. The girl had taken the Ph.D. in philosophy and this left Mrs.

Hopewell at a complete loss. You could say, “My daughter is a nurse,” or “My daughter is a schoolteacher,” or even, “My daughter is a chemical engineer.” You could not say, “My daughter is a philosopher”. (276) Mrs. Hopewell feels that it is unlady like to pursue an education that far, but Joy/Hulga disregards this old southern sexist attitude about women and education. Joy/Hulga thinks she has “defined a self that is the antithesis of her mother’s”(Asals 104). Education and mannerisms of the old and new south are not the only contrasting views that Flannery O’Connor explores in these two short stories.

Christianity and fallen human nature are two other aspects that bring depth and ironic twists to “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” and “Good Country People”. In both stories, O’Connor explores the ideals and hypocrisies of the Christian religion and faith. Within O’Connor’s writings, the traditional Christian themes of “fall and redemption, nature and grace, sin and innocence” are explored (Bleikasten 138). In “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”, O’Connor questions the faith and beliefs in Christianity of the grandmother. At the closing of the story, when the grandmother is facing her own death, the Misfit says: Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead ..

and he shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can–by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him.(O’Connor 132) The Misfit’s view illustrates the active presence of an Evil force within the society. The grandmother assumed that if you came from “good people” that you would naturally be a “good person”.

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Flannery Oconnor And The South. (2019, Feb 05). Retrieved from