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The purpose of the present paper is to discuss the themes presented in two short stories, namely "A good man is hard to find" by Flannery O'Connor and in "Hands" by Sherwood Anderson. In order to have a better understanding of the concepts which these authors deal with we will also be referring to other short stories written by each of them. The social standards almost crush the individuals' true identity. There is a lack of real communication in people's lives. The divine manifests itself even in the grotesque. The tragic destiny of the characters often derives from their incapacity to know themselves, to express themselves and to make rational choices.
The social standards almost crush the individuals' true identity.. "A good man is hard to find" is the key message in the short story with the same name, yet the various meanings that the text reveals are very profound. The authors makes the reader wonder what being good actually means. The "bad" character in the story is called Misfit and reading between the lines we might understand that he is actually unfit for the social standards defining ethics and morality at the time.
Right from the beginning of the story, two characters are powerfully designed. One is the grandmother, the religious woman who loves her family and who is worried a bout a possible encounter with a bandit who had been going around the country shooting people. The woman mistakes a place for another and takes the family there. The cat that she had brought in the car without telling the others scares the driver ad they have an accident. The people who stop to "help" them are actually the group who traveled with the man that she feared so much. From a certain point-of-view one could state that it was the old woman who led the family to its terrible ending, although the crimes were not performed by her.
The description of the everyday life of this family seems to reveal the alck of real communication between its members ad also the vanity and selfishness which separates them. The grandmother realized that the place she was taking them to was the wrong one, yet she did not say anything for fear of being punished by her son. In addition, she brought the cat along without telling anyone, again fro fear of being told off. Yet these facts are united in a chain which leads the family to their ending.
The grandmother is a very religious person. She seems to know exactly what is good and what is evil. In the confrontation between her and Misfit, she is convinced that the bandit is the incarnation of evil, while she is the symbol of good. However, while the bandit's companions are exterminating her family, the old woman has the chance to talk to the man who would soon kill her and make some personal considerations upon the definitions of good and evil. The denouement of the story might be shocking, but what actually happens is that the grandmother questions the definition of her main values and realizes ad that it was imposed by the social standards. She declares that the man who killed her family is a good one and she also declares her love for him right before being killed.
We realize that there is a strong change of paradigm involved. Throughout the story the old grandmother often declares that "a good man is hard to find" and in the end she finds him in the figure of the person whom she considered to be the absolute evil. From the manner in which she attributes the adjective "good" to people we realize that "good" was meant t define someone who did not perform critical thinking and who had blind faith in god (even if he did not know why). O'Connor teaches us that blind faith in itself is worthless. Its value derives from the manner in which the Christian teachings are applied. When she meets Misfit the woman calls him "good" repeatedly in order to convince...
On the other had she wishes to convince herself that Misfit is good by nature so that she can hope for salvation. Nevertheless, the repetition of the term and its strong opposition to the action makes it loose its meaning. The social persona of the grandmother is deconstructed. She realizes that a person is not "good" is he or she adheres to the same social values as she does. All her assumptions about the Misfit are proven to be incorrect. I the end a real process of communication is installed and the woman understands that he is a violet person who seeks to be mean to the others.
The murder of the grandmother is a key scene. Right before the shooting she realizes that the man was evil, yet she finds the power to forgive him. Misfit on the one hand would declare that life offers him no pleasures. Before this episode he would declare that meanness was a source of pleasure for him. Therefore, the ending of the short story suggests there is a possibility for him to change what he is.
In "Hands" the plot is not as strong, yet the meaning transmitted by the short story is just as powerful. The grotesque of the situation is similar to the one in the previously discussed story. The main character is defined through the metaphor of his hands. The author declares that his hands are very expressive and that the people appreciate him for them. The hands are symbol of creation, of action. Therefore, at the beginning of the story the description suggests that the main character is in a certain way, a noble one.
The man is nevertheless too nervous in order to make us believe that the gestures and expressions of his hands are the result of a creative process. On the contrary, they seem to be the expression of a troubled mind. The exaggerated reaction that the man has after having touched the face of a boy makes us realize he may be hiding something. In fact, his "terrible" secret is that he is a homosexual. Anderson shows how powerful the social pressures ca be in imposing identities and life styles. The man had been banished from another town where his passion for people of the same sex had come out in the open. While he did not do ay harm to the boys to whom he taught, the locals almost kill him telling him repeatedly "to keep his hands for himself." This makes him afraid of his own hands, as if they were the cause of his true nature. He is crushed by the society values and lives alone and in constant fear. He knows that the hands are not the real problem, yet he is too afraid to admit it. This prevents him from being happy and from leading a normal life. In fact he looks as if he were sixty when he is only forty. His physical appearance, his life style and the extreme fear which overwhelms him to the point of spiritual paralysis make the character grotesque. He is terribly alone and unable to communicate with anyone. In the absence of communication he can build no relationship and is left with no alternative than that of loneliness and despair.
Nevertheless, in the final part of the story his figure is portrayed as having a relevant spiritual and religious connotation. The grotesque figure is assimilated with the one of a saint. Naturally some of the questions which come to mind refer to the very nature of the Christian values. The society of the time did not accept homosexuality. Yet it allowed for individuals to repress their own personality and live alone, on the brink of madness. This obviously was not fair and the trembling hands of Wing are a symbol of his induced spiritual impotence and crisis. The tragic destiny of the character derives from the incapacity to express himself. He suspects what his real nature is, but he is too afraid to manifest it. The comparison with the saint figure is actually based on his suffering.
The same themes and similar concepts can be found in other short stories. Let us take for example, "The egg" by Anderson. The characters want to overcome their own condition and become rich, acquiring an important social status. However, this desire doe sot come from themselves. They are influenced by the life styles models that society describes as being most appealing. They set out to do business,…
Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” details a road trip gone wrong, as a southern family steers themselves right into the hands of a serial killer. The protagonist is a grandmother with skewed social values and norms, as well as the beginnings of cognitive impairment or dementia. When she mistakenly tells her son to head to the wrong state to find a house from her
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