People can be affected by religion in different ways and The Misfit becomes the perfect character to uncover the grandmother's gullibility. She, in turn, is the perfect person to expose his evil nature. This contrast allows O'Connor uses to reveal the delicate nature of man. Somehow, in the midst of everything, the two people bond, leaving the grandmother with a false sense of hope. She believes, because she knows best, that she has transformed his life. She truly believes she can change him. Parini writes that at the moment he shots her, she realizes "they are connected, and through a horrible act of violence she has received a moment of understanding, if not grace" (Parini 231). The showdown becomes one between The Misfit's powerful convictions and the grandmother's shallow beliefs. O'Connor proves with these individuals the importance of being passionate about the right thing. Being passionate about Jesus is good, but one should be on the right side of that passion. This is much better than riding the fence.
We cannot discuss Hulga and contrasts without mentioning Manley. Hulga has the degrees she believes qualifies her to be rude and condescending to others. She is like Julian in that she sees nothing wrong with the fact that she is still living with her mother and actually depends upon her for care. With characters such as these, O'Connor exposes the "hypocrisy and valueless mores of contemporary American life" (Parini 230). Hulga is a hypocrite and, sadly, it takes a traumatic experience to force her to realize this. Oliver writes that Hulga's leg symbolizes her "false spirituality, that is, her rejection of religion for philosophy" (Oliver). It is clear that Hulga rejects God and even "revels in her rejection of God" (Oliver). She is proud of her religion of nothing and this sets the stage for her encounter with Manley. She finds herself daydreaming of him and considers taking "his remorse in hand and changed it into a deeper understanding of life. She took all his shame away and turned it into something useful." These kinds of thoughts are simply haughty. Hulga, the crippled woman living with her mom, thinks she can tech Manley a thing or two and she honestly thinks that while she can offer him the world, he has absolutely nothing to offer her, especially religion. Her pride led her straight into his trap. Because of this, Manley is equipped to expose her to her "true weakness and misplaced delusions" (Parini 232). Manley is a wolf is sheep's clothing but it is interesting to consider the fact that Hulga, too, is putting on a front for the world to see. She even has herself convinced of who she thinks she is. They are opposites looking to prove the same point: the world cannot get anything over on them.
Julian is contrasted with his mother in their story. Undoubtedly, these two characters share similarities, however, it is important to notice where they are different and how this difference comes about. Julian's mother molded him to be the prejudice man he was; she taught him to see through racist eyes. When Julian is faced with the sudden loss of his mother, everything in his world changes. Denahm writes, "His cries for help suggest not merely the panic of the moment, effacing his earlier claim of fearlessness; they suggest also his desperate awareness of the dark state of his own soul" (Denham). He sees her as she is, as she is leaving him and he also sees himself and he realizes that he is not the strong, able man he thought he was. Like Hulga, he is weaker than he thought he was and he is also easier to hurt than he wants to admit. Faced with morbid fear, these characters must look at what they have chosen to be their religion and evaluate whether it is beneficial to them or if they need to find fulfillment elsewhere.
O'Connor uses strong characters to cause readers to think about life and some of the issues we face. As humans, we are prone to be easy on ourselves when it comes to ourselves and sometimes it is difficult to see blemishes in our character. O'Connor helps us see our flaws by placing flamboyant, outstanding characters in her fiction. Stories often have religious undertones to help O'Connor proves her points about the delicate nature of man. In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," she uses the evil Misfit and the naive grandmother to show us what pure evil looks like. While we want to only see the evil in The Misfit, we must also look at the grandmother and her inflated sense of self that makes her think she can save the crazed murderer at her side. She suffered from a sense of self. She thought what she was doing and how she was behaving was good enough. At the end of the day, she was simply getting by, putting forth as little effort as possible toward her Christian cause. Her grumpiness ends when she begins to think The Misfit might actually kill her. While there can be no doubt about her sincerity in the moments before her death, we see this woman change from a nagging old woman to one telling a murderer to pray. Her religion was not enough to lift her or him at that point and both of them knew it. In "Good Country People," religion emerges through the character of Manley, the one we are inclined to truth and the one Hulga does trust. Manley dupes Hulga, and while this is bad enough, he dupes her, the one who believes she is too smart to be duped. Her religion of the world dos not save her from this character and, sadly, his religion does not either. She is prejudice and feels superior to those around her. In "Everything that Rises Must Converge," prejudice abounds from Julian and his mother. Julian believes he is more evolved than his mother is but his prejudice is simply more modern than hers. While her racism is stuck in the past, his lives and thrives in the present. As long as Julian can tell himself it does not exist because it is not like his mother's he will. Religious forces come in all shapes and sizes. We do not always need to be hit with the proverbial bolt of lightening to get the message about faith. Flannery O'Connor knew that many problems lurked under the guise of religion. She also knew that people were not perfect. In addition to this, people tend to use the word religion to do and think many things in their lives. Her characters do not reconcile to conflict people encounter with religion and their souls but they open our eyes to them, forcing us to look at ourselves in a different light.
Denham Robert D. "The World of Guilt and Sorrow: Flannery O'Connor's 'Everything That
Rises Must Converge." The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 4. 1975. Gale Resource Library.
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Malin, Irving. "O'Connor and the Grotesque." Flannery O'Connor. Broomall: Chelsea House
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Oliver, Kate. "O'Connor's Good Country People." The Explicator. 62.4. 2004. GALE Literature