On “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
For example, Roman Polanski is a wonderful film director.
He’s also a child molester.
The two things are not mutually exclusive.
His talent doesn’t make him a good person, and his crime doesn’t make him a bad director.
I preface this entry this way because, in talking about the literary institution that is Flannery O’Connor, you really can’t not mention that she may have been a racist. It’s a subject of debate, but she was indeed a “conservative Southerner.”
A recent biography of O’Connor by Brad Gooch explores both sides of the argument, and comes to a decision that O’Connor was (in the words of the Catholic Herald article about Gooch’s book) “racist but only within the context of her time.“
O’Connor was a Georgia woman who grew up in a different time than the one we live in now, which is not to justify her bigotry, but only to try and keep it in perspective.
Her potentially (or likely) being a racist doesn’t make her a bad writer.
Far from it, she’s quite remarkable.
Classified often in the “Southern Gothic” tradition, her work is often gritty and non-apologetic in it’s portrayals of people, both white and black. People are flawed and dishonest and mean.
In her most famous collection of short stories – “A Good Man is Hard to Find” – we’re introduced to a plethora of characters with failings. In the title story, there’s an escaped criminal called “The Misfit” who kills a family out on a ride. Then there’s the little boy at the heart of “The River,” who lies about his name to get Baptized against his mothers wishes. In “The Life you Save may be your own,” a drifter wins the respect of an old woman, who give him her handicapped daughter to marry. He leaves her in a diner after the marriage. There’s also a con-man masquerading as a bible salesman who literally leaves a one-legged girl trapped in a hayloft.
Yeah, these people pretty much suck.
However, they’re thrillingly written by a masterful writer who knows her voice and the people she’s writing about.
All in all, the collection contains 10 short stories, and a greater number of tricky characters. It’s absolutely worth a read.
[For more information/If you're interested -- Film or Television versions were made of "The Life you Save May be your own" (starring Gene Kelly and Agnes Moorehead - of Bewitched!), "The Displaced Person" (starring Samuel L. Jackson), "A Circle in the Fire," "Good Country People," and "The River."]