“The Truth Will Set You Free”
William Blake once wrote, “When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do.” In Flannery’ O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” O’Connor strives to communicate truth to her readers in a much more directed and intentional way. Her truth-telling comes from an intention to convince, or inform, the ignorant. O’Connor’s religious beliefs led her to do so; she spread the truth to others just as Jesus did—through parables. Stories touch the heart, while overt direction tends to offend. Nevertheless, Flannery O’Connor writes to convince the ignorant and apathetic using a robust and sometimes hard-to-swallow theme of hypocrisy throughout “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
The very names of O’Connor’s characters demonstrate her theme of hypocrisy. O’Connor intentionally names two of the antagonists, June Star and John Wesley, symbolically. With further analysis, it becomes evident that “June Star” is a name symbolic of astrology and horoscopes, practices which are prevalent in pagan religions such as Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism, and Shintoism. At the same time, the name “John Wesley” is symbolic of Christianity— the religion that O’Connor practices herself. The real life John Wesley was a revivalist and the founder of the Methodist church. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the two children act horribly on a car ride to Florida After the car accident occurred, both June Star and John Wesley screamed, “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” but were disappointed that no one was killed. To the reader, there is no difference in their behaviors (185; 189). Evidently, O’Connor wants her readers to analyze the symbolism she provides through these two characters. Her apparent intent in developing June Star and John Wesley as practically the same person is to cause offense by demonstrating their hypocrisy regardless of their religious affiliation. This consistency of awful behavior displays one of many clues into O’Connor’s theme of hypocrisy.
The character of Grandmother is similarly oblivious to her hypocritical behavior. She tells June Star to be ashamed of herself in public, yet does not say a single word to her in terms of discipline once the family returned to the car (186). Grandmother does this because she truly does not care about the actions of June Star; she only cares about how June Star’s rude behavior may reflect upon her as a “lady.” Grandmother also wears white gloves and elegant clothes in public so that she would be recognized as a lady (184). It could be said, therefore, that her attire provides the reader with a concrete symbol of hypocrisy: white for an outward display of purity and class juxtaposed against her manipulative and uppity behavior. Grandmother’s character proves to be the most effective example of hypocrisy—O’Connor writes her to be like a normal person a reader would see in 2014.
Not only do O’Connor’s name choices and character development confront the reader with the various guises of hypocrisy, but she also further emphasizes the shallow piety of her characters by juxtaposing them with the character The Misfit, who is the embodiment of the opposite evil: one who is perfectly aware of his own sins, but who is nonchalant and apathetic toward them. The Misfit very clearly states, “Nome, I ain’t a good man,” and continues to provide examples of why and how this is true (191). With this comparison, O’Connor is provoking internal conflict within her readers. As my English class discussed this story, the general consensus was that this character is a terrible person deserving no mercy. But I began to think, “Is it worse to do bad things, know it, and not hide it than to do bad things, know it, but act like you have it all together?” One could say that they are equally bad. After acknowledging this internal conflict within myself, it became clear that O’Connor is challenging her readers to question their own choices, and to examine their attitude toward their mistakes.
To put it simply, Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is a literary slap in the face. O’Connor’s underlying, yet overwhelming, theme of hypocrisy provides convincing, and somewhat forceful, truth to readers. From my perspective, O’Connor’s purpose for this parable is to provoke her audience to reflect upon their own lives and choices. She simply painted a literary picture of various common expressions of hypocrisy so that readers will become aware of the darkness around, and within, themselves. O’Connor’s ideal world would not necessarily be made of all faultless people, but comprised of people who are aware of their sins, and who deal with them appropriately.
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Literature and the Writing Process. Eds. Elizabeth McMahan, et. al. Boston: Longman, 2014. 183-93. Print.
Chapter 1: I’m Jackie Jones
My name is Jackie Jones, and I’m 13-years-old. I have two adoptive siblings, a mom, and a dad. I go to church. Go to school. Have friends.
You would think that I’m a normal, everyday kid, right?
But what if I said there was more to my life than what I’ve told you? What if I said I had secrets? Secrets that would change my life and other certain people’s lives forever? What if I said I knew stuff? Stuff that would put me and those certain people in danger? What if I said I was . . . an alien? Not from Canada, but from out of this world?
My name is Kenyundimensog, but you can call me Kenyun. My people are called the Sumis because my home planet is Sumania, which is something like twenty-five galaxies away from yours. In case you’ve never travelled through space, that’s ridiculously far away.
Why am I here? I was sent to your planet to retrieve an artifact one of our people stole. He’s a traitor to our kind, and he was my best friend. Oh, and he decided to hang out on your planet. Surprise! I hate to say this, but he is ten times more powerful than a normal human. Bummer, right? Even his name sounds terrifying. Kenyogalmenjink. Pretty horrible. But we called him Kenyo for short.
Kenyo was tired of Sumania. It’s a long story, but let’s just say he had some trouble with bullies and didn’t get along with the king. So what did he do? He snuck into the royal treasury and into a secret vault (which isn’t so secret anymore), and stole a huge crystal that had amazing powers to hold the planet together. Oh, and did I forget to mention the crystal also provided us with all the food, energy, and other supplies our planet needed? Well it did.
Not that Kenyo cared. He just grabbed the crystal, hopped onto an escape launcher, and punched in a destination for the farthest planet with life forms away from Sumania.
So that’s why I was sent. Because I was his closest friend and apparently everyone thought I could talk him into returning the crystal. Though they had to know I would end up battling him. Jerks.
And I didn’t have much choice. Without the artifact, our planet wouldn’t survive ten Earth years. Which isn’t very long. One year on our planet is thirty-and-a-half years on yours. Translation: Sumania had about three years to survive.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Kenyo found out I am here. Which is why I disguised myself as a boy named Jackie Jones and snuck myself into an orphanage to get adopted. It’s the perfect cover.
So now I’m stuck on some far-away planet without any help from my people. I guess I should count myself lucky for all my military training, though I can’t say I pictured myself using my skills on my best friend. The most support I get is a nightly pep-talk from the Sumanian ruler, King Domesicanesetical (or King D for short). It’s the same each time. My alarm goes off at midnight, I pull out some Dimensional Gel, squirt it on the ground, and a portal to Sumania opens up, revealing King D’s worried face.
“Don’t worry, King D. I’ll find the traitor and restore the planet to its former glory!” I assure him.
His panicked look tells me he doesn’t buy my confidence. “I wish I could say the same. I put all my faith into you. Do not fail us!”
“I won’t. I give my Sumanian Promise!” I say.
The king’s face turns purple. “You know what happens when you don’t fulfill a Sumanian Promise!” he yells. “The whole galaxy will blow up if you don’t fulfill that promise! That promise hasn’t been made in over a thousand years!” He starts sobbing.
An old superstition. But still, his panic almost had me convinced it was true.
“We’re dooooomed!” he cries as he fades away and the room goes dark. The gel oozes back into the bottle.
It’s nice to know he has such faith in me.
Chapter 2: The Fight
It had been two-and-a-half years since I landed on Earth before I’d found any trace of Kenyo. In case you haven’t been following, that meant my time was seriously running out. I was beginning to think I’d get to see if the whole Sumanian-Promise-galaxy-explosion thing was true. But that’s when my luck changed.
I was following a hunch I’d had after a gas station in Florida was attacked by a teenage boy with super-human strength and tentacles. After searching the area, I stumbled into an empty cave. There, in the ceiling, was the Sumanian crystal. It provided the only light, but it was strong enough to illuminate the whole cave, which looked about two miles long. Half of the cave’s floor was covered in water, and I could tell from the way it bubbled and churned that it was full of sea life.
I found Kenyo sleeping in a shack at the water’s edge. I pulled out my sword and prepared to chop off his head when he snapped awake.
With one swift motion, he slapped the weapon out of my hand and put me in a headlock. One twist and he would have killed me. I elbowed him hard in the stomach, and he bent over groaning.
There was my chance!
I slipped out of his arms and grabbed my sword, turned, and swung. He dodged it too late, and I grazed his ear and the side of his face. It was a small wound, but I could tell he was furious. He wiped away the blood and balled up his fists.
Then the unexpected happened.
A tentacle flew out of his side right under his ribs and wrapped around me. It lifted me up three feet off the ground. Another tentacle came squirming out of his other side, snaked toward my face, and poked me in the eye.
How dare he!
And then it slapped me. Then again. And again. And again. This went on for about five minutes as Kenyo rolled on the floor in laughter.
Finally, I was able to twist my sword arm free and slash at the tentacles. They fell to the floor and wriggled around for a few seconds before falling still. Kenyo screamed in agony and anger as I circled him, my back to the water.
Before I could make another attack, he whistled. The water behind me erupted. A shark the size of a whale burst from its surface and sank its teeth into my leg as its bulky, torpedo-shaped body slid back into the depths. I fell to the ground as it pulled me with it. Once in the water, I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance. Ignoring the blinding pain, I twisted and swung my sword around like crazy. The shark’s skin was so tough I barely made a scratch on its nose, but it was enough. Its teeth loosened, and I flung myself away from the water just as the shark disappeared beneath the surface. I made sure I was out of reach, and then turned to face Kenypo once more. That’s when I realized he was escaping, the crystal in tow behind him by a rope.
I jumped to my feet and ran as fast as I could, quickly catching up thanks to the huge crystal slowing him down. I swung by swung my sword at him, but he dodged. Then I did the next thing that came to my mind.
“Kenyo! The King!” I yelled. “The King has come for us. He’s right there!” I pointed to the other side of the crystal. He realized it was a silly trick, but his hesitation was all I needed. I slashed at the rope with my sword, and it snapped in two. Then I slashed at his leg. Kenyo dropped to the ground, clutching his thigh where I’d nick him. In one quick motion, I pulled out the bottle of Dimensional Gel and emptied the entire thing. The portal to King D flew open. He was very surprised to see me, as you can imagine, but before he could say anything, I shoved the crystal through. There was an ear-splitting cracking sound as the edges of the portal stretched to their limit. Then finally, with a blinding blast of energy, it squeezed through. The blast knocked me backwards so hard I hit my head on the floor. I was barely aware of the portal and the crystal disappearing completely. Before I blacked out, I saw Kenyo’s form standing over me. I swung my sword wildly and felt it make contact. The last thing I remembered was Kenyo collapsing to the ground next to me.
I woke up in a hospital bed, but it wasn’t on Earth—I was home! I sat up and was surprised by the darkness of the room. The only light was a dim lamp by my bed. Then the lights popped on and the King, his guards, and my Sumis family were in the room with an Earth cake and a bunch of sodas (how did they know?). I looked at the window and saw a crowd standing around the hospital. The next two weeks was nothing but celebration for my saving the galaxy.
I never found out what happened to Kenyo. Maybe he died. Maybe he didn’t. But since we got our crystal back, I guess he’s your problem now.
If you are an alien and want to chat about my Earth experience, just send a message to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The sequel to this book will be coming out Neveruary 32, 2014. Bye!
Michael Taylor: Friday, June 13th
Justin McNabb: Friday, June 20th
Emily Butler: Friday, June 27th
Please congratulate these young writers! They did an awesome job!
The writing contest is now officially closed. Thanks to everyone who submitted!
Over the next week, I’ll be reading the entries. Winners in each category will have their manuscript returned with suggestions for edits prior to the submission being posted up on my website. I’ll also give some less detailed editorial suggestions to those who didn’t win as a way of saying thanks for entering.
So far, I’ve had several AWESOME people make several AWESOME submissions to my AWESOME writing contest!
But it’s not too late. If you’re a 6th grader, high-schooler, or college student and you’re about to BURST with a story of your own, submit it for consideration.
It can be a short story or the first chapter of a book (15 pages or less) from any genre of fiction or non-fiction. A winner from each age group will receive a written critique of their story, and will have the edited version of their work posted on my website.
There is no cost for submission, and the deadline is May 23rd. See my website for more details.
“When did I start on this path?”
Do you ever ask yourself that question? It’s something I’ve thought about a lot. When did I first know I wanted to marry my wife? When did I realize I wanted to become a counselor? When did I begin to love writing?
For you, the questions might be different, but they’re worth reflection. It’ll give you insight into how God has orchestrated your life: led you, pushed you, given you reign, or smacked you upside the head. The flip-side? It’ll encourage you for the future. Confused about something in your life? Not sure how all the pieces will fit together? Wait and watch. See how God will use it. Life is like a mystery story where every detail is there for a reason.
I remember when I really started on the path to writing. I didn’t know what it would come to in the end (and still don’t, if I’m being entirely honest). But it all began when I was homeschooling as a teenager. Nearly every day, my sister and I would hurry to finish our lessons so we could go exploring. The eastern fork of the Choctawhatchee River ran behind my house, and the sloping, wooded river basin was the perfect place to get lost, forget about the real world, and set up camp underneath an ancient beech tree. It was ideal for a little writing. And great inspiration for story-scenes and maps, which every fantasy author knows is a must.
What about your story? Your gifts? Your abilities? Already figured out how God will use them in your life, or are you still waiting to bloom? Just give it time. It is spring, after all.