“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.
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.
While I wait for Daniel and the Sun Sword to hit the presses NEXT SUMMER, I’ve been working on the second book in the Sons and Daughters series, and I recently hit the 100-page mark! For some reason that’s always been a major milestone for me. So…Huzzah!
On a different note, I’ve had several people ask about the publishing process in general. It’s quite fascinating, really. That is, if you love learning about how millions of people subject themselves to cruelly slow tortures devised by the literary industry. Here’s a break-down for those who can stomach it:
Some people (like yours truly) skipped the literary agent steps and submitted straight to publishers. And I have to say, Ellechor was awesome and quick getting back with me, but that has been the exception, in my experience. If you’re interested in those big NY publishing houses, don’t even think about submitting your book unless you have an agent. They’ve exiled writers to the moon for less. I swear.
So there you have it. Throw in a few racks, thumb-screws, and public burnings, and you’ve got the picture. But despite all that…it’s worth it!
Writers are crazy.
Oh yeah, and just so the title of this post is accurate: I have some stupid slugs in my garden. There.
CONTEST GUIDELINES: If you’re a middle schooler, high schooler, or college student and a writer, here’s your chance to shine. Sign up to follow my blog at http://www.nathanlumbatis.com, and then send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org letting me know you are registering for the contest.
RULES: Submit a short story or the first chapter from your manuscript (app. first 15 pages or less) by email on or before May 23rd. Most genres are welcome, but any inappropriate material (gore, sexually explicit themes/scenes, etc.) will automatically disqualify the entry.
WINNERS: The best three entries will be chosen as winners: one from middle school, one from high school, and one from college. They will then receive a written critique of their entry, and the edited version of their work will be posted on my website and social networking profiles.
“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.