Analysis of O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find
"The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. 'Now look here, Bailey,' she said, 'see here, read this,' and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head."
The story opens not with an image but with a sound ? that of the grandmother talking, incessantly and determinedly, as she does throughout the tale. Thus, in these opening sentences, we are already being prepared for The Misfit?s remarks at the story?s end, when he characterizes her as ?a talker.?
But what is more curious about this sentence is the impersonal reference to ?the grandmother.? The character will be referred to this way throughout the story, once as the ?old lady? and never by her proper name (a telling omission, given that the grandmother considers herself a ?lady,? and would no doubt be appalled by anyone referring to her as other than ?Mrs. _______ ). Nor do the members of her family address her by terms of kinship: Bailey never calls her ?Mother? in the story, and John Wesley and June Star abstain from using ?Grandma.? The narration insists on our perceiving her as ?the grandmother? through repetition of the phrase and by omitting references to any other aspect of her identity.
What might be the purpose of this narrative strategy? Whose viewpoint does the phrase ?the grandmother? indicate? Certainly not that of the grandchildren; to John Wesley and June Star, their grandmother is a much-resented ?she,? whom they discuss in the third person. The impersonal quality of the phrase suggests the viewpoint of a stranger -- a bystander, a detective, a reporter, The Misfit?s cohorts. The story ends where a murder mystery or crime report might begin, and we can imagine a detective retracing the family?s journey from Atlanta to The Tower to the dirt road, interviewing witnesses along the way. ?The grandmother? is how such witnesses would refer to the character, or as ?the old lady? ? and most certainly, not as ?the well-dressed lady with the violets on her brim,? as the grandmother might imagine bystanders commenting.
But there is a further significance to the phrase, ?the grandmother?: Both the viewpoint and the article, ?the,? link her character with The Misfit. When he encounters her after the car crash, he will see her in this impersonal way, deprived of her individuality as his nickname deprives him of his. This is quite ironic. Just as the press has stripped the fugitive of his proper name, so does the narrator of ?A Good Man Is Hard to Find? strip the grandmother of hers, creating a dark parallel between the two. The polite, well-mannered, southern lady, her racist views firmly intact,...