Reflections on Cringing Through "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

DISCLAIMER: spoilers, subjectively offensive language, and usage of the impersonal “you”

I can’t remember exactly where I was when I first read Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Although, I remember that I was in art school – it was assigned for the required Narrative Storytelling class – so I was probably sitting in the Starbucks on New Montgomery Street. And although I probably didn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear reports of me gripping my scalp with both hands as I sat there with my eyes on the text of the Xeroxed pages, involuntarily exclaiming, “OH MY GOSH PLEASE STOP TALKING WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING STOP!!!”

From the beginning of the story, the “grandmother” (we’re given no other name for the character) says plenty of things that prompt eye rolls. She’s manipulative, childishly selfish, racist. But when she started repeatedly telling an outlaw holding her at gunpoint that he should pray – it was inconceivable to my tiny, art school mind. It was alarming behavior, even from this character who had filled up the previous pages with her own short-citedness and vanity.

Before she even gets into the prayer part, the grandmother tells this man, the Misfit, who’s got the gun, “you shouldn’t call yourself the Misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart.” If your car’s busted up, and you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, and this guy’s henchmen just took your son and grandson into the woods to kill them, you don’t start telling dude-with-a-gun what he should and should not do unless you’re suicidal (right?) – which I knew she wasn’t because she asked him several times, “You wouldn’t kill a lady, would you?”

Then the grandmother starts in with the Jesus talk. She tells the Misfit to pray. Pray and Jesus will help you. Oh, you were in juvie when you were a kid? That’s when you should have started praying. Which was especially grating to me, because at the time, what I knew about prayer was that it was what televangelists told you to do – the kind from infomercials with the blue sky and clouds going in the background – the kind that, to my nineteen-year-old mind, would logically be the first to die in such a situation. Because I assumed that everyone, including but not exclusive to people who have no trouble hurting other people, were easily annoyed with polluted, religious shittiness.

Furthermore, it only made sense to my nineteen-year-old, scalp-tearing self that IF YOU’RE BEING HELD AT GUNPOINT, you don’t tell the dude with the gun how he should have dealt with his childhood trauma. I mean, yeah, the Misfit eventually kills her, but I was surprised he took as long as he did, it only made sense to me that he would have blown her brains out by then.

Then I dropped out of art school, became a Christian (no correlation, that I’m aware of, with Flannery O’Connor), and have been made to read “Good Man” 3+ times since I enrolled in “regular college” (a term which here means, not art/vocational school). For those 3+ times, there’s been no cringing. Because, Jesus.

It’s not like I’ve seen all possible facets of church culture, but I have been exposed to both a group of Pentecostals that were conservative to, I’m told, South Park proportions, and also to a group of less “out there”, albeit basically still conservative Presbyterians. Thus, I have a better understanding of Christians and Christianity than televangelist infomercials with clouds scrolling in the background (which I never had firsthand experience with anyway), so when the grandmother, in this highly precarious situation, starts laying down the Jesus talk, it’s like, “Yep.”

Seemingly batshit people, with few-to-no redeeming qualities that my previous self could discern, talk Jesus in the face of imminent adversity. All the time.

People who appear to have absolutely no regard for established social constructs and what is and is not polite, nor what is commonly considered as wise, will use spiritual warfare terminology where they feel is applicable. You can carry all the weapons you want, it won’t stop them from asking you if you’ve prayed lately or how you feel about God. There are people who will ask more probing questions or make even more eschatologically provocative statements than the grandmother ever asked the Misfit.

The lion will lay down with the lamb and the wild animals will be like pets.

The end is near.

The Rapture is real.

Lies from the Enemy.

Abundant life, something something…

Praisealleuiah! Call me!

There’s an entire church-vernacular that makes the grandmother’s previously-conceived-as crazy talk look considerably tame. What she said was once weird enough to qualify my non-believing, nineteen-year-old veins to pulsate with an all-encompassing, unadulterated essence of WHAT THE FUCK. Not so much anymore.

I went to church and I gained fluency in Churchish. Has the grandmother gone from out-of-touch to totally out-to-sea when she starts telling the Misfit he should have prayed when he was in juvenile hall? No. She’s just speaking Chruchish – and being pretty sparing in her vocabulary, too.

Was the Jesus talk a BAD choice on the part of the grandmother?

Well. That’s another post.

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