At the story’s end, the Misfit says of the Grandmother, “She would of been a good woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Flannery O’Connor may not necessarily believe that being exposed to violence makes us better people, but the message is clear: violence changes us.
As Flannery O’Connor said when delivering remarks on the story, “I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.” Up until the very end, each member of the family, most of all the Grandmother, acts almost exclusively out of self-interest. They do not consider questions of right and wrong, religion and grace, or even how to take into account the needs of others. They simply act on their petty instincts without much reflection or moral thought. But when she is subject to violence and forced to confront her own impending death, The Grandmother is suddenly capable of a more authentic and spiritual experience. The Grandmother’s everyday considerations are likely the most petty and banal of anyone in her family, but when she is faced with her own mortality she encounters an unexpected moment of “grace”—she feels as if the Misfit were her own son, and reaches out, physically, hoping to save or comfort him. In Christian tradition (and O’Connor was a Catholic) “grace” means the unearned favor of God, but in many of O’Connor’s stories, it more specifically signifies a moment of beauty and truth that is divine in nature—an epiphany that can pierce through the harshness or pettiness of life.
In the end, however, the Grandmother’s “moment of grace” only results in her death. O’Connor’s world is a harsh one, and grace does not come easily. Instead, it is often accompanied by suffering, violence, and death. For someone like the Grandmother, who is so caught up in everyday banality and her own self-interest—someone so insensitive to real life—only the harsh awakening delivered by violence can cause her to open her eyes and experience something on a different, more spiritual plane.
Violence and Grace ThemeTracker
Violence and Grace Quotes in A Good Man is Hard to Find
“I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”
The grandmother was curled up under the dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her all at once.
The car continued to come on slowly, disappeared around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on the top of the hill they had gone over. It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile.
“Listen,” Bailey began, “we’re in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is,” and his voice cracked. His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he remained perfectly still.
“I was a gospel singer for a while,” The Misfit said. “I been most everything. Been in the arm service, both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet . . . I even seen a woman flogged.”
There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called, “Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!” as if her heart would break.
“Then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can—by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.”
She saw the man’s face twisted closer to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest.