Flannery O’Connor’s most esteemed short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, ends conveniently coincidentally as well as gruesomely graphic. The book ends with a painfully lengthy climax, leaving readers with no definite resolution: The illusive and infamous “Misfit” (whose criminal presence has been known since the first page of the story) meets the grandmother and her family on an isolated dirt road in a rural area of Georgia. The family had “an ACCIDENT” (O’Connor p.12) and resultantly flipped their car into a ditch, immobile and vulnerable. The Misfit and his entourage arrive at the scene minutes later, and take members of the family one by one into the forest where they are killed. Finally, The Misfit himself and the grandmother are left alone. In a time of desperation, with her impending fate staring her in the face, the grandmother tries to convince the Misfit to let her live. She attempts to compel him through religion, hoping that if maybe she can restore faith within this corrupt and blasphemous man, he will become righteous and let her go. This ploy is unsuccessful and The Misfit kills the grandmother.
The incline towards the climax begins on page 13, “…they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if the occupants were watching them” (O’Connor 13). The mood of the story changes noticeably at this point from nonchalant and charming to a sudden tone of suspicion and threat. Because the story ends at a climax, the ending of the story also begins at this moment. The most prominent and most defined moment of climax in the story manifests itself in the dialogue directly prior to the grandmother’s death, in which a stark contrast is created between the grandmother’s fervent and desperate religious pleas and The Misfit’s (comparatively) calm rebuttal.
The ending to this story is clearly foreshadowed in it’s earlier pages. The Misfit appears immediately as a prominent character in the story, “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed towards Florida” (O’Connor 1). The story is set surrounding a car journey from Georgia to Florida, and the matriarch of the family is understandably wary of their destination after reading about the AWOL criminal in the paper.
While the story does not truly reach a satisfying resolution, the grandmother does find peace in the moment before her death with the sudden realization that, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” (O’Connor 22). Contrastingly, The Misfit finds no real solace in killing the grandmother, which he previously thought would be satisfying, “It’s no real pleasure in life” (O’Connor 23). This juxtaposition lends itself to the theme that is, grace and faith are found in only the direst situations and only to those who truly need it. In a her desperate state, the grandmother presents an absurd argument in which she attempts to convince The Misfit not to kill her by praising his family’s status and his religious upbringing. In the face of a convicted murderer, this argument is futile and her words become ridiculous. Her last words are arguably her most ludicrous, but in a sense, her most honest, genuine and truthful. Another possible theme is the notion that perhaps life on earth is so corrupt and the search for holistic, religious, contentment is so futile that only true peace can be found in heaven rather than on Earth. After all- there is no real pleasure in life and a good man is essentially impossible to find. Happiness and justice cannot be found by the most religiously righteous and self-proclaimed upstanding members of society (the grandmother) or for even the most corrupt and abhorrent people (The Misfit). Perhaps it is not so that a good man is hard to find, but that for man, a good life is hard to find.
“The River” ends equally as tragically as “A Good Man is Hard to Find” but with perhaps a more subdued climax. Harry/Bevel Ashfield returns to the river where he had been baptized the previous day and told that he now “counts”. Finding a peculiar form of salvation through this process, Harry departs from his house alone to pursue this feeling, this process, this place. Unbeknownst to Harry, he is being followed by an (implied) pedophile, Mr Paradise. Harry tries to recreate the feeling he felt the day before after being baptized in an attempt to achieve a sense of wholeness he does not possess in his home life but which he has been given a taste of through religion and faith. He attempts to do this by the only way he has known before, which is to submerge himself in water. However this time, Harry does not come back up. Harry is swept away by the current and drowns before Mr. Paradise can harm him.
The climactic moment of the story is when Harry reaches the river. In a metaphorical sense, this destination and Harry’s arrival there mirror that of a pilgrimage to holy land. Harry is drawn to the river by a spiritual, inexplicable force. His journey is -practically- impossible for a four year old, but accomplished by means of some sort of divine aid. The journey itself (when Harry leaves his house initially) is where the ending of the story begins. When Harry reaches the river, he is able at home in a way that he cannot when he is literally at home. He is drawn to this phenomenon, entranced by this yearning for belonging to the extent that he does not realize the sinister plot taking shape behind his back. His death, however, is not described as climactic but rather as peaceful, and written in such a way that forced readers to simply accept it.
The climax of the story is not foreshadowed prominently, however the ending as a whole is prophesied. Harry is immediately taken by the scene at the river the day before his death, suggesting that he may return to the place he was so drawn to. The next morning, the pull towards the river strengthened, “Very slowly, his expression changed as if he were gradually seeing appear what he didnt know he’d been looking for. Then all of a sudden he knew what he wanted to do” (O’Connor 46).
A possible theme of “The River” is identical to one of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Earth is such an abhorrent place that God will save those who are truly good and faithful by bringing them to Heaven. Harry is a victim of neglect at home, taken advantage of by Mrs. Connin’s sons, and was a potential victim of molestation or worse. However, Harry is saved before he can fall victim to a fate worse than death. Coincidentally, Harry is also saved after he has become a bonafide Christian through means of baptism. Harry was not saved by neglect or victimization before he was baptized, despite the fact that he was still in need of saving. Only after he has found God does Harry get saved, and taken out of a world that has subjected him to petty yet detrimental injustices. God can save those who need saving, and take them out of a despicable world into a utopian one, but only after they have fully committed themselves to Him.
Another theme is: Some people find God through inexplicable experiences, but complimentarily, God finds those who are in need of God and who are willing to accept him. Harry’s parents, while made out to be slovenly and probably “in need of God”, are not willing to accept him or have reason to search for his presence. Mrs. Connin, while also imperfect, has experienced great illness in her husband, and has opened herself up to god, subsequently finding solace and a sense of happiness and righteousness. Harry is constantly victimized in his life, and is almost blatantly searching for some form of reconciliation subconsciously. Those who are willing to accept God will find him. God will find those who need him. The connection between God and those whom he saves is cultivated equally by both parties involved. This is a mantra I imagine circulating through the minds of Mrs. Connin, Harry, and Flannery O’Connor.