In the mid-1950’s, feminism was more commonly scorned than it became in the beginning of the 21st century. Everyday households were raised to believe the same as their parents who often minimized the female disposition, especially in the mind of a male. Old beliefs were taught to everyone’s children in order to respect the views engraved in them by their elders. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Flannery O'Connor expresses traditionalist values as consequential when people become too stubborn. The downside of sticking strictly to concervative views is shown through the grandmother’s actions, the way she is treated, and ultimately in her demise.
Throughout the story, the grandmother constantly tries to live up to the profile of what society should see a woman to fit. She wears “white cotton gloves” along with her “navy blue straw sailor hat” and “her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace” (O’Connor 2). It is stated that she puts on these garments, specifically, “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the side of the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor 2). The grandmother shapes herself into the womanly framework for the sole purpose of showing the world that if she dies, she will die a lady. Equally, the grandmother has respect for those who play the part of a gentleman. She tells the kids a story about about a man who “she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentleman…” (O’Conner 3). She also points out that he was a rich man, but her primary focus is that this man appeared to be a gentleman and that is her goal. To please a man, the grandmother tries to trust and respect the common white male judgement. She points and mocks a young negro standing in a doorway while the family is in the car and exclaims, “Wouldn’t that make a picture, now?” (O’Connor 3). She tries to tell her grandchildren that this is how she respects her parents and native state, which in today’s society is viewed as disrespectful to equal peers.
The males surrounding the grandmother character also show a significant downside to following conservative mannerisms when they show disrespect towards females. As discussed in Peter Jansen’s Feminist Analysis, “As the title suggests, the men in this story are short-tempered, sexist, and at worst, murderers” followed by the patriarchal viewpoint that “women can only be guided to redemption with the help from a good man” (Jansen 1). Upon hearing the grandmother’s opinion on Florida, the male grandchild, John Wesley, already shows signs of becoming a traditional male when he disrespects his grandmother by questioning, “If you don't want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?” (O’Connor 1). This staement instantly shuts down the importance of her opinion that the family should not go. In the ending scene, when the family is in a predicament, it is the male, Bailey, who yells that the rest of his family should let him handle the situation. This characterizes him as dominant amongst his family, as an adult male, and subordinates his peers.
As she wants to remain seen as a lady, the ending scene brings attention to what an average man wants to hear from a lady like the grandmother as she spits things out in an attempt to save her life. In order to please him, she compliments him by telling him “I just know you’re a good man” and tries to convince him that “Jesus would help you” (O’Connor 11). Since religion was taught in her upbringing, she exclaims it here when she repeats that he should pray. She tells him that she just wants to help him and listens to his story to gratify him. In this life or death situation she is faced with, the grandmother reflects on her views of gentlemen and cries out, “I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady” (O'Connor 12). His response to this appears to be upset, “as if he were going to cry” (O’Connor 13). Ultimately, this leads to him denying that statement and rising up to prove his worth as a man because men crying is often seen as embarrassing. The exasperation is what causes the Misfit to finalize the idea to shoot the grandmother. Although it could be considered a bit of an exaggeration, this ending scene is a final proof that sticking strictly to such harsh beliefs can lead to unfortunate situations.
This short story is teeming with traditionalist values that minimize the female disposition. The grandmother stubbornly sticking to her concervative views shows a negative effect from the way she acts, is treated, and in the end leads her to getting killed in a dangerous situation. As much as people find comfort in sticking to the mindset they were raised with, it is at length, dangerous when you are unable to adapt and overcome new problems that arise.