In his book A Good Man is hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor (1977) presents the theme of conflict in a broad perspective. This write-up therefore discusses the major conflicts in this book in such categories as internal conflicts and external conflicts. It takes as its main focus The Misfit and Grandmother.
The first perspective of conflict in the book is that which is symbolized by the weather and characters. Flannery O’Connor (1977) carefully illustrates conflicts in this book, majorly by keeping on mentioning the weather which he uses to symbolize the major scenes and the state of characters during such devastating scenes. He, for example, comments on the emptiness of the sky several times, especially after the family is involved in the car accident. In most cases this is the main element of a beautiful day. However, in this situation the empty and sunless sky is presented as mysterious symbols representing “the frame of the mind” of the characters.
From the story it becomes clear that the kind of strong relationship between the state of the sky and characters is shared between the Misfit and Grandmother. The sky can be understood as representing emptiness of the Misfit and state of being lost in a religious respect. When the Grandmother hears the gun shots from the woods, she begs the Misfit to pray to Jesus. Misfit in the same way mentions that at one time he was a gospel singer. This in the same way indicates that previously he had a connection with God but he is experiencing conflict over whether to accept this knowledge of God.
The second aspect of the conflict is the internal conflict involving both the Grandmother and the Misfit collectively and separately. These are conflicts that take place in the mind of an individual. It is described by Randolph and Strasser (27) as man versus himself conflicts.
The Grandmother considers herself to be above everyone else. As such, she is usually very quick to pass judgment on other characters. For instance, she disagrees with Bailey’s decision to take the children to Georgia, because it is where The Misfit, a murderer, is living. The only proof she has is the claim that she is guided by her conscience. This is revealed when she says that her conscience would not have allowed her to take the family to the same direction as The Misfit. Consequently, she fails to convince Bailey, something that disturbs her mind. However, when it becomes apparent that they all have to visit Florida, she gives up the fight and she even gets into the car the first in the morning of departure though not contented (O’Connor 3). However, when the family is executed by The Misfit, she never makes any attempt towards saving the children.
The Grandmother is equally in conflict with herself as indicated by her struggles to maintain her “lady” like appearance by wearing an outfit that she carefully selected. Another aspect of conflict involving The Grandmother is made clear during the scene at her execution. Right before the grandmother is executed, she tries to change the Misfit’s way of thinking by assuring him that he is a good man and that he comes from good people. He agrees with this concept but still finds no reason to spare her life. In the last few moments of her life she ponders on the thought of where she went wrong in her life. At this moment she realizes that she is not above anyone else but flawed like everyone she has criticized.
The Misfit is not an exception. Even though as the book continues, he is portrayed as having deeper spiritual thoughts, he is initially portrayed as a killing “machine”. In what can be seen as an internal conflict regarding religion, The Misfit questions the meaning of religion and his role in life. He equally demonstrates an understanding of crimes he has committed through his actions and proceeds to search for meaning of the punishment that he has received because of having been involved in such actions. He seems to believe that those punishments do not fit the crime, something that gives him a sense of self-awareness. According to him, the fact that he has a moral code is a true indication that he is right. Because he has such great beliefs that his actions are correct, it completely portrays the way in which things should be. He is thus given the right to pass judgment on the Grandmother who, on the other hand, lacks the kind of moral strength that he possesses. This enables him to earn the title “prophetic freak”.
Another occasion in which The Misfit is involved in conflict of mind is evidenced at the accident scene where Misfit lacks what to say and only acts in confusion. He is known to be a murderer but then he does not seem to be interested in killing anyone at the scene. He behaves in a manner suggesting that he is seriously thinking of whether to kill anyone or not. In the same way as was with The Misfit, one of The Misfit’s colleagues assesses the car and claims that it can take them only thirty minutes to fix. In his mind, they can fix the car in order to assist the victims. However, this contradicts their killing ambitions. In such a situation, making a decision becomes very difficult since the mind is divided. Robillard (43) notes that this may lead to very unwise decisions if there is no careful evaluation of the different conflicting ideas of the mind. This type of conflict therefore is seen to be a major cause of misunderstandings in this story.
The third category of this conflict that can be observed from the book is the external conflict. These are conflicts between individuals and other parties. It can take the form of individual versus individual or individual versus the society both of which are clearly witnessed in the story by O’Connor. The first aspect of external conflict illustrated in the book is the physical conflict. According to Randolph & Strasser (27), physical conflict is conflict between one individual and another one where some force is involved. In the story this is seen when the Misfit’s colleagues, Hirram and Bobby Lee forcefully drug Bailey and John Wesley, who are already in problems, into the wood against their wish. A similar case is evidenced in situation in which the Grandmother has to join the family for the trip to Florida despite having wanted to go to Tennessee.
The second aspect of the external conflict observed in the book is the moral conflict. It is the type of conflict where there is a struggle between one individual and another one or an individual and the society over what is wrong or what is right. From the story by O’Connor (25), it clearly appears at the scene of the accident, when Grandmother tells the Misfit that he is one of His children. The Grandmother, despite having known that the Misfit is not a good person, later on realizes the virtues of the society and begins to acknowledge that it is her responsibility to treat everyone with care regardless of their characters.
The moral conflict is also seen to appear in the same accident scene where Misfit’s mind ponders on who Jesus was and if he really raised the dead. He further casts doubts over the morality of raising the dead, while himself he was a killer. Additionally, moral conflict emerges when one of the Misfit’s colleagues says that they need only thirty minutes to fix the car. He is morally right since assistance is what can be expected in such a situation. However, he fails to do the victims the favor he is proposing as he is under bad influence of killers who are known for social injustices (Lorillard 43).
Another kind of conflict that is very apparent in this story is social conflict. According to Randolph and Strasser (28), this type of conflict occurs between different individuals or an individual and the society. It is normally a conflict over general respect and relation to other people. In the book A Good Man is Hard to Find this type of conflict occurs in the beginning of the story when the Grandmother is trying to convince Bailey not to take the family on the trip to Florida. However, Bailey just leaves without talking to her. Their conversation signifies lack of respect among the family members as no one pays attention to the other. Poor conversation therefore causes social conflict in this family.
Social conflict is also seen at the scene of the accident through the conversation between the murderers and the family. These murderers talk in very informal language which does not show any respect. On the other hand, the family talks in a very organized and formal manner. This kind of difference is therefore a challenge even to society as a whole as it leads to poor relation.
Another type of conflict that is evident in this story is the emotional conflict. According to Randolph & Strasser (28), this is conflict that arises due to the struggle about emotions of two different people. It is equally evidenced at the scene of the accident when Bailey shouted for help to the strangers and informed them that they did not need the orders which the strangers were issuing to them. This causes the conflict in which the strangers are not ready to understand the situation of this family for they just want to achieve their ambition of killing. There is also the evidence of emotional conflict when the Grandmother laments that Jesus is the giver of life and the Misfit only reacted by asking whether she was sure and why Jesus had to raise the dead.
Together all the conflicts in this story are seen to be leading the characters into chaos since every occasion leaves certain characters not satisfied. The Grandmother is not satisfied when she has to go for the trip to Florida but she just has to comply. And for that she is portrayed by the family as someone who just wants her wishes to be granted and is selfish to others. Socially, the murderers also cannot reason together and we see them killing the family members innocently.
In conclusion, the story A Good Man is Hard to Find demonstrates a conflict between or surrounding the two main characters, the Grandmother and The Misfit. The Grandmother presents herself in a manner that is, in a way, above everyone else and is swift to pass judgment on everyone else but herself. The Misfit, however, possesses an understanding principle that sets him aside from the Grandmother, thus, allowing him to pass judgment on the family as a whole.