Flannery O’Connor consistently references religion and its effects on American culture in her short stories. Her Catholic upbringing influences almost all her fiction, often paired with Postmodernism themes of dark imagery and skepticism. Although she often has a harsh portrayal of religion, Flannery’s point of view on religion itself isn’t critical.
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Rather, she criticizes any set of ignorant American morals, including Atheism. Moreover, her morally flawed characters often face a crisis that gives them clarity and truth in their beliefs: A moment of grace. O’Connor wished to reveal that America’s moral susceptibility to gullibility, poor judgment, and blind faith could be redeemed, but ultimately the destruction it causes may be irreversible. Throughout her short story A Good Man is Hard to Find, O’Connor ponders the moral journey of an old southern grandmother and parallels this to possible consequences of America’s undeniable culture of valuing ignorant beliefs. A family travelling by car to Florida gets into an accident, which becomes deadly when an escaped convict called The Misfit comes across the scene. Because the Grandmother recognizes him from a news report, he and his band of convicts decide to execute the entire family.
The Grandmother remains nameless in the story, which is significant in that a nameless character can represent a generic group, such as superficial Christians prevalent in the South during the late 20th century. Her religious beliefs are weak and merely surface level, as she constantly lies to her family and believes in the power of her dress and Southern manners to prove her religious piety and superiority; and she disguises her racism in kindly condescension (Boudreaux 151). Certain of the superiority of her rather half-baked Southern Christian morals, the Grandmother believes that she has the right to judge the goodness of others. When stopped at Red Sammy’s gas station and BBQ, she declared that Red Sammy is good because he let two strangers charge their gasoline on credit, leading to him be robbed of payment. This is significant, as O’Connor emphasizes how these Southern morals praise those who trust blindly, as opposed to valuing actual good qualities such as compassion or honesty. Flannery O’Connor allows the Grandma’s beliefs to be her downfall against the Misfit, emphasizing that feigned goodness can be more treacherous than genuine evil.
Although at first glance the Misfit’s code of violence seems senseless, it is the grandmother’s code that proves to be inconsistent and feeble in comparison. This irony emphasizes that compared with her hollow faith in Jesus”whom she invokes only to save her own life”the Misfit’s agnosticism is nearly admirable (Boudreaux 151). The grandmother naively calls him a good man, however; this only spotlight how her moral compass is skewed and based on customary and thoughtless morals handed down to her from the old South. Her reasoning rests almost entirely on race and class, as she claims that he doesn’t have common blood and therefore won’t shoot a lady (O’Connor pg). Her inability to judge character leads her to be vastly wrong about the Misfit. Ultimately, when the Misfit confronts her religious beliefs and challenges her to think deeply about whether Jesus was able to raise the dead, the Grandmother’s faith crumbles.
She is easily led down the garden path and is quick to agree with his skepticism, revealing that she has merely accepted the Southern construct of faith that she had been fed unquestioningly and weakly. Behind it is nothing of substance. Ironically, when the Misfit challenges the merit of customary religion, his deep thought creates a consistent yet evil moral code that proves to hold more substance than the Grandmother’s fake goodness. From his experiences as a convicted criminal, he has proven to himself that all religion is pointless and is faithful to his own code No pleasure but meanness (O’Connor pg). Despite his moral code being crude and violent, it never waivers, and therefore triumphs as true in the end. O’Connor uses this to drive home the point that imitation of goodness without genuine thought and consideration cannot prevail over evil. Flannery wished to reveal America’s susceptibility to poor judgment due to blindly following beliefs rather than cultivating deep understanding. O’Connor’s second over-arching theme is the cost of redemption, for both Grandma and America itself.
Gaining clarity and truth in faith through violent situations are important in Christian references, as when we reflect that in religion grace and salvation often come through violence or the threat of violence”Abraham leading Isaac up the hill of sacrifice, the early martyrs, not to mention the Passion itself”we can accept the grandmother’s redemption at the muzzle of a gun (Boudreaux 151). The Grandmother, moved by the Misfit’s genuine search for truth about Jesus, exclaims Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children (O’Connor pg). God finally grants her clarity before she is shot, her compassionate revelation that all humans are children of god despite race or class, despite what she had blindly believed beforehand. However, the grandmother’s moral journey comes with significant destruction and may in fact be too late as readersmay be forgiven for wondering whether the grandmother’s redemption is worth the lives of four people (Boudreaux 151).
Fallout 3, a retro post-apocalyptic open world video game, addresses these overarching themes with a character very similar to the Grandma in A Good Man is Hard to Find. The game allows its story to be driven by the good, bad, and ugly of American values. In an alternate technologically advanced 1950’s American society, nuclear war broke between China and America over Communism, and what was once two global superpowers became two big apocalyptic wastelands. One particular bomb in Washington D.C. fell but didn’t explode, and The Church of the Children of Atom, a cult that worships the undetonated atomic bomb, grew and centered their life gullibly around its radioactive presence. The cult itself it ties into O’Connor’s overarching theme, as it shows the consequences of America’s undeniable culture of valuing ignorant beliefs. In the game dark Christian imagery evokes references to actual cults that have appeared in American History and reflects O’Conner’s postmodernism cynical outlook. In Fallout 3, you interact with Mother Maya, who is similar to the Grandma in that she falls victim to her blind beliefs and is susceptible to poor judgement. Raised in the nuclear town and married to the sinisterly charismatic leader of the cult, confessor Cromley, she never questioned or deeply contemplated her absurd beliefs.
Certain of her moral superiority, she also believes that she is the right person to judge your goodness. However, upon agreeing with her air of reverence for atom when she says Atom’s power penetrates us all, does it not? Soon, every soul will revel in His glory ( Fallout 3), she incorrectly senses your goodness and allows you into the cult (which you plan to destroy). This lapse in judgment mirrors the Grandmother declaring that Red Sammy is a good man merely because his blind trust and values are aligned with her own. Similarly, upon choosing the option to instead confront Mother Maya’s religious beliefs and challenge her to think deeply about whether the bomb can cause harmful radiation, Mother Maya’s faith crumbles. Much like the Grandma who is quick to agree with the Misfit’s skepticism, she too realizes that she merely accepted the construct of faith that she had been fed unquestioningly and weakly. Now unable to infiltrate the cult, you can convince her to detonate the bomb and see the truth for herself. In what is perceived as a moment of grace and clarity, before she leaves, she admits It saddens me to think how quickly we believe in things” (Fallout 3).
Paralleling the Grandma’s moral journey, her redemption comes too late and with mass destruction and loss of life. Today, America’s susceptibility to poor judgment due to blindly following dogma rather than deeply held beliefs is a rampant and relevant subject. As a culture, we too often value blind trust, as opposed to treasuring actual good qualities such as truthfulness. Fake news is spread like wildfires on Facebook and other better social media. Americans are prone to believing headlines and praising the news source as good for having agendas that align with their own, without a second thought on its merit or truth. Perhaps whether or not America’s moral susceptibility to gullibility, poor judgment, and blind faith can be redeemed is a ticking time atomic bomb matter. This call for change and redemption before America meets its demise is what O’Connor wished for readers to consider.
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