Many authors use a theme of religion in their pieces. Using religion, an author can go many routes: a path of atonement, self discovery, or even the realization of one’s faith. In Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the reader follows the journey of a family’s road trip and their unfortunate encounter with a penitentiary escapee, The Misfit. The story centers around a morally corrupt and self righteous grandmother’s spiritual revelation after meeting The Misfit, who is a questioning and seemingly religious man. O’Connor uses The Misfit as a symbolic representation of faith and his interaction with the grandmother to show salvation and grace are open to everyone.
The Misfit plays the biggest religious role in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” He relates himself directly to Jesus when saying they both have “thrown everything off balance” but quickly counters that idea when explaining, unlike him, Jesus “hadn’t committed any crime” (1221). The Misfit’s comparison of himself to a figure of faith is the largest indicator that he symbolizes religion in this short story, even though he dismisses the idea immediately after. His comparison shows he is questioning his own religious values, since people do not usually compare themselves to things they think have no relation or value to them. By dismissing his own comparison, it shows The Misfit thinks of himself as someone who is “below” a religious figure and not worthy. He believes the fact he has committed crimes makes him a criminal and therefore inferior to someone like Jesus. His direct comparison and then counter hint at the idea that his unrealized faith and importance will impact the story, foreshadowing to his revelation with the Grandmother. The reader also learns The Misfit was once a gospel singer, showing he has a religious background. Throughout the entire encounter with The Misfit, he repeatedly states he has been serving time for crimes he did not commit with statements like “I known that was a lie” and “I never had anything to do with it” (1220). Punishment for unremembered sins alludes to the early Christian belief of the “original sin.” This belief states that all faith followers are born sinners, and must live their lives trying to be saved by God. By admitting he is being punished for things he never did, The Misfit subliminally acknowledges he is living his life with an “original sin.” The self proclaimed nickname of “The Misfit” is also a symbol of a religious figure. The Misfit says he calls himself The Misfit “because [he] can’t make what all [he] done wrong fit what all [he] gone through as punishment,” further relating back the belief of an original sin (1221). This also introduces the idea of The Misfit’s nickname being symbolic of Jesus, as Jesus was seen as an outcast. Just as Jesus wasn’t well received by the public, loved “all the wrong people,” and ate dinner with sinners, The Misfit doesn’t have a good reputation with common people and hangs out with other criminals who further get him in trouble. O’Connor’s choice to use a murderer as her symbol for Jesus creates irony and emphasizes the idea salvation is a possibility for everyone, because if a vicious, sinful murderer can reach atonement so can anyone else. Near the end of The Misfit’s encounter with the grandmother, she tries one last time to change his mind by opening her arms and coming towards him. He reacts by “[springing] back as if a snake had bitten him” and shooting her (1222). By describing his actions like a snake, it creates a biblical allusion to the Garden of Eden. The snake in the Garden of Eden is a deceptive creature who promotes what God has forbidden. This deceptiveness and evil is directly relevant to how The Misfit lives. The temptation the Grandmother creates shows him what life could be like if he chooses to leave his life of sin and become more of a godly figure, while The Misfit shows the Grandmother she is no more holy than he is. This scares The Misfit so greatly he reacts dramatically by killing her.The relationship developed between The Misfit and the grandmother shows the possibility of atonement and salvation. The grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” holds herself on a moral pedestal much higher than those around her. She dresses fancy for a simple family road trip just so “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her… would know at once that she was a lady” (1212). She repeatedly tells the children they must show respect but calls a young African American a “nigger boy” (1215) and another boy a “cute little pick ninny” (1216), revealing her true colors. When she is about to be killed, she tells The Misfit he would never kill her since she “knows [he] wouldn’t ever shoot a lady” (1222). Along with her complaining when not getting her way and even bringing her cat on the trip against her son’s wishes, she is presented as a selfish and self-righteous person. It is not until the very end of the story, right before The Misfit kills her, that she realizes her faults. Throughout her talk with The Misfit, she talks about religion and Jesus, even though she never talks about those in the beginning of the story. She exclaims “pray, pray… “ (1220) and “Jesus would help you” (1221) when trying to save her own life. The grandmother only talks of religion when wanting to save herself. This further shows her selfishness. It also relates to The Misfit being a religious figure since she did not seem to be deeply religious until the two met. Right before the grandmother is shot, she reaches out to The Misfit almost screaming, “You’re one of my own children!” and dies “with her legs crossed under her like a child… her face smiling up at the cloudless sky” (1222). This act is extremely out of character and the focal point of the entire story. By exclaiming he is one of her own, it symbolizes the moment she realizes she is as much of a sinner as he is and reaches out in hopes of forgiveness. The thought of a child’s crossed legs and looking up into the sky allude to atonement, since children are generally seen as innocent, and looking up into the sky is generally associated with heaven and praying. The grandmother ends her time on earth in a spiritual revelation caused by The Misfit.
Pieces of literature centered around religion can hold great importance and ultimate truth. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” The Misfit’s symbolic faith helps the grandmother to help find peace within herself, even though he is far from an innocent man. No character in this story was without sin, but all had a chance to be saved. By writing this story, O’Connor shows salvation and grace are open to whoever may come by them, and even on the brink of death, it is never too late to be saved.