Character Analysis of the Grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and Mrs. May in the “Greenleaf”
Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a story about a family that is going to Florida on vacation. However, on the way, they have an accident, and end up meeting an escaped convict and his posse, who end up killing the whole family. “Greenleaf” by Flannery O’Connor is a story about a widow, Mrs. May, who has singlehandedly, and without the help of her two adult sons, run a farm for fifteen years. She does not like her employee Greenleaf, nor his family. The story conveys her contempt and enviousness at seeing her employee’s sons succeed when hers have not, at least according to her standards. It ends by Mrs. May dying by being gored by a bull.
The stories, written by the same author, do have some similar themes, however, the object of this paper is to identify the similarities of the protagonists of the two stories – the grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and Mrs. May in “Greenleaf.”
There is a definite sense in both stories that the protagonists are very aware and conscious of their social standing. What is more, they seem to revel in it, to the point where they think that they are not “common” folk, so to speak. The grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” while going with her family to the vacation, appears to be very conscious of the sort of clothes she has worn. It is explained that the reason for her to have done so is that in case they are involved in an accident, she wants others to know that she was a lady (422), and not a common woman. In order to keep up that appearance, she does not even allow her grandchildren to throw an empty sandwich box and the paper napkins out of the car window after they had a snack during the car ride. Mrs. May, in “Greenleaf,” also seems to harbor such ideas about herself. She does not like the idea that her son has become an insurance-man to African-Americans, or a “nigger insurance-man” as she calls it (451). One of her biggest fears is that her sons, who are unmarried, will marry “trash,” thereby ruining everything she had sought to achieve, which is of course her social standing, or what she deems it to be.
Another similarity between the two protagonists is that both of them are quite controlling. The grandmother wants her son to change her plan of vacation because she wants to go somewhere else, and for that she uses the excuse of The Misfit, the renegade convict right when the story starts. What is more, during the trip when she wants to visit her old house, she makes up a story to entice her grandchildren who, as expected by her, make a clamor till the father agrees to take them there (425). Mrs. May, similarly, seems to have a very controlling attitude. Even though throughout she has a feeling that she is the victim as nobody would help her, however, it is clear that she is the controlling one in the family – she does not want to let go of the control she has over her sons. This is apparent from the way she gets her will changed so that even after her death her sons would not opt to marry, what she deems to be, low born girls, by putting in a proviso that if they do so, their wives would not inherit any money from them (451).
Lastly, both the protagonists had a complicated relationship with their children. Bailey seems to be quite reluctant to listen to his mother, the grandmother of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” What is more, he does not really associate with her much. Throughout the story, he seems aloof from her. Mrs. May’s sons, also, do not really have a close relationship with their mother. They do not follow in her footsteps to take over the farm, instead both of them go out and seek other professions. What is more, they do not appear sympathetic to their mother’s pleas either. This is perhaps due to the fact that she is controlling and feigns her victimization too much for their taste. Either way, the sons are not at all close to their mother nor are they supportive of her in any way, letting no opportunity pass by to mock her or make fun of her.
It is very clear to see that the protagonists of both the stories are quite similar in their attitude towards life. Perhaps this is also so because both of them are widows who have certain sets of beliefs that they find hard to give up, even with the changing times.
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound & Sense. 10th ed. Ed. Helen Triller. Kentucky: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. 420-434. Print.
O’Connor, Flannery. “Greenleaf.” Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound & Sense. 10th ed. Ed. Helen Triller. Kentucky: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. 448-467. Print.