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Existential Problems in ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’


Existentialism proposed the concept that a person is a “totally free agent” in determining their own advancement through acts of one’s own free will and self-judgement. In Flannery O’Connor’s “An Excellent Guy is Difficult to Discover,” existentialist concepts are embodied by the Misfit who lives by his own value system and analysis of morality that influences his choices, actions, and perspectives in life. That being stated, the term ‘ethical’ does not necessarily suggest ‘great’ since ‘goodness’ is subjective to an individual’s own moral compass and their view of morality– it is wholly a matter of viewpoint and how one weighs both ‘excellent’ and ‘wicked.’ Misfit’s own understanding of ‘morality’ is merely through his view of what is ‘right,’ however not what is socially accepted as right: his actions are determined based upon what ‘feels’ right. He conceives morality through the view that his penalty is disproportionate to his criminal activity and that dedicating criminal offense does not matter since it is a social construct, as is punishment too. Misfit’s worldview is best understood and interpreted as an essentially existentialist one: he defines himself by his free choice and does what he wants to carry out in the realm of his own ethical compass, he has an interest in the human condition and why societal constructs are the method they are, and is fascinated in developing his own essence through his variation of justice.

The way Misfit perceives free choice is based upon what he desires and he feels is ‘right’ in the minute through which he defines his own moral compass. His existentialist view of his life experiences can be encapsulated in the method he “don’t see no sun but don’t see no cloud either” (239 ). This quote is a metaphor that highlights his view of how he perceives both ‘criminal activity’ and ‘punishment’ and ‘excellent’ and ‘wicked’ on the spectrum of neutrality rather than a spectrum of binaries; he stressed neither one nor the either and views both in neutral terms. Since Misfit identifies with ‘excellent’ and ‘wicked’ based on his own problematic perception of what is moral, he has no control on when he decides to devote a criminal activity or an act of ‘goodness,’ but just when he wishes to or ‘feels’ compelled to do so. For instance, in the middle of the story, the Misfit requests his henchmen to eliminate Bailey since the Misfit is ‘mad’ with Bailey’s use of blasphemy towards the old woman: “The old woman began to sob and The Misfit reddened. ‘Girl,’ he stated, ‘don’t you get distressed. Sometimes a man states things he don’t mean. I don’t reckon he suggested to speak with you thataway'” (238 ). In this scene, it shows that his ethical compass is skewed because he shows some empathy for the old lady, but on the other hand, he encourages Bailey’s practical execution. The Misfit’s fundamental contradictions are additional emphasized when his tone is juxtaposed versus that of Bailey’s. The Misfit states in a respectful, casual method if Bailey “would … mind going back in them woods there with [the henchmen] while Bailey reacts in a frightened, surprised way, “we remain in a dreadful dilemma! No one understands what this is” (239 ). This juxtaposition serves to highlight the Misfit’s even-handed view of life and death as he is about to have actually Bailey carried out, in contrast to Bailey who feels what is at stake in the relationship between life and death as he faces his own death. Obviously, the Misfit is basically an existentialist, as he governs himself by the law of his own free will.

As somebody who behaves in an existential way, the Misfit wishes to understand the constructs of society in order to understand his own presence. Throughout the story, he looks into the implications of ‘criminal activity’ and punishment,’ ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ and ‘life’ and ‘death’ without holding himself liable to the social standards of these constructs. After Bailey is performed, the Misfit explains to the old woman how his own daddy had once viewed him: “‘My Daddy said I was a various breed of pet dog from my siblings and sis. ‘You understand,’ Daddy said, ‘it’s some that can live their entire life out without inquiring about it and it’s others needs to know why it is, and his boy is among the latter. He’s going to be into everything!'” (239 ). This quote encapsulates the Misfit’s intrinsic interest in ‘whatever’ to do with the main aspects of the human condition. Also, the father’s prophecy that the Misfit would ‘enjoy whatever’ rings real in the narrative as the Misfit explains how he “was a gospel vocalist for a while … been in the arms service, both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railways, raked Environment, remained in a twister, seen a man burnt alive onct … even seen a lady flogged'” (240 ). The Misfit has had lots of diverse life experiences, in between which he does not choose any over the other and he does not attribute any value over the other, whether they are lovely or horrible, the worth remains in the experience itself and nothing more. The method the Misfit sees his life experiences is existentialist insofar as ‘life’ and ‘death,’ ‘criminal offense’ and ‘punishment,’ and ‘great’ and ‘wicked’ have actually been played out in front of his eyes and yet, he gets nothing from this except experience. From all of his experiences, the Misfit’s viewpoint is focused around the basic lesson: “‘I discovered that crime do not matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a male or take a tire off his car, because eventually you’re going to forget what it was you done and simply be penalized for it'” (241 ). The Misfit’s belief that ‘crime don’t matter’ which no matter how severe or minor the criminal offense is, the penalty remains the very same since basically, he does not believe in the construct of crime so therefore he does not understand the logic of punishment and the reason behind penalty needing to ‘fit the criminal offense.’ Although the Misfit appears that he has actually tried to understand social constructs, he can not because, in existentialist fashion, he does not have the ability or the desire to comprehend life in binaries, but just in gray.

Like an existentialist, the Misfit looks for to develop his own essence through his need to carry out justice in the style he feels urged to, despite whether it complies with society. At the end of the story, the Misfit explains an incongruous idea: “‘… you get you a signature and sign whatever you do and keep a copy of it. Then you’ll understand what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you’ll have something to show you ain’t being treated right'” (241 ). For someone who can not conceive factors to abide societal constructs, it is inconsistent that the Misfit ‘sign [s] everything he does and keep [s] a copy of it.’ This contradiction highlights that the Misfit does comprehend society’s problematic system which does not constantly follow the rules it has actually made. Therefore, the Misfit comprehends that the justice system is also flawed since he feels the need to ‘inspect and stabilize’ his own understanding of ‘criminal offense’ and ‘punishment’ with society’s view. For the Misfit, ‘criminal offense’ and ‘punishment’ refers perception, which he checks out in his allusion to Jesus: “‘Jesus thrown whatever off balance. It was the same case with Him just like me except He had not devoted any crime and they could prove I had devoted one because they had the documents on me'” (241 ). This allusion to Jesus illustrates that the Misfit, like Jesus, had no ‘proof’ to protect himself against society’s judgement. The Misfit feels the justice system is fundamentally unreasonable and has actually constantly been so, even to Jesus. The Misfit for that reason, sees it as his duty to make his own justice since society can not– in making his own justice, he is developing his own essence. Prior to he eliminates the old woman, he pronounces his own essence: “‘I call myself the Misfit … since I can’t produce all I done wrong for what all I gone through in punishment'” (241 ). Labelling himself ‘the Misfit,’ is symbolic of him declaring that he is the master of his own essence, not anyone else. When he states ‘I can’t make what all I done incorrect for what all I gone in punishment,’ he is explaining how he dedicate crimes to balance the punishment he has currently gotten. He is so obliged to his own justice that even when he kills the old lady, he sees her as another ‘check and balance’ in his own justice system: “‘It’s no real pleasure in life'” (242 ). The method the Misfit produces his own essence is his many existentialist quality, as he sees himself as his own bringer of justice with no guidance other than his own moral compass.

In general, the Misfit’s own view of ‘criminal offense’ and ‘penalty,’ ‘excellent’ and ‘wicked,’ and ‘life’ and ‘death’ is that of an existentialist one: he defines his free will based on what he ‘feels’ is ‘right,’ he wants to comprehend and create his own presence by comprehending the function of societal constructs as they associate with his own self-determination, and he creates and fulfills his own essence by ending up being an administrator of justice. Throughout the narrative, the Misfit has no sense of control when he ‘feels’ like doing ‘great’ or devoting ‘wicked.’ He does, however, refer to the societal system regarding how ‘criminal activity’ and ‘punishment’ is evaluated, but he is not able to comprehend nor does he want to abide society’s judgement. He does not see ‘excellent’ and ‘wicked’ as revers on either end of the spectrum however impartial, as creating ‘experiences’ to fulfill his essence is merely dependent on his own moral compass. Thus, Misfit’s own theory of ‘check and balance’ is a cyclical problem instituted on itself: he develops his own essence by producing and enacting ‘experiences’ to form his worldview– he dedicates criminal offenses he translates as justice– but he discovers no fulfillment, ‘no real enjoyment’ in these acts, due to the fact that to him, ‘crime’ and ‘penalty’ and ‘excellent’ and ‘wicked’ are not opposed, they are equivalent– equally a matter of perception.

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