I anticipate that this posting will be the first of many in a similarly-themed series, as my favorite meal of the day is dessert and one of my favorite types of literature is southern lit! Why not combine the two? We’ll start this series off with Flannery O’Connor, one of the most well-known southern writers of the twentieth century. You can find O’Connor’s short fiction in either of two volumes: A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything that Rises Must Converge.
I found a great article about O’Connor written by Hugh Ruppersburg, Interim Vice Provost and Senior Associatate Dan of the Arts & Sciences at the University of Georgia at: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/short-stories-flannery-oconnor. His article is a helpful introduction to O’Connor as a writer, and it also serves as a brief and understandable review of her writing style. Ruppersburg aptly notes that the defining characteristics of O’Connor’s short fiction are: “economy of form, biting satire, vivid characterizations, and a stern moral vision.” I generally agree with this description, as well as his observation that O’Connor sets opposing forces against one another in her stories, including “the modern secular world with its emphasis on science, social programs, humanism, and progress, and the God-centered spiritual world with its emphasis on sin and salvation.”
Not only is O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” undoubtedly her most famous work, this piece also conveniently (and probably unsurprisingly) serves as an archetypal O’Connor short fiction piece, showing many defining elements of her style as shortly described above. We see the juxtaposition of an ordinarily dull family against an undercurrent of evil. Basically, this is one creepy story, like a horror movie you see by peeking through your hands—you know the ending will be bad, yet you just keep reading, drawn to the strangeness of the story. At least, that’s my experience reading this story.
I paired two desserts with “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” because a good dessert, while not hard to find, is certainly hard to choose (much like choosing which of O’Connor’s short stories to use for this post!). Plus, two desserts symbolizes an internal conflict I have while reading the story: while I am not particularly a fan of the family, as each member has apparent flaws and no real redeeming qualities, I also don’t think they deserved what the Misfit had in store for them.
The first dessert is a chocolate mousse with dark chocolate ganache and chocolate cake on the bottom. With this dessert, I added a strawberry cheesecake. I ended up putting portions of each on the fork to combine them for a delicious chocolate-strawberry combination that went well with the juxtapositions taking place in the story. We have your average strawberry cheesecake flavor set against the dark, rich backdrop of chocolate. Much like the ordinary bickering among the family members, we don’t really see value in or feel empathy for them until they are set against the dark backdrop of the Misfit and his lackeys.
What I love about “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is that no matter how many times I read it, I always feel like I’ve gotten some kind of insight into O’Connor’s idea of a real human truth. The Misfit’s cruelty is so abrupt and inevitable, and the family’s squabbling subsequently seems so trivial, I can’t help but think O’Connor is giving us many life lessons, albeit cynical ones. This story seems to imply that there can be no escape, not even pleading with a higher authority, from absolute evil that permeates ordinary life. I for one do not think life to be always so hopeless or cruel (O’Connor perhaps did not either), but “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is still an incredibly intriguing story that I hope you enjoy reading or rereading as much as I have!