There are two ways of looking at an incident – the immediate cause and the deep seated cause; did the individual pull the trigger or was it society that has been shaping the mind of the killer? Unfolding the story would lead us on to answering the pivotal question as to who is responsible for the fate in A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. But prior to that, a brief discussion on different approaches to ‘Fate’ will not be out of place. In Greek mythology there are three goddesses of Fate, Moirae, Parcae and Norns, who decided on the destiny of the individual and the world through the spinning of the mystical thread. In Hindu mythology Yama is the God of Fate but the orders given out by Yama are not arbitrary. The individuals determine their own fate through their actions and it is the same with groups where the collective action determines the fate of tribes and nations.
The basic question then is can we sit back and leave everything to Fate? Here again it is acknowledged that there is a certain thing called drive inherent in the individual and the collective that can change fate or destiny. Unknowingly we resort to amulets and fortune readings to know our fate while simultaneously we strive to handle the problem ourselves. The babe does not rest back but makes an effort to crawl and similarly we defy age and struggle to conquer time – knowingly or unknowingly.
First evidence of fate
In this story a family comprising the grandmother, the pivotal figure, her only son Bailey, his wife, their baby and two older children June and John are planning a trip. The old lady has read about an escaped criminal named Misfit moving towards Florida. The Grandmother declares, “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is a loose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just read it. I would not take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.” (O’Connor, 137) She advises the family not to go there but to go to Tennessee – a place where they had never been before. Ignoring her warnings led to dire consequences. This was a fatal aspect of fate.
Second evidence of fate
In the family the mother, the father and the baby are wrapped up in themselves – unthinking and stolid. John and June are typical lively youngsters but rather rude with their grandmother, taking her for granted. The old lady is bubbling with life and is the first one up and ready in her Sunday best occupying the middle seat in the back of the car. Her life includes compassion for her cat also whom she hates to leave behind. She smuggled the pet inside her bag – another decision that led to their undoing. On a different occasion she is dressed up “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor, 138) shows the conservative nature of the woman which is nothing but an extended ego of her prejudices.
Third evidence of fate
They left Atlanta with grandmother noting mileage and time – unlike the complacent others who took life as it came, slovenly, untidy and smug. At every step she chatted on pointing out the weather, the speed limits and the scenery – something the others hardly observed. On the contrary the children made disparaging statements about their motherland while the parents remained non-committal and self-absorbed. Cruel comments were made not only about the passing landscape but also of the locals by the wayside. John and June were more absorbed in trite comics than rolling outside. In the middle of all this the grandmother offered to care for the baby – an offer that was promptly accepted.
Here the senior person is more excited about new lands holding old memories than the dull prosaic occupants of the car. After lunch the children thought nothing of throwing away used packets and grandmother had a respect for everything. On a full stomach the children started squabbling. The old lady silenced them with romantic tales of her youth that the children derided with scorn. At a nearby eatery when they stopped the owner while chitchatting told them about not two questionable characters that had rolled in driving a battered Chrysler – premonition of things to come. But the children were busy dancing to tunes to listen to the talk. The owner said, “A good man is hard to find. Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.” (O’Connor, 137) They know little that Fate would soon turn this into a reality.
In her search for the romantic grandmother made a false statement about hidden panels in an old house she had once been in. This lured the family, goaded by the youngsters, into a dirt track. Too late grandmother realized that her memory was confusing her. The place was not in Georgia but in Tennessee. The thought greatly embarrassed her and a sudden jerk in her movement caused the cat to jump out and plant itself on the neck of Bailey who was driving. This led to an accident with the car turning topsy-turvy and all being thrown out.
It was so destined that the accident did not kill them but men who came as saviors in a battered car turned out to be the killer Misfit and his accomplices. They killed the party because society had taught Misfit nothing better to do. Here the fate of society is intertwined with the fate of individuals living in such a society. The grandmother is an observer and commentator while also the victim of times. Is it accidental fate or fate carved by Man? The result is clear. The senior was the architect of her own fate.
O’Connor, Flannery. Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works. Auckland: National Book Trust, 1985.