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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Flannery O’Connor

Moral Codes

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

O’Connor and Catholicism

In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the grandmother and Misfit live by moral codes that affect their decisions, actions, and perceptions. A moral code is a set of beliefs and behaviors that people abide by to live what they consider to be a reasonable, fulfilling lives. The term moral doesn’t necessarily mean “good”; it’s simply a code of conduct, while the righteousness of a person’s morals is entirely subjective. Although at first glance the Misfit’s code seems to be misguided, it is actually the grandmother’s code that proves to be flimsy and inconsistent. The grandmother has built her moral code on the characteristics that she believes make people “good.” She places great stock in being a lady, for example, which emphasizes appearance over substance. At the same time, she repeatedly deceives her family and lacks even a rudimentary awareness of the world around her. Despite her professed love for Christian piety, she herself is unable to pray when she finds herself in a crisis and even begins to question the power and divinity of Jesus.

The Misfit, however, adheres to a moral code that remains consistent and strong. From his experiences as a convicted criminal, he believes that the punishment is always disproportionate to the crime and that the crime, in the end, doesn’t even really matter. He also harbors a genuine bafflement about religion. Whereas the grandmother accepts faith unquestioningly and weakly, the Misfit challenges religious beliefs and thinks deeply about how he should follow them or not follow them. He has chosen to live under the assumption that religion is pointless and adheres to his own kind of religion: “No pleasure but meanness.” His moral code is violent and never wavers, and in the end, his is the one that triumphs.

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