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THE GENESIS OF FLANNERY O'CONNOR'S "A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND" Victor Lasseter California State College, Bakersfield Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" begins as Bailey reads the sports section of the Atlanta Journal (the evening edition of the Constitution). The tableau is appropriate: a study of the genesis of "A Good Man" shows that from 1950 to 1952 O'Connor found substantial pieces of her short story in the Atlanta newspaper; her transformation of newspaper clippings into a tale of theology and violence on a Georgia back road provides insights into her creative process . O'Connor frequently used newspaper accounts as source material for her fiction. Harvey Klevar has shown how O'Connor used advertisements and news articles from the Milledgeville Union Recorder for "A Late Encounter with the Enemy," "The Displaced Person," and for parts of Wise Blood.1 Like the woman in "Greenleaf' who collects morbid stories from the newspaper, O'Connor delighted in sending friends clippings of Hadacol advertisements, odd names from birth announcements , and such human interest stories as the report of Roy Rogers' horse attending church in California or the seven-year-old who won a talent contest singing "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."2 Commenting on her fascination with such miscellanea, O'Connor wrote: "I live in a rat's nest of old papers, clippings, torn manuscripts, ancient quarterlies, etc., etc., etc."3 O'Connor's letters, collected in The Habit of Being, show that she was a fairly regular reader of the Constitution while she was working on "A Good Man," which she could have begun as early as 1950 and which she sold in 1953. O'Connor no doubt relied on newspapers as well as correspondence to communicate with the world outside Milledgeville after the first attacks of lupus put her in the hospital and made travel difficult. By the end of 1950, O'Connor was hospitalized in Milledgeville; in January, 1951, she was taken to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where she also spent much of the summer of 1951 . She was able to travel to Connecticut in the summer of 1952, but when she returned she was increasingly slowed down by her illness. During this summer, however, the Milledgeville paper gave her the idea for "A 228Notes Late Encounter with the Enemy."4 In the fall, she read the Constitution closely while following the Eisenhower-Stevenson race. During this period she found several newspaper articles that inspired "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."5 O'Connor may have clipped some stories from the Constitution as early as winter, 1950; these stories closely parallel some of the details in "A Good Man." Two other items in the fall of 1952 would provide O'Connor with the ideas for the dangerous escapees, the name of The Misfit, and the character of the polite killer who discusses theology at gunpoint. On February 15, for instance, the paper ran a front page account of a New Orleans man and his children whom burglars held captive for three hours. The two bandits showed unusual courtesy in fetching comic books for the boys and spirits of ammonia for the father, earning themselves this headline: "Two Gentle People Win Dad's Praise as Kindliest Bandits He Ever Met."* On February 22, O'Connor may have noticed the story of Jack Ellis Vines, who had been sentenced to one hundred twenty years in prison for thirty armed robberies. As part of his rehabilitation for parole, Mr. Vines announced that he would be ordained into the ministry. Certainly the idea of the robberpreacher would have caught O'Connor's attention, adding a religious dimension to the character of the kindly bandit. In the same issue, O'Connor probably saw this more violent story: a woman testified secretly in Raleigh, North Carolina, about her flogging by the Ku Klux Klan. Since The Misfit in "A Good Man" has "even seen a woman flogged," perhaps this violent image began to transform the simple idea of the kindly bandit into something more complex and disturbing. Another kindly bandit story appeared on June 15, 1951, the summer of O'Connor's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 227-232
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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