The everything, and a good disposition besides,
The story opens with Ruby Turpin entering a doctor’s waiting room with her husband Claud who has been kicked by a cow. As she and Claud wait, she takes hard stock of the other people in the room. There was some white-trash, a “red- headed youngish woman” who was not white-trash, just common, a well-dressed, pleasant looking lady, and her daughter, an ill-mannered ugly girl in Girl Scout shoes with heavy socks who was reading a book titled Human Development.
Listening to the Gospel song playing on the radio in the background, Mrs. Turpin’s “heart rose. Jesus had not made her a nigger or white-trash or ugly! He had made her herself and given her a little of everything. Jesus, thank you! she said. Thank you thank you thank you!” A few moments later, agreeing with the pleasant lady in regard to her ugly tempered daughter that “‘It never hurt anyone to smile,'” Mrs. Turpin notes, “If it’s one thing I am, .
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. .it’s grateful. When I think who all I could have been beside myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!’ . . .
‘Oh thank you, Jesus, Jesus, thank you!’ she cried aloud.” Suddenly the book Human Development “struck her directly over her left eye.” Nurse, doctor, and mother scramble to subdue the ugly girl. Transfixed by the girl’s eyes focused on her, Mrs.
Turpin asks “‘What you got to say to me?'” waiting, as O’Connor says “as for a revelation.” “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog” the girl whispered.” Haunted by this command, Ruby Turpin spends the rest of the day in puzzlement and concentration.
Finally, while hosing down the hog pen that evening she whispers to God in a fierce voice, “What do you send me a message like that for?” “How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?” If students can understand the answer to this question, they can understand the medieval notion of Original Sin. Struggling against the recognition that she shares in the common legacy of humanity, Ruby Turpin wants to know how she is like a hog, and why with plenty of white-trash around the message had to come to her. Challenging God to go on and call her a wart hog from hell, to put the top rung on the bottom, she yells out “There’ll still be a top and a bottom!” Shaking with fury, she demands of God, “Who do you think you are?” In a final vision, something akin to the great medieval leveling of death and damnation and salvation forces itself upon her. With an ironic humor reminiscent of Chaucer and beatific purification echoing Dante, O’Connor writes A visionary lights settled in her eyes. She saw the streak of the setting sun as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven.
There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key.
Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away. In painful clarity, Ruby Turpin recognizes, as one critic put it, “the inadequacy of her respectability and the shallowness of her values” (Pepin 26). The vision shows her how–considered by God no more worthy than white-trash, or niggers, or freaks–she can be both a wart hog before the judgment seat of God and saved, too. If “Revelation” can help students understand the nature of Original Sin and the inscrutable nature of God’s wisdom, the “A Good Man is Hard to Find” can certainly help them see both the frailty of human will and the kindred nature of human existence.
Like Ruby Turpin, the grandmother of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” considers herself a lady. Dressing for her road trip to Florida with her son Bailey, his wife, and their three children, she carries her white cotton gloves and pins “a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet to her neckline”; as her interior monologue tells us, “In case of an accident anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.” And the thought is grimly prophetic. Badgered into traveling down a rutted dirt road that the grandmother mistakenly thinks will lead to an old plantation, they do have an accident.Bibliography: