THE TIMOTHY ALLUSION IN "A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND".
Although O'Connor critics are fond of citing D. H. Lawrence's principle of trusting the tale, not the teller, an exploration of the Timothy allusion in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" will be strongest if it harmonizes with O'Connor's understanding of how her fiction works. Perhaps the allusion has received little critical attention because she makes only one reference to Timothy, the man, in which she merely calls him "St. Paul's fellow-worker" (The Habit of Being 116).(2) Even Bryant's reading is not comprehensive because he trusts the teller's famous caveat against regarding a story as "a problem to be solved," as "something which you evaporate to get Instant Enlightenment" (Mystery and Manners 108). One must remember, however, that her statement responds to misreadings such as one she received from "a Professor of English" who had written to announce that he and his ninety students had concluded that the story's second half is purely imaginary. Her immediate response to the professor anticipates the position Bryant quotes:
The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation.... Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it. (The Habit of Being 437)
O'Connor's responses to readings she does not intend and considers wrong are not the most constructive guide to interpreting a carefully chosen allusion. Rather, one should note that her statements in Mystery and Manners support a more comprehensive reading strategy in harmony with her suggestion that "the meaning of a story should go on expanding." She emphasizes, for example, the great interdependence of details in her art: "Detail has to be controlled by some overall purpose, and every detail has to be put to work for you. Art is selective. What is there is essential and creates movement" (93). The phrase "every detail has to be put to work for you" and the word "movement" leave open the possibility that the connections between the fictional town of Timothy and other details in the story form a more complicated weave than readers have previously noticed. Later O'Connor comments, "It is one of the functions of the Church to transmit the prophetic vision that is good for all time, and when the novelist has this as part of his own vision, he has a powerful extension of sight" (179-80). This quotation, which aptly describes what happens when a story alludes to a New Testament epistle, implies that an interpretation needs to be both moral and spiritual. O'Connor's two statements affirm the possibility of finding further significance in the Timothy allusion without violating her caveat against overinterpretation.
Yet even the moral sense of interpretation has not been sufficiently explored. Much of Paul's moral exhortation in 1 Timothy centers on the family, and his comment about parricide has a direct parallel in the story. The Law is "not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient," including "murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers" (1 Timothy 1.9). Woodward's only response to this verse is that The Misfit "commits every act Paul names and becomes the epitome of the Godless man in a Godless society" (4). The Misfit echoes Paul when he recalls to the grandmother that "a head-doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie" (130). At the end of the story, of course, The Misfit guns down the grandmother who has just appealed to him as one of her own children.(3) Although the head-doctor in the penitentiary does not understand that The Misfit's present problem is as much spiritual as psychological, the reference to the Oedipus complex accurately identifies family relations as the breeding ground of personality disorder and, in turn, of moral hollowness. Bryant rightly cites 1 Timothy 3.4-5 to show that Bailey is a marginal father to his disobedient children and notes that 1 Timothy 6.3-10 indicts the grandmother. There is something more to say, however, on the subject of widows, Paul's concern in 1 Timothy 5. The grandmother is not godly, prayerful, or trustworthy like the positive widows he mentions. A troublesome character, she is more like the young widows for whom he counsels remarriage. Still, Bailey's family appears to be doing the right thing: "If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some return to their parents ... "(1 Timothy 5.4). Allowing the grandmother to live with them is their duty, but while their behavior meets the letter of Paul's suggestion it is nearly empty of the love that should undergird it, which he stresses in 1 Timothy 1.5.
FAMILY disorder becomes even more relevant if we consider Paul's examples of positive parenting. Bryant cites 1 Timothy 2.9-12, a passage about husbands in general, but does not mention maternal figures. 2 Timothy 1.5 reads, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you." Lois passed the Christian faith on to Eunice, and she in turn passed it on toTimothy and served as a good example. Timothy thus had no dramatic conversion experience like Paul's; instead, much as O'Connor and the grandmother she creates were nurtured over the years in the Christian tradition, Timothy grew up in the faith and "from infancy" knew the scriptures(2 Timothy 3.15).He achieved exemplary piety in spite of his Greek father--a figure parallel to Bailey--who was possibly a nonbelieving Gentile("Timothy" 558),and the general pagan influences of Greco-Roman culture, including those in his home town, Lystra (Peterson 10). He had been appropriately named: Timotheus means "honoring God," or "dear to God"(Peterson 11).
The negative cultural influences to which young Timothy was subject are akin to the fanciful stories that Paul criticizes as "myths and endless genealogies" (1 Timothy 1.4), which in turn have parallels in the story. To begin with, the family is going to Florida, a destination whose importance O'Connor comments on: "I was so polite to [someone who had written proposing an interpretation of `A Good Man Is Hard to Find'] I astonished even myself. Explained to him they were going to Florida and how come they couldn't possibly be going anywhere else" (The Habit of Being 548). The editors of her collected letters do not quote her explanation, but a rationale is not hard to construct. Florida was for those who wanted to enjoy natural and commercial pleasures even before Disney World was built in 1971. Moreover, June Star, who knows her popular culture, alludes to "Queen for a Day," a radio show that started in 1945 and became a TV show in 1956, three years after O'Connor sold "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" to the Partisan Review Reader (The Habit of Being 59).(4) June Star's tap dancing at Red Sammy's, as Cheri Louise Ross points out, "parodies the American film icon Shirley Temple" (8). And the grandmother jokes that a plantation is "Gone With the Wind" (120). These allusions to popular culture--not just the grandmother's stories about a former suitor and a plantation, which Bryant mentions--fall under the rubric of "myths and endless genealogies." Preoccupation with popular culture distracts the family from the more salubrious influence of religious teachings. Indeed, the family members are, at best, only marginally protestant--John Wesley's name, for example, is emptied of meaning and displaced onto a vicious little boy. They are far from being the kind of devout believer Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 1.15, the late Onesiphorus (literally "prophet-bringer" ["Onesiphorus," Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia 537]), who extended hospitality and kindness to him and whose piety benefitted his own family ("Onesiphorus," Interpreter's Dictionary).
Being dysfunctional, neither Bailey's family nor The Misfit can achieve the moral standard that Paul sets by means of three analogies:
No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. (2 Timothy 2.4-6)
These references to soldier, athlete, and farmer "are all stock examples of moral exertion in Hellenistic moral teaching. Paul here emphasizes their attention to duty" (Johnson 393). Compare The Misfit's statement about his background:
`I was a gospel singer for a while.... I been most everything. Been in the arm service, both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet ... I even seen a woman flogged,' he said. (129-30)
Like Paul's moral exemplars, The Misfit has been a soldier and a farmer, but instead of the athlete's purposeful exertion The Misfit stresses death, destruction, and violence--undertaker, tornado, immolation, flogging. Negative contrast is again the key element of the parallel: The Misfit's free play of professions empties out the moral content Paul assigns to the soldier and the farmer, and the presence of these professions emphasizes the omission of athletics. The Misfit falls short of the athlete's morality, for he plays by no one's rules except his own. In his view, physical contact is for torture, and being a religious singer is no more meritorious or memorable than seeing a woman flogged. But even if The Misfit acted morally by adhering to the Law, he would still be incomplete for the same reason that a merely tropological reading of the story falls short--the absence of grace.
As the Timothy allusion enhances the moral sense of interpretation, it also invites a connection in terms of grace, which transcends law. Gordon Fee states that Law "is good because it truly does reflect God's will. Nevertheless ... the Law is not gospel, but remains a species of law" and is thus helpless (45, 50). Paul says, on the one hand, that "when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me" (Romans 7.10). On the other, he makes this statement about the human response to grace: "So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3.23).(5) Law keeps a person in check, but grace liberates one to new life. By the time Paul wrote to Timothy, the distinction no longer needed to be argued but was taken for granted. In 2 Timothy 1.9, Paul mentions "the grace which he [God] gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." And it is this grace that makes following laws more than meaningless ritual. Paul also says that "the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1.5). In short, grace precedes and enables moral behavior, a peaceful disposition, and love of others. Along the way, of course, prayer is helpful: Paul urges prayer in 1 Timothy 2.1-7, much as the grandmother is constantly urging The Misfit to pray. "`If you would pray,' the old lady said, `Jesus would help you'" (130).
O'Connor identifies the moment of grace in the story when she writes: "The Misfit is touched by the Grace that comes through the old lady when she recognizes him as her child, as she has been touched by the Grace that comes through him in his particular suffering. His shooting her is a recoil, a horror at her humanness, but after he has done it and cleaned his glasses, the Grace has worked in him and he pronounces his judgment: she would have been a good woman if he had been there every moment of her life"(The Habit of Being 389). As Clark nicely notes, the grandmother's touch parallels Paul's mention of the laying on of hands and "emphasize[s] the grace that accompanies charismatic physical contact" (68).(6) Commenting on 2 Timothy, Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann point out, "Here, as elsewhere, the hand serves as the means of transferring power, be it upon the sick for healing, upon the young, the weak, or the religiously impure for the purpose of blessing (Mk 10.13ff), or upon those who did not have the Spirit for transmitting the Spirit" (70). The grandmother's humanness is evident, but the parallel in Timothy suggests that her touch, like the laying on of hands, provides a conduit through which God's grace flows to The Misfit. He shoots her, then, because he has been touched by the divine love he has spent his whole life trying to deny. Yet we know that grace has worked in him because he goes from saying that meanness is his only pleasure to admitting, "It's no real pleasure in life" (133). Viewed from the vantage point of 2 Timothy, the touch counters Stephen C. Bandy's objection to a theological interpretation: "To insist at this moment of mutual revelation that the Grandmother is transformed into the agent of God's grace is to do serious violence to the story" (116).
The significance of the Timothy allusion abides not only in moral and spiritual parallels but also in the life experience of the epistles' author, which foreshadows the story's climax. Like Hazel Motes in Wise Blood (Chapter 13), The Misfit and, in a different way, the grandmother, whose "head cleared for an instant" (132), have a transformational experience on a roadway, whose prototype is Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus where Christ confronted him. Paul's experience of the risen Christ transforms him from a "persecutor" into a "propagator" of Christianity--admittedly the greatest apostle of the early Christian era ("Paul" 187). O'Connor comments on Paul, "I reckon the Lord knew that the only way to make a Christian out of that one was to knock him off his horse" (The Habit of Being 354-55). So it is with the grandmother who, a moment before her own death, finally acts according to the religion she has merely believed all her life. Mere belief is not enough: one must implement and embody belief in acts of love, like the touch, which has a dramatic effect on The Misfit. But sometimes a transformation like Paul's or the grandmother's requires a powerful stimulus, and therein lies the truth of The Misfit's statement, "She would of been a good woman ... if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life" (133).
The Misfit changes as well: much as Saul's zeal for persecution yields to Paul's love of Christ, The Misfit's legal befuddlement makes way for positive growth, as O'Connor suggests: "... however unlikely this may seem, the old lady's gesture, like the mustard-seed, will grow to be a great crow-filled tree in the Misfit's heart, and will be enough of a pain to him there to turn him into the prophet he was meant to become" (Mystery and Manners 112-13). As he indicates when he capitalizes pronouns referring to Christ, The Misfit has not fully embraced the atheism that Bryant attributes to him. Saying that there is no real pleasure in meanness is not a full affirmation of God's love either, but his life is now moving in the same direction as Paul's: away from an emphasis on Law and toward "the law of Christ" (see Galatians 5.3 and 6.2). The Misfit's final action--cleaning his glasses--echoes Paul's regained eyesight and signifies an improvement in spiritual vision.7 The Misfit's suffering may eventually lead through endurance and character to hope (Romans 5.3-5). If Paul, "the foremost of sinners" can receive God's mercy (1 Timothy 1.15-16), God should not have trouble with The Misfit after all. He is an unlikely prophet, of course, but so was Paul, and so was Timothy, who was too young, prone to illness, and timid to strike most persons as an effective evangelist (Peterson 148-49). Paul even feels he has to tell the Corinthians not to despise the younger man (1 Corinthians 16.10-11).
THERE is also foreshadowing in the details of Paul's death. Much like the six members of the family who die on a deserted road, tradition has it that Paul was executed on the Ostian way, a road leading out of Rome to the south (Harper Study Bible 1788). As Paul writes 2 Timothy, he is well aware of his coming death: "For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come" (4.6). This statement makes the second epistle to Timothy a testament--or, to use Paul's own athletic metaphor, a "passing of the baton" to Timothy (Fee 283). As Paul anticipates his own death, so the Timothy allusion foreshadows the death of the family, along with details such as Toombsboro (based on a real place), and The Tower.(8)
One thinks here of the Tower of London as a foreshadowing allusion for two reasons. First, the Tower of London's "byname" is simply "the Tower" ("London"), a connection that Red Sammy's place does not share with the Tower of Babel or any of the other towers lurking in the background. Second, as a state prison between 1480 and 1630 (Curnow 55), the Tower of London was the site of imprisonment, execution, and murder ("London"). In other words, both the Tower of London and Red Sammy's eponymous gas station are a last stop before one reaches the place of execution. Often the sentence, as in Thomas More's case, was capricious--justice at the Tower could be the epitome of injustice. Similarly, The Tower in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" anticipates not only The Misfit's outrage at the perceived injustice of his own imprisonment but also his execution-style murder of Bailey's family. Moreover, the juxtaposition of The Tower and Timothy is significant, for The Tower, in connection with the Tower of London, suggests justice, and the nearby town of Timothy, with its Pauline undertones, calls to mind God's mercy and grace. If poetic justice prevails in the family's execution and mercy triumphs through the transformation grace effects in The Misfit and the grandmother, then by placing The Tower near Timothy, O'Connor foreshadows and encapsulates these concepts by employing the allegory she attributes to "the writer of grotesque fiction." Such a writer uses "one image that will connect or combine or embody two points; one is a point in the concrete, and the other is a point not visible to the naked eye, but believed in by him firmly, just as real to him, really, as the one that everybody sees" (Mystery and Manners 42). The Tower is to the town of Timothy as justice is to God's mercy and grace. As a result, the fictional town participates in the synergy of grace and place that O'Connor mentions: "I have found, in short, from reading my own writing, that my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil" (Mystery and Manners 118).
This exploration of O'Connor's allusion to the Epistles to Timothy supports her sense of the interrelation of details, the power of Christian reference, and the principle that "the meaning of a story should go on expanding." The letters are as important to "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" as another text, Human Development, is to "Revelation" (The Complete Stories 488-509): the Pauline material ties together the story's satirical elements by providing a moral and spiritual benchmark that underscores their negativity, and Paul's authorship enables autobiographical connections. Ultimately, Red Sammy's conclusion about goodness is in the spirit of Paul's remarks: a good person is hard to find if grace is denied, but The Misfit and the grandmother embody Paul's confidence that "if we are faithless, he [Christ] remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself" (1 Timothy 2.13). Grace enables a person to transform suffering into moral behavior, rise above an adherence to Law, and love others, becoming, like Timothy, the kind of person Paul considered to be a good man.
(1.) Bryant, who makes several of the same points as Woodward but was evidently unaware of the earlier piece, is right to hold that "the towns alluded to along the route which the family travels were chosen for two reasons: first, and most obviously, to foreshadow; and second, to augment the theme of the story" (301). Regarding the Timothy allusion, he states that
it seems likely that she put the town of Timothy on the map because she wanted the reader to pick up the allusion and perhaps refresh himself on the contents of the New Testament, but more probably she saw the parallel between her modern-day characters who have left the main road of Christian faith and Paul's warning to the church when he feared it was in danger off into the byways of heresy. (305)
Bryant sees specific parallels as follows: Paul's statement about a bishop's role indicts the way in which Bailey runs his household (this includes child rearing); Paul's comments on vanity, trivial discussions, modest dress, and silence undercut the grandmother, though she learns the lesson in 1 Timothy 2.5 about Christ as mediator between God and human beings; and Paul's statement on hypocritical liars (1 Timothy 4.1-2) calls to mind The Misfit, whose comment, "`No pleasure but meanness,'" Bryant calls "hedonistic atheism" (305).
(2.) The phrase "fellow-worker" echoes 1 Thessalonians 3.2, and Romans 16.21.
(3.) Paul considers himself Timothy's spiritual parent (e.g., 1 Timothy 1.18), but as Giannone points out, "Paul, extending the sonship of Jesus to all believers in God, calls this new relationship `adoption as sons' (Galatians 4.5)" (75).
(4.) On "Queen for a Day," "Women would tell stories about their lives generated to evoke sympathy from the audience who would applaud for the woman they deemed most worthy of prizes and the title `Queen for a day'" (Whitt 45).
(5.) Slaves were responsible for caring for children until the age when they could be educated, notes New Testament Scholar James Brownson. This makes our position without Christ parallel to children in the care of slaves. Plato's Laws, VII.808 seems an appropriate gloss on the children in the story: "When Dawn comes up and brings another day, the children must be sent off to their teachers. Children must not be left without teachers, nor slaves without masters, any more than flocks and herds must be allowed to live without attendants. Of all wild things, the child is the most unmanageable: an unusually powerful spring of reason, whose waters are not yet canalized in the right direction, makes him sharp and sly, the most unruly animal there is" (298).
(6.) Clark's source is 2 Timothy 1.6, but there is a similar statement in 1 Timothy 4.14: "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you" (1 Timothy 4.14).
(7.) In another Pauline connection, W. S. Marks wonders whether "the glasses The Misfit wears [are] a `silent parable' that says in effect, We see through a glass darkly" (92). One also thinks here of Saul's blinding and Hazel Motes's self-inflicted blindness.
(8.) The actual town is called Toomsboro, as a picture of the sign at the city limit indicates (Grimshaw 4), but Woodward's note 3 states that the town was named after Robert Toombs. The government misspelled the town's name, but O'Connor uses the correct local spelling, whose closeness to "tomb" heightens the foreshadowing (5). Bryant relates Red Sammy's place to the Tower of Babel and to towers associated with the Virgin Mary (305-6) but fails to cite previous critics' reference to the Tower of Babel (Driskell and Brittain 11). C. R. Kropf finds Red Sammy's Tower to be "reminiscent of the Tower of Dis ..." (180). One might also note the contrast between the seediness and contemporary shallowness of Red Sammy's place and the present-day Tower of London's polished, museum-like elegance and centuries of history. For a combination of photographs and historical narrative, see Kenneth J. Mears, The Tower of London: 900 Years of English History (Oxford: Phaedon, 1988).
The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Ed. David Noel Freedman, et al. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Bandy, Stephen C. "`One Of My Babies': The Misfit and the Grandmother." Studies in Short Fiction 33.1 (1996): 107-17.
Brownson, James. Personal Interview. June 19, 1998.
Bryant, Hallman B. "Reading the Map in `A Good Man Is Hard to Find.'" Studies in Short Fiction 18.3 (1981): 301-07.
Clark, Michael. "Flannery O'Connor's `A Good Man Is Hard to Find': The Moment of Grace." English Language Notes 29.2 (1991): 66-69.
Curnow, P. E. "The Bloody Tower." The Tower of London: its Buildings and Institutions. Ed. John Charlton. London: Brown, Knight and Truscott, 1978. 55-61.
Dibelius, Martin, and Hans Conzelmann. The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. Trans. Philip Buttolph and Adela Yarbo. Ed. Helmut Koester. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972.
Driskell, Leon V., and Joan T. Brittain. Eternal Crossroads: The Art of Flannery O'Connor. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1971.
Fee, Gordon D. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984. Giannone, Richard. Flannery O'Connor and the Mystery of Love. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1989.
Grimshaw, James A., Jr. The Flannery O'Connor Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1981.
Harper Study Bible (Revised Standard Version). Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1965.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
Kropf, C. R. "Theme and Setting in `A Good Man Is Hard to Find.'" Renascence 24.4 (1972): 177-80, 206.
"London, Tower of." The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Micropaedia. 15th ed. 1997.
Marks, W. S., III. "Advertisements for Grace: Flannery O'Connor's `A Good Man Is Hard to Find.'" "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." Ed. Frederick Asals. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1993. 83-93.
O'Connor, Flannery. "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," and "Revelation." The Complete Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971. 117-33, 480-509.
--. The Habit of Being. Ed. Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.
--. Mystery and Manners. Ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969.
--. Wise Blood. New York: Ferrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1962.
"Onesiphorus." The Interpreter's Dictionary, of the Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick, et al. Vol 3. New York: Abingdon, 1962. 4 vols. 603.
"Onesiphorus." The Zondervan Pictorial Encylopedia of the Bible. Ed. Merrill C. Tenney. Vol. 4. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975. 5 vols. 537-38.
"Paul." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 5. 186-201.
Peterson, William J. The Disciplining of Timothy. Wheaton, IL:Victor, 1980.
Plato. The Laws. Trans. Trevor J. Saunders. Baltimore: Penguin, 1970.
Ross, Cheri Louise. "The Iconography of Popular Culture in O'Connor's `A Good Man Is Hard to Find.'" Notes on Contemporary, Literature 27.1 (1997): 7-9.
"Timothy." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 6. 558-60.
Whitt, Margaret Earley. Understanding Flannery O'Connor. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1995.
Woodward, Robert H. "A Good Route Is Hard To Find: Place Names and Setting in O'Connor's `A Good Man Is Hard to Find.'" Notes in Contemporary, Literature 3.5 (1973): 2-6.
After receiving his Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan. Matthew Fike was a founding faculty member of the American University in Bulgaria during the 1990s. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of English at Winthrop University (Rock Hill, South Carolina).
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|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2000|
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