A good entendre is easy to find

A Good Man is Hard to Find is filled with ample pleasures. Like the recurring imagery of sunglight, “The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled.” Like descriptions of the natural world, in particular, the little-used, red dirt road, hemmed in on one side by dark, ominous woods. And like the intrinsically interesting (and eerily compelling) conversation between The Misfit and the grandma. Of course, there are many more pleasures to be had. But the one that keeps tickling my literary aesthetic is O’Connor’s use of double and triple entendres. They bubble up throughout the story.

First, there’s the saying, “A good man is hard to find,” a plaint of the elderly, as they watch the world go to hell in a handbasket. But the saying is also an article of faith in a theological framework. Within this interpretive scheme, we are all guilty and imperfect, and stand in need of the transfiguring glories of silver-white sunlight. A good man is hard to find because he died on the cross, or so the story goes.

Second, after the car rolls in the ditch, the children exclaim, “We’ve had an ACCIDENT,” meaning the obvious, i.e., we’ve wrecked our car, but suggesting something else, too, namely that something has happened that shouldn’t have happened, a whole sequence of events, starting with the grandma’s mis-rememberance of the white colonaded house. Something there is that shouldn’t be: a car in a ditch, swirling with red dust; family members confused and scared on the edge of a wood, and its gathering darkness, with their reckonings fast approaching.

Last, Bailey, the grandma’s only son, and husband and father and driver of the ill-fated car, repeatedly states with mounting fear, “We’re in a predicament.” With dog-sense certainty, he smells The Misfit’s maladorous nature and smells the decomposition of his own body, as well as the bodies of his doomed family, there in the woods. They’re on the precipice of violent death. But Bailey is also underscoring the self-same predicament that fuels The Misfit’s rebellion. Bailey and his wife and his children and his mom, all of them, including us, are in The Predicament, according to Christian categories. Either we pass through Jesus as through a door to salvation, or we do not.

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