I love Flannery O’Connor and I love letters, so imagine my delight when I learned that she had penned a missive to a professor and his students about A Good Man is Hard to Find, one of the greatest short stories I’ve ever read, an absolute favorite of mine. Apparently the professor had written O’Connor a letter about “several possible interpretations” concerning the unreality of the Misfit, unreal in the sense that he’s imagined by Bailey, the grandmother’s son and driver of the doomed vehicle. The Misfit, then, is a figment of Bailey’s imagination. But a problem vexes this interpretation: when does “reality fade into illusion or reverie,” and does “the accident literally occur” or not? Ever the polite southerner, O’Connor responds graciously enough. She thinks the interpretation “fantastic” in the unreal sense. A nice touch, that. She goes on to add that the ” story is … not meant to be realistic in the sense that it portrays the everyday doings of people in Georgia. It is stylized and its conventions are comic even though its meaning is serious.” But my favorite part of her letter is the penultimate paragraph, which serves notice to would-be interpretation hunters. “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. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.” To see the last sentence of her letter, I encourage you to read it here.
“my tone is not meant to be obnoxious”