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Coming to Terms With Inner Conflict Through Violence

Violence takes the form of merciless killings in the both Andre Dubus’ Killings and Flannery O’Conners’ A Good Man is Hard to Find. In each novel the protagonists are equally self-absorbed with respect to their familial commitments. When violence strikes their loved ones their own paths are changed. Violence forces Dubus’ protagonists to reconcile his love for his family with his hate for the merciless killer that takes his youngest and favourite son from him. Violence likewise forces O’Conners’ protagonists to find mercy for the men who mercilessly takes her family’s life and her own.

How Violence Makes the Characters Come to Terms with their Inner Conflicts In Killings the merciless killing takes place prior to the start of the novel. Although the killing involves the slaying of family members in both novels it changes the paths of the victim’s lives early on in Killings. In A Good Man is Hard to Find family members are murdered near the end with the result that retribution comes just prior to death. The difference inherent in both novels is that the protagonists learn to reconcile their emotions over the loss of a life they love over the hate for the antagonists who takes away those lives.

This reconciliation comes in different ways and at different paces in each novel. Killings tackles conflicting emotions although directed toward different people they are each connected in a convoluted ways. Richard Strout murders Frank Fowler out of revenge and obvious hatred because Frank had an affair with his wife, Maryann. Richard kills Frank for no other reason than “He was making it with my wife. ” (Dubus, 83) Dubus purposely sets up the short story with conflicting emotions at play.

Matt Flowler, Frank’s father is introduced to the reader at this son’s funeral and the reader immediately gets the impression that Matt loves his son dearly. Steve, Matt’s oldest son introduces hate and revenge, the same emotions that drove Richard Strout to murder Frank. He turns to Matt as they leave the burial grounds and says: “I should kill him. ” (Dubus, 80) Steve’s statement opens a myriad of inner conflicts for Matt and he spends a great deal of energy and time justifying his plan to kill Strout.

For one thing, he considers that has to kill Strout otherwise his son would do so and he would in effect lose a second son. Then he blames his wife for his decision to carry out the ultimate act of violence by claiming that his wife Ruth: “… sees him. She sees him too much. She was at Sunnyhurst today getting cigarettes and aspirin, and there he was. She can’t even go out for cigarettes and aspirin. It’s killing her. ” (Dubus, 80) Upon killing Strout however, the violence only serves to create more inner conflict for Matt.

To his credit it is his own act of violence and the resulting conflict that brings him resolution. He realizes at once that he gained nothing of value from the revenge killing and that the violence at his own hands did not bring him satisfaction. Dubus writes of Matt’s response to the slaying of Strout: “His cheek touching her breast, he shuddered with a sob that he kept silent in his heart. ” (Dubus, 92) In other words, Matt comes to terms with the realization that his violence was no more meaningful and merciful than Strout’s act of violence.

Perhaps the greatest irony for Matt is the inner conflict the two killings created with respect to his relationship with his own children. He had always been fiercely protective of his children and Dubus explains: “He had always been a fearful father: when his children were young, at the start of the summer he thought of them drowning in a pond or the sea, and he was relieved when he would come home in the evenings and they were there. ” (Dubus, 86) With Frank’s murder, Matt felt as if he had failed to protect his son form the violence that took his young life.

Certainly this feeling of failure fuelled his need for revenge by a similar act of violence. However, once he completes the violence the conflict is perpetuated because Matt fears he cannot tell his surviving children of his own violence and must now protect them from the truth. The following excerpt explains Matt’s dilemma: “We can’t tell the other kids, it’ll hurt them, thinking he go away. But we mustn’t”. (Dubus, 92) Matt knows that the killing did not bring him any satisfaction and at least shows that he had a conscience. It is his conscience that is ignited as a result of his own violence.

Knowing that the revenge killing is wrong, he does not want his children to know that he killed Strout although he knows that his children are pained in their knowledge that Strout killed their sibling. The difference between Strout and Matt is in their response to their own acts of violence. While it both creates and resolves inner conflicts for Matt it does nothing but gives Strout satisfaction. Srout’s satisfaction is manifested by his free admission for killing Frank and his reasons for doing so. In the end Matt has a conscience which helps him to realize that violence does not beget violence.

As for Strout he sees nothing wrong in the killing of a man who covets his wife. As Dubus demonstrates with Matt, he was conflicted from the start of his plan to commit murder in that he tried to justify his plan and in carrying it out he was just as unsatisfied with the result as he was prior to the killing. Like Dubus’ Killings and the ultimate conclusion that Frank comes to at the end, O’Connors’ A Good Man is Hard to Find brings the key character to the conclusion that every mortal, however undeserving is worthy of mercy and forgiveness.

O’Connor incorporates religious themes of forgiveness and grace through her representations of the misfit and the grandmother, the two central characters who remain unnamed in A Good Man is Hard to Find. (Brandy, 1996) The reader knows at once that the story is told from the vantage point of the grandmother who like Dubus’ Frank is focused on her relationship with her family which includes a cat and her son Bailey. Her protective attitude toward her cat and her desire to take a family vacation are the events that lead to violence and the resulting inner conflict that resolves itself in mercy and forgiveness.

At the start of the novel, the reader knows that the grandmother is the main character from the following introductory opening: “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind. ” (O’Connor, 445) It is the grandmother’s inner conflicts that puts the family into the misfit’s path and gets them killed. Although her inner conflicts are not as serious as those of Matt’s they lead to essentially the same results.

The grandmother does not kill anyone out of revenge and neither does the misfit who is just a serial killer with no particular motive, the violence in both works are essentially the same. Just as Matt tries to justify his plan to kill Stroud, the grandmother tries to justify her desire to change the course of the family vacation which inevitably leads to their merciless murders. The irony is that the grandmother makes a show of warning Bailey and his little family of the Misfit’s escape from prison and urged that it was absolutely necessary to change course to avoid getting killed.

She also makes it a point to justify bringing her cat along without telling Bailey who will be driving. The cat eventually jumps out on the journey, startles Bailey and gets the family in a wreck and in the path of the killer and his comrades. O’Connor’s explains why the grandmother decided to bring her cat along: “She didn’t intend for the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of the gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn’t like to arrive at a motel with a cat.

” (O’Connor, 445-455) The grandmother is forced to watch as each of her beloved family members are taken into the woods and shot to death mercilessly. When her turn comes she pleads with the misfit for her life even offering to pray with him. The misfit declines the invitation claiming that the only options Christ offers him is a choice between blind faith or violence. His admission somehow finds sympathy in the grandmother and when she reaches out to touch him he shoots her thereby ending her life. The reader does not know what the misfit is thinking since the story is narrated by the grandmother.

Her inner conflict cannot be distinguished from the world around her and critics for the most part agree that A Good Man is Hard to Find is a tale of redemption in a lost world. (Sloan, 118-120) The misfit in his violence brings a sort of reconciliation for the grandmother who represents the materialistic self-absorbed member of society. (Blythe and Sweet, 49-51) She is forced to reconcile see that there is little differences between her and the Misfit in that they are both human. He opens her eyes with the following question: “Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain’t punished at all?

” (O’Connor, 445-455) The similarities between mankind are expanded when the misfit compares himself to Jesus Christ as follow: “It was the same case with Him [Jesus] as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one” (O’Connor, 445-455) Faced with the prospect of a violent death, the grandmother is forced to see the sins of the world by the misfits remarks. She too feels a kinship with him and comes to terms with her own need for redemption. This is made possible by the violence she witnessed with respect to her own family members, the violent she knows she will suffer and the misfit’s comments to her.

The grandmother’s redemption comes in the form of her outburst upon meeting with the misfit. She exclaims: “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children! ” (O’Connor, 445-455) Her violent death and the moments leading up to it redeemed her by bringing the grandmother to terms with her own sins and her similarities to the misfit. O’Connor makes this clear through the misfit who says after shooting the grandmother: “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life. ” (O’Connor, 445-455) While this observation may have been cruel to say the very least it is true.

The grandmother was obviously self-centered and out of touch spiritually. However, the moment she is faced with the prospect of a violent death she is able to reconcile the conflict between good and bad in the world. For her the conflict existed on a superficial level and divided her and the misfit. Until she was faced with violence she was able to ascertain a more realistic distinction between good and evil and realized she too was not without sin. As Anthony Di Renzo explains the confrontation with violence in A Good Man is Hard to Find represents:

“… that strange passageway between the sacred and the profane, heaven and hell” (Di Renzo, 15) Violence brings the grandmother to the truth about herself in much the same manner as violence brings Matt to the truth about himself. There are significant differences between the truths and the moment of conflict. As the reader would have noticed throughout Killings Matt was conflicted about the truth from the start. He wanted to kill his son’s murder, but knew that it was wrong and tried to reconcile his desire with that which he knew was wrong.

He justified his plan in a variety of ways by first surmising that he could not let his older son do the deed and then that he had to do it for his wife. For Matt the violence that sets his plan in motion creates the conflict for him. It is only once his plan is executed that he reconciles the conflict by facing the truth. The truth was that he was better than the murderer who took his son’s life in that he at least derived no satisfaction from the murder and did not feel better for it. It is a truth and a reconciliation that he could live with.

The grandmother on the other hand is a victim of violence per se. Just like Matt however, she suffers the violent deaths of her family member, yet she still has the wherewithal to plead for her own life when violence turns its ugly head on her. This too is a manifestation of her self-love. The truth for her, unlike Matt is that the folly of her life is such that she may not be able to live with it since her own folly and selfishness indirectly led to the deaths of her loved ones. Her redemption and realization that she was no better than the misfit came at the right time, moments before her death.

Conclusion A single lesson is conveyed in both Killings and A Good Man is Hard to Find. Mortality binds all men and only God divides them. The line between good and evil is a thin one and can be blurred by the tiniest of misconceptions. In the grandmother’s case her misconception came as a result of her own self-absorption. Matt’s misconceptions came as a result of his commitment to protecting his family. In both cases only conflicts between good and evil arose within each of the characters and were only reconciled when they each came face to face with violence.

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