Many authors have sought to capture the notion of faith and its place in the psychological fabric of individuals. They have sought to discover what it is that makes one person believe (or not believe) in another person or in a group of people so strongly but without solid proof. In “Young Goodman Brown,” Nathaniel Hawthorne takes the position that blind faith in humanity and religion is foolish and naïve.
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Conner appears to support that same position but with the idea that faith cannot easily be faked. Both stories center on the idea of faith in humankind, but while the first story leaves the reader with a somewhat ambiguous ending, the second story makes its lesson perfectly clear. Both stories show the reader that blind faith or fabricated faith in humanity can produce tragic consequences.Both stories immediately present the dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The title of Hawthorne’s story presents the reader with the allegorical man, Young Goodman Brown, who is initially set up as the ultimate test subject who fully expects to conquer the evil this one night’s quest will bring him. After all, he has descended from “a race of honest men and Christians since the days of the martyrs” (Hawthorne 318), so he should easily be able to resist the evil in the forest. The truism inherent in the title of O’Connor’s story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” echoes the idea that a man truly deserving of one’s faith may not exist. The self-righteous grandmother in this story cannot stop harping on the dangers of traveling to Florida now that the Misfit is on the loose.
She declares that “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did” (O’Connor 495). In “Young Goodman Brown,” Goodman and his wife, Faith, represent the good in people while the evil and secret doings in the forest represent the bad.
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the Misfit clearly represents the bad, while the unwelcome maxims of the grandmother represent the good.Goodman and the grandmother’s perceptions of faith are tested in each of these stories. As Goodman ventures further and further into the woods, he is joined on his journey by familiar faces – his Sunday School teacher, a church deacon, a man who looks very much like his own forefathers. He is told stories of his family’s wickedness, but he does not believe them. However, the grandmother is not a bit trusting.
She notes to a filling station proprietor, Red Sammy, that “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you can trust…and I don’t count nobody bout of that, not nobody” (O’Connor 499). Goodman becomes more and more timid and unsure of his faith the further into the forest he goes. Grandmother valiantly attempts to convert the Misfit to good after a freak accident puts them in their path.Unfortunately, neither is successful in finding faith in mankind.
Goodman’s journey culminates in his being swept into a dreamlike state wherein he finds none other than his wife, Faith’s, pink ribbons. Upon finding this symbol of her purity and goodness in the evil forest, he wails “My Faith is gone! There is no good on earth, and sin is but a name. Come, devil! For to thee is this world given” (Hawthorne 323). He races on to the ceremony only to find his Faith there. The grandmother doesn’t give up so easily. She immediately assaults the Misfit with a barrage of assurances that he is a good person who had simply been misunderstood and falsely accused his whole life.
She tells him “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people” (O’Connor 504). The grandmother is never given any indication by the Misfit that he intends to spare her or any of her family’s lives. Likewise, Goodman has never had any reason to suspect and doubt the purity and goodness of his family or his Faith. In fact, Hawthorne has Goodman awakening from a type of dream with no indication if any of the events ever actually occurred.Both Goodman and the grandmother meet tragic ends due to the failure of faith to make their lives right.
Goodman returns to his home “a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man” (Hawthorne 328). Grandmother is, of course, shot by the Misfit, only after her last, desperate attempt to make physical contact with him. Her end is clearly tragic.However, the stories seem to ask the reader to decide how much blame each of these characters must take on himself for his own, personal tragedy. One could argue that Goodman had very high expectations for his faith. He seemed to believe that his family had been perfect, without flaw, and that he and his wife would also be completely pure and good. Whatever had attracted Goodman to the forest in the first place had attracted many other people in the town, including his own wife Faith.
How could he be sure that his own faith would be so strong where others’ had clearly failed? Next, the grandmother clearly is the reason the family is in the predicament they are in. Even so, she seems almost compelled to save the Misfit. Both Goodman and the grandmother fall back onto religion in order to accomplish this, and again, both are disappointed. It seems that religion alone cannot make humanity worth the faith that people have in them.Faith in people is a difficult and even counterproductive undertaking for many people. When Goodman’s preconceptions of his perfectly pure family and town are questioned, he can no longer live happily amid human beings.
Further, the grandmother’s faithless attempts to have the Misfit believe he is too good to kill her also fail. Goodman’s “…dying hour was gloom” (Hawthorne 328) while the Misfit prophetically remarks over the grandmother’s oddly smiling body, “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor 509). Hawthorne’s and O’Connor’s stories show that both blind faith and contrived faith are pointless endeavors that can have tragic onsequences.