Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

The Timothy Allusion in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"

Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

The Timothy Allusion in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"

Article excerpt

IN "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," the family stops at Red Sammy Butts's place "for barbecued sandwiches." "The Tower," as Flannery O Connor calls his establishment, "was a part stucco and part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside Timothy" (120). Critics have long dealt with O'Connor's place names, including the fictional town of Timothy. Robert H. Woodward was the first to speculate on the significance of the allusion to 1 Timothy, and later Hallman B. Bryant published his now famous article, "Reading the Map in `A Good Man Is Hard to Find.'"(1) TM Both analyses focus almost entirely on the moral dimension, with barely a hint of the spiritual, and neither article gives any indication that Paul wrote two epistles to Timothy. Responding to the latter omission, Michael Clark connects Paul's statement in 2 Timothy 1.6 on the laying on of hands with the grandmother's touch at the end of the story. These previous interpretations, however, leave unexplored other meaningful parallels between the epistles and this story. Indeed, as Leon V. Driskell and Joan T. Brittain point out, "An individual story's full significance may depend upon the reader's recognition of an allusion" (11). My purpose, then, is to explore more fully the moral and spiritual significance of O'Connor's allusion to 1 and 2 Timothy and to show that Paul's own related experiences enhance a reading of the climax.

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. …

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