Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Melvin Rees -- The Sex Beast

Literary Psychopath

As if expecting these cultural pressures to grip and motivate roving men who turned to murder, in 1953 Flannery OConnor published a short story entitled, A Good Man is Hard to Find. Known for twisting expectations into gruesome images, she probably never topped herself outside this tale.

A Good Man is Hard to Find
A Good Man is Hard to Find
It opens with a grandmother resisting a trip to Florida that her family desires to take, so in an attempt to scare them out of it, she describes the horrific crimes of the Misfit, a fugitive from a federal prison who had done something to some people. His crimes remain vague, but the womans worried tone conveys an uneasy fear of pervasive danger on the road: someone who doesnt even know you and has nothing against you, could nevertheless come along and harm or kill you. The family goes to Florida anyway, taking her with them. Along the way, she raises the subject of the Misfit, warning the others of what he might do. The storys title refers to the fact that danger from strangers is increasing in America and its getting more difficult to feel safe. There once were better times.

The family decides to go down a dirt road to see an attraction, and of course, they encounter the Misfit. Having an accident, thanks to Grandmas cat, they seek help, and a car with three men passes by them and stops. The men are armed, and the grandmother, having seen a photo in the paper, shouts at one of them that hes the Misfit. He affirms it, and tells her it would have been better for them had she not said so. Now theyre in trouble. The grandmother attempts to appeal to the mans better nature, and he apologizes for not wearing a shirt in front of the ladies. Nevertheless, its clear that his intent for them was formed as soon as he saw them. No appeal will budge it.

Even as the Misfit talks about being a gospel singer and one of his companions comments on how to fix the car, the other takes the father and son into the woods and shoots them. Then, they take the mother, daughter and baby, and do the same. The grandmother, aware of whats happening, continues to remind the Misfit of what was once good in him. But he compares himself to Jesus, who suffered punishment for no crime, proving that the world is morally off balance. The Misfit figures that the only thing a person can do is enjoy whatever time he has, and since he likes killing people, thats what he does. He likes meanness. When the grandmother offers a touch of kindness, he jumps back and shoots her dead. Then he cleans his glasses and, without affect or remorse, tells his companions to dump her body with the others. 

It was just this sort of cold predatory behavior that frightened people around the country, and with good reason, as television, newspapers, and newsreels shown in movie theaters covered the evident increase in demented or angry killers.

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