Virtue and “the grandmother”
If you were to ask someone what their definition of a happy life would be, they would probably give you an answer like, “having fun.” This is completely untrue in Aristotle’s terms. According to Aristotle, for a man to lead a happy life he must learn each of the intellectual virtues, and practice each of the moral virtues throughout his life. These moral virtues are justice, courage, temperance, magnificence, magnanimity, liberality, gentleness, prudence, and wisdom. With so many virtues to constantly abide by, a man cannot know if he has led a happy life until his life is nearly finished.
In the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” by Flannery O’ Connor, the question is raised whether the grandmother has achieved a state of happiness according to Aristotle’s terms at the time of her death. The answer is no, because she is a person who is dishonest, cowardly, and unwise.
Of all the virtues, honesty is practiced the least by the grandmother. Honesty is defined as “The capacity or condition of being honest; integrity; trustworthiness” (Honesty). There are several examples of the grandmother’s dishonest and untrustworthy actions. In the beginning of the story, “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida” (O’ Connor 1106), so she made up false excuses to try to persuade her family to take her to Tennessee.
“‘… This fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida …. … I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it’” (O’ Connor 1106). On the way to Florida, the grandmother notices an old house she visited as a child. When she wants to stop and re-visit the house, the grandmother tells the children, “‘There was a secret panel in this house’ … not telling the truth but wishing that she were” (O’ Connor 1110), lying again so she could have her way. The grandmother also secretly brought the family cat, “She had her big black valise … and underneath it she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it” (O’ Connor 1106), even though “Her son, Bailey, didn’t like to arrive at a motel with a cat” (O’ Connor 1107). When The Misfit arrives, “The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she knew” (O’ Connor 1112), but when she later realizes who the man is, she claims, “‘I recognized you at once!’” (O’ Connor 1113).
She tells The Misfit, “‘we turned over twice!’” (O’ Connor 1112), even though they both knew that it was only once. Lastly, the grandmother lies again to herself and to The Misfit when she says, “‘you shouldn’t call yourself The Misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart’” (O’ Connor 1113). The only reason she says this is in an attempt to save her life.
Another virtue the grandmother lacks is courage. Courage is “The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger with self-possession, confidence and resolution” (Courage). When The Misfit arrives, the grandmother is nothing but a coward.
She exhibits no self-possession, “Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice” (O’ Connor 1116), displayed here when she can’t even speak. She also has no resolution to the situation but to give The Misfit her money, “‘I’ll give you all the money I’ve got!’” (O’ Connor 1116), or to lie to The Misfit and tell him he’s a good man.
Of course none of this would have come about if it weren’t for the grandmother’s lack of wisdom. Wisdom is “common sense; sagacity; good judgment” (Wisdom). The grandmother does not use good judgment when she decides to bring the cat along, and the cat ends up causing their accident. “The instant the valise moved, the newspaper top she had over the basket under it rose with a snarl and Pitty Sing, the cat, sprang onto Bailey’s shoulder” (O’ Connor 1111).
But the most unwise of decisions the grandmother makes is when she recognizes The Misfit and decides to call him out on it. “The grandmother .