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A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND
THE DISPLACED PERSON
This is the longest story in the collection, and the most complex. The plot is simple and straightforward, but there is also a well- developed subplot concerning the Shortley's. Mrs. Shortley, though she dies about half way through, has ideas about the Displaced Person which will eventually cause his death--and certainly contributed to hers.
This story also clearly portrays the thinking of some Americans after the Second World War, the deep suspicion against Europeans, and the fear and disgust set off by the widespread media images of death camps. As in all wars, people afterwards tend to get confused about the purpose, the victims or heroes, and where to set their allegiances after the "victory." The tragedy of the story is that Mr. Guizac, who survives the Nazis, is killed by the people who are supposedly helping him get back on his feet.
In typical O'Connor fashion, the misguided are re-guided by the workings of fate. This is not always pleasant, of course. Mrs. McIntyre is never the same, after letting the tractor run over Mr. Guizac. Mrs. Shortley pays for her fervor, and Mr. Shortley--who spreads mischief in order to guarantee himself a place--has no place, in the end.
Race is discussed in this story, as well. O'Connor writes of the times she experienced, when whites and blacks in the south very rarely married. It doesn't occur to Mrs. McIntyre that the cousin of Mr. Guizac may well agree to marry Sulk and be glad of it. Mrs. McIntyre sees only the social disaster of her world, not the refigured truths of anyone else's existence. It is ironic that the two white women are determined to "save" the Negroes from Mr. Guizac, when he already accepts them as equals. He expects them to work like he does. He expects them to make their own decisions. The women don't think much of them.
In this last story of the collection, everyone ends up displaced-- except, maybe, Father Flynn, who preaches doggedly and is always rather distant and unconnected anyway. Displacement is quickly destructive in Mrs. Shortley's case, slower for the others, but complete in all cases. The Displaced Person of the title becomes not just a European in America, but anyone who gets jostled out of place and can't cope. No one in this story knows quite where they belong.
Religious Themes arise in this story, quite directly. The Catholic priest is suspect, and his preaching about Christ is thudding and unheard; Mr. Guizac becomes Christ in conversations where the subject of sentences is lazily switched. Mrs. Shortley goes back to her bible, after deciding that Mr. Guizac is evil--mostly because she is insulted at Mrs. McIntyre's reaction to the Pole's hard work. She works herself into a fit about good and evil, and dies.
"Obligation" seems to drive Mrs. McIntyre to her grave. She can't figure out who (or what) she has an obligation to, until Mr. Shortley convinces her. When they kill (figuratively, at least) Mr. Guizac, the question of moral obligation in an employment situation is eclipsed by the horror of their heartlessness. They are very sure of their position against Mr. Guizac, but their doubts scatter them. The placement of obligation, or "responsibility," is fuzzy at best. When people are scared, they move to place their obligations without doubt, often with disastrous results.
The peacock becomes an idol to the old priest. He confuses its image with the image of the second coming. Mrs. Shortley does the same thing, suns being a significant part of her revelation. The sun is a "pagan" symbol, a center, a divine life-giver, a paternal representative--throughout human history it has been bestowed with all kinds of meanings and powers.
Many of the stories begin with a description of the hired woman, then go on to the woman-owner of the farm ,and end with her tragedy after a series of mishaps which result in the enactment of her greatest fear, some sort of ruin. Each woman is holding fiercely to what she has, and feels she has everything to lose. In each case, a moral dilemma is moved to an extreme case, and the humanity of each character is tested.