The Girl Who Would Be Silence

Silence. It was what she sought out purposefully with all of the intention of a jackhammer breaking apart concrete. It was elusive, however, just like Santa or the Tooth Fairy. She could not remember when this quest for silence began. When she was ten she thought to take a vow of silence, but of course her mother pointed out the impracticality of that idea. How would she be able to answer questions directed to her by her teacher? She would surely be singled out a disrespectful, or even worse, a weird child. And God forbid she fall into a raging river, what then? She would most certainly have to yell for help. Never mind the fact that the nearest river was 62.8 miles away from her house, arguing with her mother was about as futile as hitting a piñata with a pussy willow. After giving it some thought, she was able to resign herself to the death of her vow of silence knowing that it would make very little difference if she still had to listen to the chit and the chatter of everyone else.

All of the chatter and noise that surrounded her was like a hive of bees in her head, a hive that had been knocked down from a tree by a little boy wielding a very big stick. The bees were angry. The bees were loud. And the bees were always buzzing. They chased her thoughts with their stingers ready to strike, dripping not with honey, but with hostility. And so in an attempt to escape the belligerent buzzing of the bees and their eager stingers, she jumped into a lake deep within her mind. She retreated so far within herself that she became lost to those who knew her.

The water was frigid at first, until her muscles relaxed into it. She imagined this was what death was like, a complete and total surrender of flesh, but more importantly, a complete and total surrender of mind. So she adapted ways to remain anchored in this self-made lake. Rocking back and forth, whether sitting at her desk in school or riding in the backseat of her mother’s VW station wagon, the rhythmical rocking was hypnotic and helped to keep her mind still, so still in fact, that the bees could not see her. She was tethered to the bottom of the lake, fixedly floating like an aquatic field of Hydrilla. She could see the tiny specks buzzing above the surface of her lake, like some creation on an etch-a-sketch, searching futilely for her, but she was safe in her underwater sanctuary.

And so the hours turned into days, turning into weeks and months, and as it always happens years began to pass by. So many attempts were made to place a label upon her. Strange, shy, stupid, boring, freak…but the labels never made it to her. They stuck to the surface of her lake, floating like delicate white water Lilies, until the words bled from the paper and the ink turned into beautiful, colored swirls. They became her Aurora Borealis.

Deconstructing A Good Man is Hard to Find

There are multiple ways to experience life as there are multiple ways to experience literature. We each, individually, experience both in our own unique way, with our own ideologies guiding us, and looking through the lenses of our own subjectivity. This is deconstruction; it does not take the meaning away but multiplies it. Lois Tyson so aptly observes, “Change the lens and you change both the view and the viewer. This principal is what makes knowledge at once so frightening and so liberating, so painful and so utterly, utterly joyful” (9). So it is with Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” As O’Connor herself once noted, “there are perhaps other ways than my own in which [“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”] could be read, but none other by which it could have been written.” While the author wrote the story, guided by her own subjectivity and looking through her own lens, she acknowledges that her readers may, and some most definitely will, read it through a different lens. In this paper three tenets of deconstruction will be used to analyze “A Good Man is Hard to Find”: Derrida’s idea of impossible aporias or internal contradictions, undecidability and the way in which that erodes any sense of concrete binaries, namely good versus evil, and the concept of tout autre or responsibility to the other.

What is a good man? The question is first posed when the family makes a stop during their road trip to Florida at Red Sammy’s, an old dance hall/barbecue shack. Red Sammy bemoans the fact that you just can’t trust people anymore while wiping his forehead on a grey handkerchief. The color grey comes when you mix white and black. These are two binaries with underlying binaries, good and bad. Symbolically speaking the handkerchief represents the mixture of good and bad and how the two are becoming hard to differentiate between. According to deconstruction theory, there is no one good or bad. The binaries do not take their meaning from each other only, but from other traces left behind by other binaries, likened to a long chain and resulting in a chain reaction.

Red Sammy then proceeds to recount a story about two men who stopped to get gas. They seemed like good enough men to Red Sammy and so he let them charge the gas with the expectation that they would return and pay him. This is one example of undecidability in the form of decisions that can be found throughout the story. From a deconstructionist view, every decision is the equivalent of taking a leap of faith because there is no certainty to how the decision will unfold (IEP). For Red Sammy, he made the decision to let the men charge the gas with the faith that they would return to pay for it.

According to Derrida, the idea of hospitality is one such impossible aporia. “His point is relatively simple here; to be hospitable, it is first necessary that one must have the power to host. Hospitality hence makes claims to property ownership and it also partakes in the desire to establish a form of self-identity. Secondly, there is the further point that in order to be hospitable, the host must also have some kind of control over the people who are being hosted. This is because if the guests take over a house through force, then the host is no longer being hospitable towards them precisely because they are no longer in control of the situation” (IEP).

Initially, Red Sammy has the power to host because he is the owner of the gas station. While Red Sammy does have the power to let the men charge the gas, he lacks control over them which is determined when the men do not return to pay for the gas they charged. When the men do not return, Red Sammy’s act of hospitality no longer has a fixed meaning and can in fact be seen as something other than hospitality. “Often to show how those meanings cannot settle into a stable structure, we would seek out internal contradictions or internal differences that frustrate any interpretations of the text as holding a single, stable meaning” (Parker, 93).

They never returned and Red Sammy despairingly asks, “Now why did I do a thing like that?” The grandmother replies emphatically it is because Red Sammy is a good man. Red Sammy says that things are getting terrible and a good man is hard to find. The grandmother had just pronounced Red Sammy a good man because of the kindness or “hospitality” he showed the two men by letting them charge the gas. But Red Sammy is still pronouncing that a good man is hard to find. So what exactly is a good man?

It is interesting to note that the conversation between Red Sammy specifically and the idea of good and bad more generally is a reference to the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable a Jewish man is beaten, stripped of clothing, and left in a ditch to die. A priest comes by but crosses the road to bypass him. Then a Levite passes by without helping. The Samaritan, who is the despised enemy of the Jews, comes by and takes him to an inn where he pays for the beaten Jew to be cared for (NIV, Luke 10:29-37). This act of mercy and grace by the perceived enemy is the contradiction that will resurface throughout the story.

The next passage where the idea of “good” is explored is when the family careens off the road into a gulch. The Misfit, who is an escaped and dangerous murderer, comes upon the stranded family with his gang in tow. Upon realizing that the man she is seeing is indeed the Misfit, the grandmother pronounces emphatically that he is a good man. One is left to wonder, if the “hospitality” and kindness Red Sammy showed the men was what determined him to be a good man in the opinion of the grandmother, how she could possibly see goodness in the violence and murder the Misfit takes part in. This but another contradiction. Kindness and evil cannot both denote goodness. Or can it?

The signifier “good” has somehow shifted in its meaning for the grandmother. As Jack Reynolds states, “the meaning of the term changes depending upon the particular context in which it is being employed” (IEP). One explanation of the grandmother’s aporia is explained by Lois Tyson, “Every signifier consists of and produces more signifiers in a never-ending deferral, or postponement, of meaning” (239). The grandmother is relying on other traces of signifiers denoting good such as ethnicity perhaps. In her desperation in the current situation, to rely on the meaning of the signifier “good” as relating strictly to the kindness displayed by Red Sammy would leave her no hope in her current situation that the Misfit might also be good. Therefore she seeks out other meanings of the signifier “good” which she can rely on to convince herself and the Misfit that he is a good man and as such would never shoot her.

In the final scene of the story, we see the grandmother’s tout autre, or responsibility to the other occur. Her entire family has been shot to death one by one and she is now left alone, facing the man responsible for their murders. As the Misfit kneels in front of the grandmother, his face close to hers, she gains a moment of clarity and says, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children.” She then makes a decision without knowing the results of that decision but for once, not even caring to calculate the results. For one moment in her life, the grandmother demonstrates what is so incredibly hard to do in this world. She reaches out to touch the Misfit and by doing that offers him unconditional forgiveness. Forgiveness, according to Derrida is one of those aporias because the notion of absolute forgiveness “…requires a radically singular confrontation between self and other” (IEP). The grandmother, who has acted irresponsibly throughout the story in regards to her manipulation, is finally accepting the responsibility. “For Derrida, the paradox of responsible behaviour means that there is always a question of being responsible before a singular other (eg. a loved one, God, etc.), and yet we are also always referred to our responsibility towards others generally and to what we share with them (IEP). The grandmother, in reaching out, has found the common bond between herself and the other (the Misfit) and in doing so has revealed that to him. In claiming their oneness in her last words and in reaching out in a moment of grace, the grandmother has become the Good Samaritan.

Regardless, the Misfit shoots the grandmother dead, and as he looks down on her he says, “She would of been a good woman…had it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” And so the final aporia of the story is that perhaps goodness does spring from many different meanings and that it was only through evil that the grandmother was able to become a good woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Parker, Robert. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. NewYork: Oxford, 2015. Print.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. New York:   Routledge, 2015. Print

Reynolds, Jack. “Jacques Derrida (1930—2004).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.

Flannery O’Connor, “On Her Own Work,” in her Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, edited by Sally Fitzgerald and Robert Fitzgerald, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969, pp. 107-18.

 

 

 

 

Because People Change

What do you do when you’ve given fifteen years of your life to a man, given up your personal ambitions to give him three children and be a stay-at-home mom, only to discover over the phone that he is indeed ready to divorce so that he can pursue his relationship with the cute blond pharmaceutical sales rep with the apartment in the city and a not so attractive Pug she so cleverly named Toto because she is originally from Kansas? Well, if you’re thirty-four-year-old Maggie Murphy, you silently scream (so as not to wake those three sleeping children) every curse word in the book and when you run out of curse words you invent new ones. You tear the kitchen apart, cleaning out the junk drawer, throwing away old receipts and lottery tickets from years past (ripping them to pieces first), scrubbing the refrigerator and throwing out all of the meat, his meat, because you’ve been a vegetarian for sixteen years. You remember how he said he was also a vegetarian for the first two years you were together, only to find out years later that he did not forgo meat because he was a vegetarian, rather he was too afraid to eat the grade D meat the Navy served. But behind your back he would go to seven-eleven and scarf down a chili dog or two.

You hear the words echoing in your head “…because people change.” And you cry. Tears and snot all intermingle in one disgusting mess and you wipe your face with your sleeve, the same sleeve you used earlier in the day to wipe away your two-year-old daughter’s snot because even though she is your third child you still, for some unfathomable reason, cannot remember to carry tissues. You sink to the floor and think of your husband and the cute pharmaceutical sales rep, who also happens to be a tri-athlete. Triathletes have extremely tight asses you discover, not like the ass of a stay-at-home mom of three, an ass that your children affectionately call the “jiggley”. They are now “in love” and are planning their future together, a future that includes your children, and you feel the rolls of your stomach folding over one another and you try to replace the feeling of self-loathing with the memory of carrying each one of your children. But you can’t so you grab the box of cheese-its on the counter and try the best you can to console yourself in your broken home.

That was Maggie Mae Murphy eight months, four days, and seven hours ago. Since that phone call her life had been flipped upside down. In the first couple of months she was sure he would come to his senses and accept her offer of counseling. Fifteen years and three children and there was not a chance of reconsideration. The “I’m just not sure we can fix it” turned into “It could never have been fixed.” This translated into “You and the family we had were just not worth enough to even try fixing it.” And this broke her heart. It also really pissed her off.

Three scars on her stomach from three cesareans and a mass of stretch marks on her breasts, ten years of devoting herself to the “family” (what the hell is the definition of family these days anyways and if she had to hear one more time that they still were a family just a different kind she would gouge out her eyes) while Aiden filled those years with his shenanigans at the Ratheskellar. He spent those years building his career and his sense of importance in managing multi-million dollar projects at NYU and New York Presbyterian, reveling in his role as father, a role that she supported, reveling in everything but her. She seethed. And she cried. And seethed and cried.

“There are just too many mistakes.” That was his answer when she asked him why he did not want to try to fix things.

“What mistakes? I want you to tell me what my mistakes were. What did I do?!” Her voice rising with each word until her sentence ended in a scream. Shrew!

“What makes you think they were your mistakes?” And so he wiped his hands on his pharmaceutical sales rep’s wallet and walked away.

So she painted each room. The living room she painted butterscotch, a red accent wall in the kitchen, and the paneling in the dining room pastel green, blue, and tan. The latter ended up looking like the Easter Bunny had vomited all over the walls but it was different than before and that was what she needed. She gladly welcomed the Easter Bunny vomit. She painted in anger at first, each roll erasing her memories of what was. These would be walls that Aiden had never seen and never would. These were her walls now. Hers and her children’s. But when she got to the entrance way to the kitchen and began painting over the smudges and dirty fingerprints of her children, her anger turned to something else. Grief. It was an intense sadness that could not be put into words. She realized then that it was not just memories of her relationship, her marriage, she was attempting to erase but her memories of her children. It was not just her marriage that was gone but her family. She could not let go of him without letting go of part of her children. That pushed her over.

She packed away all of the photo albums of their life together. The early years in Virginia and Grand Rapids, and the past eleven years they spent building a life in New Jersey. Their trip to Martha’s Vineyard before children and their vacation to Saint Marten after children. She packed away photos, photos of him, photos of her children, photos of her family. The old family. She packed them all away in a five dollar tub purchased at Wal-Mart, color blue. She packed them away with the love letters they had exchanged the first two years of their love affair. The Navy years. Those letters had gotten her through the bad times in her marriage, the times she had wanted to give in and give up. Fifteen years all packed away in one five gallon tub purchased at Wal-Mart, color blue.

But in the end it did not matter that the walls were painted, the furniture replaced and rearranged, photos, journals and mementos packed away. The pain, the anger, the bitterness, and the confusion were still there. The what-ifs, should haves, and whys were still there. They were haunting the halls of her mind like ghosts. Their echoes were inside of her, the chains rattling in her heart, and they would always be there. That was when she came to the conclusion, which seemed rather logical at the time, that the only solution to the problem would be to kill him. She would kill him and with him all of the rage and bitterness.

 

Lyin With Ghost Thoughts

Sometimes I lie awake at night and stare at the ceilin. I hold my hands behind my head for myself a pillow and listen to the night sounds, thinkin I’m sure gonna buy myself one of them feather-filled pillows one day. They’re supposed to be real nice and fine. I wouldn’t much mind havin somethin fine to lay my head on.

I hear the crickets chirp and the bullfrogs croakin like grumpy old men. Kind of like Mr. Blythe down at the hardware store in town. He’s always got a real sour look on his face like he just done bit into a lemon or somethin. Heck, someone should done thrown him some salt. Then I hear little Jay breathin real soft like beside me. I like the sound of his breathin. I don’t feel so lonely. I can even hear the man in Mama’s bed snorin so loud it almost covers the sound of Mamma cryin. Almost. Heck, even the house has a little somthin to say. Floorboards creakin and complainin like they’re just so darn fed up they gonna snap under the next foot that dares step on em.

So here I am, listenin to all the sounds that only come out in the night time, kinda like lonely old ghosts, and I get to feelin lonely myself. Mamma always says a person can feel lonely but they aint never alone cause the good Lord is always with em. I just nod my head and say, “Yes Mamma.” But sometimes, lyin in the dark here at night, alone with the ghost sounds and all my thoughts just kickin around in my head, I wonder.