Life has different attractions, points of interest, meanings or attitudes that varies across one’s existence. What might have seemed funny engaging at a young age might be considered irritating or upsetting at a more advanced age. This change in the attitude towards life is part of a process, the process of getting older and it is underlying the generation conflict. The generation conflict theme is common to the short stories that will be comparatively analyzed in this paper, respectively: Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill” and Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. The generation conflict has distinct approaches in the two short stories that will be further analyzed.
The eponym character of “Miss Brill” experiences the generation conflict initially subconsciously, as she lives in a dream world, seeing her life as a play. She juggles her role in the play, as she is either a spectator either a professional actress. In this world that she created for herself she dissociates from the reality and she lives through her characters: old people, young people, all types of people to which stories she listens while staying on a bank in the park with her fur coat on. This continuous invasion of others’ privacy transforms her into a sharp examiner of people’s behaviors and personalities, but it draws her away from seeing herself as she really is. Miss Brill is a single middle aged woman, who is teaching English and reading the newspaper to an old invalid man. In the Sundays she goes to the “Jardins Publiques”, where she fantasizes about being an actress, waking up her invalid patient to whom she reads the newspaper with her artistic qualities. While delighting herself with her fantasies she loses control of reality. Or, on the contrary, as Julia Van Gunsteren (118) notes, she intentionally sets herself in a play like world, as a way to resist the solitude of her real life and the fact that she is aging. She is suddenly brought back into the real life when she hears the youngsters talking about her. She makes the subject of their conversation, but not as an actress, but as a “stupid old thing”, with a “funny  like a fried whiting” fur (Mansfield 375). The generation conflict is actually her wake – up call to her sad and lonely life.
Unlike Miss Brill, the main character of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, the grandmother, is well aware of her age and living her life in a very lucid manner, knowing the advantages that her advanced age may bring, as she uses her age as a weapon in the conflict with the younger generation. As such, for persuading her son, Bailey to go to Tennessee instead of Florida for holiday, she argues that when she was young, children used to be more respectful of their parents, indirectly blaming her son for not listening to her demands (“In my time  children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else” (O’Conner 381)). Moreover, she shows her indignation of her son’s decision to go to Florida instead of Tennessee, by wearing her best clothes as she travels, in order to be recognized as a lady if she were to die in an accident on their way to Florida. She wastes no opportunity of victimizing herself, as she accuses pain and internal damages caused by a car accident that occurred on the way that she indicated for detouring the car from the way to Florida, acting immaturely and childishly for reaching her purposes (Robillard 77).
Reflecting about the tone, in “Miss Brill”, the main character expresses an informal, playful tone initially, which rapidly evolves towards a fantasy mingled with gossip – like attitude and ending with a melancholic sadness tone, when Miss Brill “thought she heard something crying” (Mansfield 376). The novel starts with a serene tone, finding Miss Brill enjoying a lovely Sunday afternoon while feeling good about wearing her fur. The tone evolves into a playful attitude, as Miss Brill is playing with her characters, people that she meets in the park, listening to their conversations and this rapidly transforms into voyeurism. In the end, with the cruel remarks of the young couple regarding her age and her fur, the tone changes into sadness and submission (Van Gunstern 118), as Miss Brill does not buy her usual honey – cake and she hears a cry, which is in fact her own cry, to which she assist as a spectator, as she has practiced this exercise throughout her life. She resigns to the generation conflict, admitting her defeat with her cry that indicates a life wasted in solitude and self – disillusion, of which she was forced to become aware by two youngsters who pointed out how ridiculous and unwanted she was.
Similarly, in “A Good Man is Hard to find”, the tone is initially informal and playful, but unlike the tone in “Miss Brill”, it evolves into something caustic, intriguing and violent. Towards the end of O’Conner’s short story, the tone takes a religious note: “Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady (O’Conner 390)”. In relation with the tone in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, there was stated that the author combines humor with detachment, irony, hypocrisy and violence (Robillard 76). Glancing at the short-story, the humor raises suddenly (“a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage” (O’Conner 380)) and moves rapidly into detachment and irony (“She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks . Afraid she’d miss something” (O’Conner 380)). The hypocritical tone is dominating the entire novel, following the grandmother who uses her old age and her feebleness to get what she wants by posing into a victim. The violent tone appears when the grandmother and her family come across the Misfit and his band, who kills them one by one.
The generation conflict takes distinct shapes in the two analyzed short – stories “Miss Brill” (Katherine Mansfield) and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (Flannery O’Conner). The authors set their own interpretations and attitude towards this theme. While Mansfield, through her character – Miss Brill – imposes sadness and a resignation attitude regarding the generation conflict, O’Conner, through her main character, the grandmother, treats it as an actual battlefield, where the combatants use all their weapons for winning the conflict. These distinct attitudes regarding the generation conflict are visible from the characters’ traits and also from the tones that the authors set in their short stories.
Mansfield, Katherine. “Miss Brill”. The Nelson Introduction to Literature 2nd Edition. Nelson College: 2004.
Robillard, Douglas. “The” Critical Response to Flannery O’Connor. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. 2004. Print.
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. The Nelson Introduction to Literature 2nd Edition. Nelson College: 2004.
Van Gunsteren, Julia. Katherine Mansfield and Literary Impressionism. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, B.V. 1990. Print.