A Good Man is Hard to Find
Good vs. Evil Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
[The grandmother:] "Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn't answer to my conscience if I did." (1)
We get a lot in this seemingly ridiculous warning from the grandmother. First, it makes introduces The Misfit right at the beginning of the story, and gives the reader the feeling that a confrontation with him is inevitable. It also sets up the story's great irony: the grandmother will be the one who brings everyone to The Misfit, by taking them down the wrong road, by indirectly causing the accident, and then by telling The Misfit that she recognizes him. Even if the encounter with The Misfit is unintended, should the grandmother to be faulted for this, especially in the moment when she reveals she knows who he is? That she even brings up "conscience" here is also suggestive. The grandmother is implicitly setting herself up as a "good" person, since good people are people who follow their conscience.
"Two fellers come in here last week," Red Sammy said, "driving a Chrysler. It was a old beat-up car but it was a good one and these boys looked all right to me. Said they worked at the mill and you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why did I do that?"
"Because you're a good man!" the grandmother said at once. (36-37)
The grandmother, barely knowing Red Sammy at all, is awfully quick to call him a "good man." Why does she do that? Does the grandmother really mean it, or is she just trying to charm Red Sammy quickly? Does she play fast and loose with the word "good," and apply it to everyone she deems "respectable"? Does she think Red Sammy's good because he was trusting and willing to help decent-seeming people? However you look at it, the grandmother appears to use the word flippantly.
"A good man is hard to find," Red Sammy said. "Everything is getting terrible. I remember that day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more." (43)
When Sammy complains that a good man is hard to find, he seems to mean that trustworthy people are hard to find. To him, "good" means "decent" or "respectable," like it does for the grandmother. Of course, the grandmother – herself certainly a "good" person – and the family will encounter somebody who's "the other kind," (see "What's Up with the Title?"), so there's something humorous yet foreboding about what Sammy says. But there's also a more serious irony because the encounter with genuine evil will pose the question of what it really means to be good. It could be that it means a lot more than Sammy or the grandmother think it does.