A Good Man is Hard to FindLiterature

Introduction

Some readers think "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a cynical tale, uncompromising in the way it brings out human pettiness and manipulation. Others think it's a black comedy worthy of a Coen brothers short film, or a twisted cartoon. Or perhaps it's a horror story. Still others think it's an uplifting depiction of the mysterious ways God works through human beings over and above their own wills. Maybe it's even all of these at once?

Since it was first published, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" has been Flannery O'Connor's best-known story. Though she'd written it in1953, the story was published in 1955 as part of a collection with the same name, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. Her second published work, the collection established Flannery O'Connor as a major voice in American literature, and particularly Southern literature, until her early death (at the age of 39) in 1964. It also brought her fame as a modern master of the short story (her novels were critically less successful).

Even during O'Connor's lifetime, her works provoked very different reactions in her readers. Many readers and critics found them consistently "grotesque" in their depiction of debased, repulsive (and usually unsympathetic) characters and their at times spectacular displays of violence or cruelty. Some appreciated them as comedies for this reason, while others reacted with disgust. "A Good Man is Hard to Find," as O'Connor's most popular story, frequently stood at the center of discussion. It was also, for that reason, the story about which the author herself spoke most often (she also gave several public readings of it).

O'Connor saw all of her fiction, certainly including this story, as realistic, demandingly unsentimental, but ultimately hopeful. Her inspiration as a writer came from a deeply felt faith in Roman Catholicism, which she claimed informed all of her stories. She wrote, "The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism" (source: The Habit of Being, p. 90). A recurrent theme throughout her writings was the action of divine grace in the horribly imperfect, often revolting, generally funny world of human beings, a theme very much present in "A Good Man is Hard to Find." This story affords perhaps the best place to start in exploring the work of this rather eccentric, certainly unique literary voice.

Why Should I Care

Is a good man (or woman) hard to find? So maybe you don't think about the question all that much per se. But it does suggest another question you might have thought about, since it's one of the Big Questions: what makes a good person? In the confrontation of thoroughly average old grandmother with a criminal who appears certifiably "evil" by just about anyone's standards, Flannery O'Connor's surprisingly deep little story opens up that question, and a whole bunch of others:

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" also makes us think about the possibility of dramatic transformation in a person. Having just lost all of her family and threatened with death herself, the old grandmother appears to undergo a sudden and miraculous change of heart: she reaches out lovingly to the very person who has killed those she loves and is about to kill her. Can we understand an action like that? Can it only be understood religiously, as O'Connor would argue herself? What might the extreme situation have to do with bringing about such a moment? Can such a sudden transformation really happen at all, or should we disbelieve it? Perhaps at some point in your life you or someone you know will experience a "transformative moment." Or claim to have experienced it. And on that issue too, you'll find plenty of food for thought in this little story.

Then of course there are other less philosophical – but still good – reasons to read the story. It's just a great read, with a strange but effective mix of foreboding, page-turning suspense and laugh-out-loud humor. It's about one of those iconic experiences in all of our lives: the family vacation from hell! Rotten little sisters, irritatingly insistent grandmothers, car accidents, coincidental (or is it fate?) run-ins with serial killers…think of it as Coen brothers meets National Lampoon. Add to that all of those deep thoughts on the nature of good and evil, and you've got a short but intense story well worth the read.

Brief Summary

It's time for a family trip of some kind, and there's a disagreement in the family about where to go. Bailey wants to take his family, (i.e., his wife, baby, and two kids, John Wesley and June Star), to Florida. His mother, called simply "the grandmother," doesn't want to go there. To make her case, she mentions that there's a dangerous criminal named The Misfit on the loose, and that he's headed that way.

No one seems to take her seriously. The next morning, it's off to Florida they go. Everyone piles in the car, including the grandmother, who seems to have acquired some enthusiasm for the trip. (She's also secretly stowed away her cat, Pitty Sing.) They hit the road and begin the trip from Georgia to Florida.

During the trip the grandmother plays games and tells stories to the kids. They stop at a restaurant to eat, and converse a bit with the owner, Red Sammy, and his wife. The grandmother talks with the couple about how hard it is to trust people and find "good men" these days. She also talks a bit about The Misfit.

Back on the road, the grandmother gets the kids all excited by telling them about an old plantation she once visited that's located nearby. The kids convince the reluctant Bailey to take them all to see it. He turns onto a dirt road, which, the grandmother assures him, leads to the plantation.

After following the road for a while they don't see anything. Suddenly, the grandmother remembers that the plantation isn't here at all – it's actually in Tennessee. She is so startled by this realization (which she doesn't tell anybody), that she jerks, letting her cat out of the basket where she's stowed it. The animal is propelled onto Bailey's shoulder. A dramatic accident follows, as the car veers off the road and flips over. As June Star laments, however, no one is killed.

The family waits for a car to come along, and sure enough, one does. Only it's not quite the help they were expecting. It turns out that their "help" is none other than The Misfit and two of his buddies. The grandmother recognizes The Misfit, and tries to convince him he's a good man who couldn't possibly want to do anything to harm them. The Misfit orders Bailey and John Wesley into the woods, where his cronies shoot them. The mother, the baby, and June Star soon follow.

All the while, the grandmother, increasingly dizzy and in shock, talks with The Misfit, still trying to convince him he's a good man, and telling him he should pray to Jesus. This gives The Misfit the opportunity to tell a bit of his personal history and offer some his ideas on Jesus, about whom he's actually done some thinking. The grandmother, detecting a moment of vulnerability in him is suddenly moved to call him her child and reaches out to touch him. The Misfit responds by promptly shooting her three times in the chest.

The story ends with him telling his cronies, who've returned from shooting the others, to dump her body with the rest. "She would've been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life," he says.

"A Good Man is Hard to Find"

Good vs. Evil

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a confrontation of between a grandmother with a rather superficial sense of goodness, and a criminal who embodies real evil. The grandmother seems to treat goodness mostly as a function of being decent, having good manners, and coming from a family of "the right people." What a contrast, when the grandmother encounters The Misfit, who seems straightforwardly evil, with little to no sense of guilt, and a genuine desire to do cruel or destructive things for their own sake. Understanding the motivations of The Misfit, and what "goodness" means by contrast, is one of the central puzzles of the story.

  1. According to the grandmother, what is a "good man"? Is she sincere when she calls Red Sammy a good man? How about The Misfit?
  2. What motivates The Misfit – why does he do what he does? Is he a wholly evil character? Why or why not?
  3. Why would The Misfit say he never thinks the punishment fits the crime? Is he genuinely innocent, or does he believe himself to be? Has he forgotten his crimes? Does he have no sense of right and wrong?
  4. What does it mean when The Misfit says the grandmother would have been a good woman if he had been there to shoot her every minute of her life? What kind of "goodness" does he have in mind? Is this the beginning of a transformation in The Misfit?

The Misfit has no sense of right and wrong, and for this reason doesn't feel any punishment can ever "fit" the crime.

The Misfit recognizes the grandmother's final gesture as good, and understands "goodness" to be the unconditional love given by divine grace.

Religion

The central confrontation between the grandmother and The Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" revolves around Jesus. The grandmother brings up praying to Jesus in the hope that she can induce The Misfit to spare her life by appealing to his religious sense. It turns out, however, that The Misfit has probably thought about Jesus more seriously than she has. The Misfit's doubt in Jesus leads him to think that there is no real right or wrong, and no ultimate point to life. At the story's climax, the grandmother appears to receive a moment of divine grace, which might transform her and The Misfit. How this ending is understood is the major question of the story.

  1. Is the grandmother a real religious believer? Does she have genuine faith? What evidence can you find either way?
  2. Does The Misfit believe in Jesus? If he does, to what degree? If not, why not?
  3. Between The Misfit and the grandmother, who seems to have a more solid foundation in faith?
  4. Why would The Misfit attach so much importance to the question of whether Jesus did what he's supposed to have done? Why is this an all-or-nothing question for him?
  5. Is the grandmother's "moment of grace" a genuine moment of grace? What evidence do you see either way?

The grandmother never took her religious faith seriously.

The grandmother's final gesture is a genuine moment of grace.

Manipulation

Flannery O'Connor understood her story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" as a tale of good, evil, and divine grace. Other critics, however, have seen in it something more cynical. Many see it as the story of a selfish woman who uses manipulation to get what she wants, but is ultimately unable to save herself by her acts. There are several moments in the story when the grandmother manipulates others, including her family members and the criminal. An interesting question is whether she ever stops manipulating, and, if so, when.

  1. Is the grandmother an unusually manipulative person, or is her behavior fairly understandable? Why?
  2. In her confrontation with The Misfit, does the grandmother use purposeful, calculating manipulation, or is her attempt to save her own life desperate and not thought-out?
  3. Does the grandmother ever stop trying to manipulate The Misfit? At what point? How can you tell?
  4. Is the grandmother's moment of grace actually just another manipulation? Is The Misfit fooled by it?

The grandmother never stops trying to manipulate The Misfit, and is stopped only when he kills her.

The grandmother's attempts to save her life are desperate from the beginning, and can hardly be considered deliberate manipulation.

Family

Besides its more serious themes, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" contains some mercilessly funny comedy about a dysfunctional family, and the ways they get on each other's nerves. You know, the kind of family that could be in a National Lampoon movie? There's the two troublesome and annoying kids, the hot-headed dad who tries to maintain control of a situation and fails, the wife busy attending to the baby, and the grandmother, who's a case all to herself (and also the main character). Though the story starts out seeming like a comedy, it takes a serious turn when the family encounters a criminal, who kills them one by one. Whether this family members attract any genuine sympathy from the reader, or from each other, or whether they death presents little more than a black comedy is an issue up for debate.

  1. Is the family in the story a caricature of a family, or are they realistic in certain aspects? Why?
  2. Are there any points in the story at which one of the family members comes across as sympathetic? If so, where are they? If not, why?
  3. Do any of the family members care for each other? If yes, then what evidence can you find in support?
  4. Does the grandmother really about the rest of her family, or is she purely self-interested?

The family in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is pure caricature.

The grandmother is purely self-interested, and shows little concern for the rest of her family.

Society and Class

The grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" gives great importance to being "a lady," and her ideas about what that means reflect an old-fashioned, somewhat upper-crust Southern mindset. She uses the n-word and longs for the good old days when kids were polite, people were trustworthy, and there were pretty plantations to visit. All of this leads her to associate being "good" with coming from a respectable family and behaving like a member of her social class; those who don't are outsiders. Her sensibilities are in for quite a shock when she meets The Misfit.

  1. In what ways does the grandmother reflect a particular Southern social class? To what extent is this conscious on her part?
  2. How does the grandmother's social class play a role in her confrontation with the Misfit, and in the story's larger contrast between good and evil?
  3. Do any characters besides the grandmother display an awareness of class or social status?
  4. Does the story adopt a negative view towards the kind of southern culture the grandmother represents? Is it instead positive, or neutral? How can you tell?

The grandmother's values are only concerned with appearances, and are therefore criticized and mocked by the story.

Good vs. Evil 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)

Thought:

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)

Thought:

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)

Thought:

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.

[The Misfit:] "I forget what I done, lady. I set there and set there, trying to remember what it was I done and I ain't recalled it to this day. Oncet in a while, I would think it was coming to me, but it never come." (113)

Thought:

That The Misfit literally can't remember what he did seems unlikely. How could he forget what sent him to prison in the first place? Maybe if he were innocent and falsely accused it would make sense. However, we know from what he does and says in the story that he's far from being either. It's more likely his "not remembering" either indicates that he doesn't feel as if his past actions are wrong or doesn't take them seriously.

"You must have stolen something," [the grandmother] said.

The Misfit sneered slightly. "Nobody had nothing I wanted," he said. "It was a head-doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie." (116-117)

Thought:

The grandmother, still trying to convince The Misfit that he's a good man, assumes that the crime he committed must have been the most "respectable" kind, (i.e., stealing). She knows better; it was she who brought our attention to The Misfit's being dangerous (presumably a killer) at the beginning of the story. The Misfit's response is revealing. He claims that he's not interested in crime because he wants to get rich or take things from others. What, then, could be his motivation? Nothing, but the pleasure of destroying things, out of "meanness."

"No, lady," The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, "I found out the crime don't matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it." (123)

Thought:

Here again, The Misfit mentions "forgetting," and it doesn't seem like we can take him literally. What really makes The Misfit a bad person is that he doesn't have a sense of guilt. He's not troubled or haunted afterwards by what he does; none of his crimes feels wrong to him. That's why he can speak of forgetting what he's done. Even if he did literally forget his crimes, (perhaps after all he's committed so many he's really forgotten some), this could only happen because they don't affect him at all. They "mattered" so little that it was possible to forget them.

"Then you'll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you'll have something to prove you ain't been treated right. I call myself The Misfit," he said, "because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment." (129)

Thought:

The Misfit claims not to understand how what he's done that merits the punishment he's received. Is it because he doesn't feel what he's done to be "wrong," and doesn't deserve punishment at all? That's what some of his earlier remarks suggest. Or could it be because he thinks everybody commits acts that are "wrong," but only some get punished? Or does he actually think that what he's done is wrong but doesn't deserve to be punished as harshly as it is?

"No pleasure but meanness," [The Misfit] said and his voice had become almost a snarl. (134)

Thought:

The Misfit commits crimes – killing people and destroying thing – because there's nothing else for him to do. He's not motivated by any desire for gain, and he doesn't believe in the concepts of right and wrong. Destruction seems to be the only thing that gives him pleasure. But you might wonder: given that he recognizes what he does to be "mean," doesn't he have some sense of right and wrong? Could it be that it's just because something is wrong that it gives him pleasure to do it?

"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." (140)

Thought:

Here someone besides the grandmother is talking about being "good," only this time it's the person who's obviously not good. After all the grandmother said about "good people" and The Misfit himself being good, The Misfit now judges that she would have been good in the unlikely circumstance of him continuously threatening to shoot her. What does The Misfit mean when he says this? It looks like he's recognizing that the grandmother's final act, for which he killed her, was genuinely good. This implies that it was her confrontation with him, and with death, which made her good. But if the grandmother only became good at that moment, what does it mean to be good?

"Shut up, Bobby Lee," The Misfit said. "It's no real pleasure in life." (142)

Thought:

This is the reversal of what the Misfit said earlier about meanness being the only pleasure in life. What he's just done – shooting the grandmother dead – merits being called "mean," yet apparently he doesn't feel good about it. Perhaps he's fallen into complete despair, since now there's nothing left to give him pleasure. This would mean that killing the grandmother seriously affected him. Or perhaps it's the beginning of his transformation into a good man. Perhaps both.

Religion Quotes

[The Misfit:] "My daddy said I was a different breed of dog from my brothers and sisters. 'You know,' Daddy said, 'it's some that can live their whole life out without asking about it and it's others has to know why it is, and this boy is one of the latters. He's going to be into everything!"' (99)

Thought:

Here we have an important insight into The Misfit's personality: he's curious. He's the kind of guy who asks The Big Questions. It's the first suggestion we get that The Misfit may act the way he does because he's thought about things. Viewed in this light, he's not just a thoughtless killer. What he's thought about, rather seriously as we'll see, is religion.

The grandmother noticed how thin his shoulder blades were just behind his hat because she was standing up looking down on him. "Do you ever pray?" she asked.
[The Misfit] shook his head. All she saw was the black hat wiggle between his shoulder blades. "Nome," he said. (106-107)

Thought:

The grandmother is the first person who turns the conversation to religious territory. This transition seems a bit out of nowhere – it's the first time religion's come up in the story – and is the first inkling we get of religion on the grandmother's part. This random introduction to religion makes the grandmother's later suggestions to pray seem superficial. Nothing else in the story has led us to think that religion is an important part of her life, and her own values have more to do with being "decent" by society's standards than with religion. It's also interesting that the grandmother is standing above The Misfit and looking down on him when she begins this conversation. It's as if she's "speaking down" to him from the perspective of her own self-righteousness.

"I was a gospel singer for a while," The Misfit said. "I been most everything. Been in the arm service both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet…" (109)

Thought:

That The Misfit was a gospel singer gives some background to his past relationship to religion. He'll also mention that his father was a member of a Baptist Church. Perhaps more important, though, is all the other things The Misfit has been. This seems to show a deep restlessness on his part. It's as if he's found nothing to be satisfied with, and is either still looking for something or has given up looking altogether.

"If you would pray," the old lady said, "Jesus would help you."

"That's right," The Misfit said.

"Well then, why don't you pray?" she asked trembling with delight suddenly.

"I don't want no hep," he said. "I'm doing all right by myself." (120-121)

Thought:

The grandmother attempts to convince The Misfit to pray, presumably in the hopes that he'll spare her. She probably "trembles with delight" because his apparent agreement that Jesus would help him gives her hope that she can win out in the end. The Misfit doesn't pray, because he doesn't want any help. What's interesting about this claim is that it goes against many of the other things he says. At moments The Misfit seems to be content with his life of "meanness." At others, however, it seems like he wants something else, or is genuinely dissatisfied with his life and with the way he is.

There was nothing around her but woods. [The grandmother] wanted to tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally she found herself saying, "Jesus. Jesus," meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing. (128)

Thought:

The grandmother appears to be in a state of shock at this point, which is understandable. She has, after all, already lost her son and grandson, her daughter-in-law, June Star, and the baby. Why does she bring up the question of Jesus? Does she use religion to get The Misfit to spare her? Or is she calling to Jesus in shock, or perhaps cursing him for letting all of this happen? That "it sounded as if she might be cursing" suggests there's something inauthentic about her words, either because it's just a ploy, or because she doesn't believe what she's saying.

"Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead," The Misfit continued, "and He shouldn't have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness," he said and his voice had become almost a snarl. (134)

Thought:

The Misfit has done a lot of thinking about Jesus, and in his own way, seems to take Jesus much more seriously than the grandmother does. Everything for The Misfit boils down to whether or not Jesus was really God. If he was, then The Misfit thinks it's obvious what one should do with one's life (i.e., follow Jesus). If Jesus wasn't God, there's no point to life at all. According to The Misfit, there is nothing to do in that case, except take pleasure in destruction. The Misfit has chosen the latter option, because he doesn't actually believe in God. Though it almost sounds as if he wants to believe, and is acting out of anger because he can't do so.

"Maybe He didn't raise the dead," the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her. (135)

Thought:

The grandmother is humbled here. She both sinks down – remember that before she was standing above The Misfit – and appears to lose her own confidence in Jesus. Is this wholly because of the trauma what's just happened to her, as in "How could God let this happen?" Or does it maybe also indicate that her faith was never that strong to begin with? At this point, ironically, The Misfit seems to have more faith than she does.

"I wisht I had of been there," [The Misfit] said, hitting the ground with his fist. "It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady," he said in a high voice, "if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn't be like I am now." His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother's head cleared for an instant. (136)

Thought:

Here it really does sound as if The Misfit does want help – he wishes he'd "been there" with Jesus. In other words, he wishes he had real faith, because he doesn't want to be the way he is. That said, the question is whether The Misfit, as he says this, actually has the beginnings of faith, or whether this is just a wish. The Misfit also looks uniquely vulnerable at this moment, and it's here that the grandmother's head clears, presumably because she sees that vulnerability.

[The grandmother] saw the man's face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest. (136)

Thought:

The grandmother's "moment of grace" and The Misfit's response. We've got a lot to say about this elsewhere (check out "What's Up with the Ending") because it's the central moment of the story. Is this an actual transformation in the grandmother, a product of delusion, or a last attempt at manipulation? How you see it will also influence how you see The Misfit's reaction. Any reading, though, has to make sense of the violence of the reaction. It's as if at this moment he's encountered something very threatening, completely alien to himself, as in the "snake bite" image. What's either revealing or ironic about that image is that the snake to which the grandmother is compared is a creature often associated with evil or with being an "enemy of man" (as it is in the Bible story of Adam and Eve). Perhaps that's the way genuine good appears to genuine evil.

Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky. (137)

Thought:

This last description of the grandmother does seem strangely hopeful. She's smiling, and though she's lying in a bloody heap on the ground, her legs are described as "like a child's," as if in this last moment she's regained the innocence of a child (although the two actual children in the book didn't exactly have a whole lot of that). This could suggest that the moment of grace is in fact real; the grandmother has, in some way, "resolved" her life happily. Though if you don't buy that, you could also say that she died with a faked smile on her lips.

Manipulation Quotes

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. (1)

Thought:

We're given the indication as early as the second line of the story that the grandmother's determined to get what she wants, and will do whatever she can to do it. This already suggests what the grandmother says might have an ulterior motive.

"Now look here, Bailey," [the grandmother] said, "see here, read this," and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. "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)

Thought:

The grandmother first brings up The Misfit not out of genuine fear, but instead to guilt or scare her son into taking the family to Tennessee instead of Florida. (She wants to go to Tennessee to visit relatives.) It's also notable that the grandmother uses moral language – appealing to conscience – as a further means of manipulation.

[The grandmother] had her big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn't intend for the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of her gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn't like to arrive at a motel with a cat. (10)

Thought:

The grandmother hides her cat from the rest of the family. Its clear that she does what she wants without consideration to others. If she wants to bring the cat, she will, regardless of the opposition. This blurb happens to also be a funny moment in the story.

[The grandmother] knew that Bailey would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house, but the more she talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin arbors were still standing. "There was a secret panel in this house," she said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were, "and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through but it was never found . . ." (45)

Thought:

Once the grandmother decides she wants to go to the house (out of nostalgia), she purposely says something false to ensure the children will cajole their dad into going there.

The grandmother was curled up under the dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey's wrath would not come down on her all at once. (65)

Thought:

The grandmother has indirectly caused the accident in three different ways. In the first case, she proposes they go to the plantation, and even lies to win over the kids. Then she leads everyone down the wrong trail. Finally, she startles the camouflaged cat into jumping on Bailey while he's driving. She could feel guilty about a lot. But instead of facing the anger of her son, she hopes that she's gotten injured so she can have his sympathy. To that end, she later makes the suspect claim that she's injured an organ.

"You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?" the grandmother said and removed a clean handkerchief from her cuff and began to slap at her eyes with it. (86)

Thought:

The grandmother now begins to convince The Misfit not to shoot her. Her first tactic is to appeal to being a lady. After all, everyone knows it's not proper to shoot ladies.

"Yes, it's a beautiful day," said the grandmother. "Listen," she said, "you shouldn't call yourself The Misfit because I know you're a good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell." (88)

Thought:

We've already seen the grandmother call somebody (Red Sammy) a good man before, and it seemed pretty artificial. Now she seems to be hoping that she can either appeal to the "good man" in The Misfit, or convince him that he is enough of a "good man" to let her go. That she's sincere seems doubtful. We can't forget that the grandmother has already brought up The Misfit twice as a big, bad, scary man.

"You could be honest too if you'd only try," said the grandmother. "Think how wonderful it would be to settle down and live a comfortable life and not have to think about somebody chasing you all the time." (90)

Thought:

The grandmother is again trying to work on The Misfit, this time by giving him the promise of a "respectable," and "comfortable" life. Her equation of "goodness" with the values of her social class is clear in what she says. None of this matters in her dealings with The Misfit, who she is woefully unequipped to manage.

"Bailey Boy!" the grandmother called in a tragic voice but she found she was looking at The Misfit squatting on the ground in front of her. "I just know you're a good man," she said desperately. "You're not a bit common!" (98)

Thought:

Bailey's sent to be shot, and the grandmother quickly gets back to work on The Misfit. She doesn't beg for Bailey's life either. You could see this as evidence that all she really cares about is her own skin. Even when she despairingly calls out for Bailey, she's still looking at The Misfit. Then again, maybe she's genuinely traumatized by what's happening, and is reacting without thinking. Her attempt to appeal to The Misfit's better nature might be an instinctual move to save her life. Hence the "desperation" in her voice.

"Jesus!" the old lady cried. "You've got good blood! I know you wouldn't shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I'll give you all the money I've got!" (131)

Thought:

The grandmother offers The Misfit money. After he's already killed her family and told her he's not interested in stealing for gain, this attempt seems ridiculous. The Misfit doesn't take her seriously, and makes a joke in response. Although you could read the grandmother as trying another tactic of manipulation, you could also argue that she's reached such a state of desperation at this point that she's throwing out all of her old tactics at once. It now looks as if everything she said before was an attempt to keep herself alive.

Family Quotes

"If you don't want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?" [John Wesley] and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.

"She wouldn't stay at home to be queen for a day," June Star said without raising her yellow head. (3-4)

Thought:

The grandmother doesn't want to go to Florida, and the children don't particularly want the grandmother to come on the trip. Right from the start, we know the kids are disrespectful. Does this make you sympathize with the grandmother? On the other hand, June Star seems to get something right: she recognizes the grandmother's sense of self-importance and desire to get what she wants. Then again, might the grandmother want to go with them in part because she genuinely wants to be with her family and not on her own. She does, after all, go to Florida with them eagerly, even though that means she won't get to see her relatives in Tennessee.

The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children's mother passed him over the front seat to her. She set him on her knee and bounced him and told him about the things they were passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth and stuck her leathery thin face into his smooth bland one. (22)

Thought:

This grandmother certainly loves her grandbaby. It's a bit of a laughable moment – from the description we can imagine the grandmother looks really silly here – but it's also one of the rare human moments for this family.

The grandmother ate a peanut butter sandwich and an olive and would not let the children throw the box and the paper napkins out the window. (25)

Thought:

The grandmother takes on the role of policeman. She also scolds her son about his driving slightly earlier. Even though Bailey claims to be the head of the family, she seems to be the actual of the family at times.

John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mother's shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even on their vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to do. The baby began to scream and John Wesley kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his kidney. (50)

Thought:

This scene is a great comedic moment. The father is trying to assert himself as head of the family, and is beaten into submission by his two volatile children. This could be from any number of "worst family vacation ever" movies.

"We've had an ACCIDENT!" the children screamed in a frenzy of delight.

"But nobody's killed," June Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped out of the car… (66)

Thought:

The kids are thrilled that they got in a car accident and disappointed that nobody died. It seems insensitive that either child wishes a family member had died. Hopefully in this case it's because they don't actually understand how serious it is.

Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shocked even the children. The old lady began to cry and The Misfit reddened. (84)

Thought:

Rude remarks from the dad to his troublesome mother are classic dysfunctional family fare, and we've already seen some of that dynamic in this story. What's absurd here is that Bailey would say something apparently really nasty (it shocks "even the children") to his mother when they've got a gun pointed at them. Even The Misfit is a horrified.

"Hush!" Bailey yelled. "Hush! Everybody shut up and let me handle this!" He was squatting in the position of a runner about to sprint forward but he didn't move. (91)

Thought:

Bailey tries to reassert his authority, telling everyone else (particularly the grandmother) to "shut up" and let him deal with The Misfit. Ironically, the dad seems ill-equipped to deal with the situation. Not only is he panicking, but the narrator also makes it particularly hard to take him seriously because of the contrast drawn in that second sentence: it looks from his body posture like he's about to do something, but he's not doing anything. Bailey's all show.

There was a pistol shot from the woods, followed closely by another. Then silence. The old lady's head jerked around. She could hear the wind move through the tree tops like a long satisfied insuck of breath. "Bailey Boy!" she called. (108)

Thought:

Bailey and John Wesley are shot in the woods. Even at this point there's a darkly comic effect, given that "long satisfied insuck" of the wind. The grandmother does appear traumatized by what's just happened, though, and may be losing control of herself. In spite of how dislikable the family is, we are shocked and sympathize for the doomed family.

The children's mother had begun to make heaving noises as if she couldn't get her breath. "Lady," [The Misfit] asked, "would you and that little girl like to step off yonder with Bobby Lee and Hiram and join your husband?"

"Yes, thank you," the mother said faintly. Her left arm dangled helplessly and she was holding the baby, who had gone to sleep, in the other. (124-125)

Thought:

The mother is obviously grief-stricken, and agrees to go die with her husband (bringing her baby along) without a fight. She loves him, and doesn't want to live without him (unlike the grandmother, who's still hard at work on The Misfit to save herself). The mother's character has been so undeveloped, and her exchange with The Misfit is so casual and subdued ("Yes, thank you"??), that the scene is plain bizarre. All the more so when June Star insults Bobby Lee immediately afterwards.

There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called, "Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!" as if her heart would break. (133)

Thought:

We think the grandmother's heart probably is breaking at this point, because both here and shortly afterwards she no longer seems in control of herself (she becomes dizzy and sinks to the ground). If there's one moment at which you feel sorry for the grandmother in the story, and in which it's clear she really does care for her son, this is that moment. But even here there's still that bit of dark humor; we get the image of the woman as a parched old turkey.

Society and Class Quotes

Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady. (12)

Thought:

How the grandmother appears to other people is very important. Her insistence on image and appearance illustrates her comical superficiality. Being a well-dressed, proper southern lady at that is what matters.

"Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground," John Wesley said, "and Georgia is a lousy state too." "You said it," June Star said (16-17)

Thought:

June Star and John Wesley have a different sense of the South than their grandmother. They look down on the people around them, and don't respect their origins. In that respect, they seem like kids from a more "modern," middle-class southern family with less of a sense for their roots and the norms of old southern society.

"In my time," said the grandmother, folding her thin veiled fingers, "children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right then. Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!" she said, and pointed to a Negro child standing in the door of a shack. (18)

Thought:

The grandmother recalls those days of old when people were more respectful. This kind of decency, which is tied to being a "gentleman" or a "lady," is what she thinks it means to be good or to do what's right. In other words, her understanding of goodness if very class-based. What's particularly funny about this passage is the contrast is between the "respect" she's just talked about and her use of the word "pickaninny," a disrespectful and discriminatory term used to refer to African-American slave children. It shows how much of her mindset still belongs to an older southern generation, with their racial prejudices.

"Look at the graveyard!" the grandmother said, pointing it out. "That was the old family burying ground. That belonged to the plantation."

"Where's the plantation?" John Wesley asked.

"Gone With the Wind" said the grandmother. "Ha. Ha." (22-24)

Thought:

The grandmother's connection to the Old South is made more direct here; apparently the family once owned a plantation. Just like naming her cat after a character in The Mikado, it seems as if the grandmother is eager to display a certain degree of cultural knowledge, appropriate to someone of her social status.

The grandmother said she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentleman and had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a few years ago, a very wealthy man. (26)

Thought:

Again with the gentleman and lady business. To the grandmother, both money and social class are important.

"These days you don't now who to trust," [Red Sammy] said. "Ain't that the truth?"
People are certainly not nice like they used to be," said the grandmother. (34-35)

Thought:

Both the grandmother and Red Sammy seem to think that people of "this day and age" are worse than they used to be – less decent, less respectable, less trustworthy. For both (and for Red Sammy's wife), good people are hard to find nowadays because there's been a decay in the southern culture and in manners.

[Red Sammy] and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. (43)

Thought:

More talk of the "good old days." The grandmother blames what she sees as the great decay culture and society entirely on others. She doesn't want to admit any responsibility to the South itself. Here again there's that isolating "us" and "them" mindset, which is part of the grandmother's way of looking at the world and understanding what's good in it.

"Listen," the grandmother almost screamed, "I know you're a good man. You don't look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!" (88)

Thought:

The grandmother's first appeal to The Misfit is that he can't kill her because he must be a "good man." What's comical about it is not only that it seems insincere, but also that she directly connects being a good man to coming from "nice people," and not from "common folk." There's unabashed classism for you, and it's particularly ridiculous in this case; the shirtless Misfit and his two accomplices present everything but a picture "nice people." The grandmother's willingness to apply her own ideal of goodness to someone who so obviously doesn't fit it, doesn't reflect well on her or her idealized views.

[The Misfit] put on his black hat and looked up suddenly and then away deep into the woods as if her were embarrassed again. "I'm sorry I don't have on a shirt before you ladies," he said, hunching his shoulders slightly. "We buried our clothes that we had on when we escaped and we're just making do until we can get better." (99)

Thought:

Here we have another ridiculous moment, which presents southern manners in an interesting light. The Misfit has just ordered the men of the family to be taken into the woods and shot, and he's slightly embarrassed that he's not properly dressed in front of ladies.

Character Roles (Protagonist, Antagonist...)

Protagonist

The Grandmother

The grandmother is the central character in the story. She's the focus of the narrative, the character whose reactions we hear the most about, as well as the only character who's head we get inside (although not too deeply). It's also the grandmother who confronts "evil" in the form of The Misfit. Whether the grandmother is herself a "good" or even a likable protagonist is another question. If you view the grandmother as a conniving manipulator who gets caught in her final act of manipulation, then you might have a hard time identifying with her. On the other hand, if you agree that the grandmother has some kind of "awakening" at the last moment, then her role as protagonist is all the more important. In this light, the story becomes centered on her transformation in the face of an extreme situation.

Antagonist

The Misfit

The Misfit is definitely the bad guy: he's a murderer, after all. What's more, he's a criminal who seems to do bad things for the sake of doing bad things without remorse. He's the one who confronts, threatens, and kills the family of the protagonist, and ultimately the protagonist herself. There's an antagonist for you.

Guide/Mentor

The Misfit

Surprised? This might not work so well with a non-religious reading of the story, but if you do take the grandmother's dying grace seriously, then the Misfit is indirectly responsible for her magic moment. Or rather, the grace working through him is responsible. The Misfit poses a challenge to the grandmother's run-of-the-mill faith because he realizes what's at stake in religion in a way she doesn't. Of course, The Misfit also challenges the grandmother by threatening her with death. In both respects, it is The Misfit who puts her in a situation where she is shaken and humbled enough to receive grace. The Misfit acknowledges this when he says that the grandmother would have been a good woman if he'd been there to shoot her all the time.

Foil

The Grandmother to The Misfit

What's added to the basic protagonist/antagonist relationship by calling these two foils, you might ask? Well, besides being on opposite sides in the story, The Misfit and the grandmother contrast in more substantive ways that make each of their characters stand out more. The grandmother is all about appearances and "good behavior" by society's standards, hence her concerns with "being a lady." The Misfit is more interested in getting straight to the heart of things, as his daddy said. He's looked into religion himself and not found anything there. That's why his questioning and ultimate rejection of religion reveals the grandmother's faith as shallow.

Tools of Characterization

Actions

Actions are the main way we get a sense for the minor characters in the story, and they say a lot. The kids say nasty things to their grandmother and to strangers, and also throw a spectacular tantrum to make their Bailey take them to the plantation house. Bailey loses his temper a lot and appears to be fond of clenching his jaw and saying "shut up." Bailey's wife says nothing and does nothing except that she attends to the baby. And then, of course, there are the Misfit's accomplices, who have good fun killing the family in the woods. The primary mode of learning about the characters is through their actions, because there's not much depth to the people depicted.

The Misfit and the grandmother are more complicated, because they do a lot of talking and are given more depth. The challenge is to find out what their actions mean. Some of the grandmother's actions early in the story appear to establish her as a manipulator. Once she's up against The Misfit, however, it's not clear what motivates her actions. Is she a conniving manipulator or a poor older woman on the verge of a breakdown? We know The Misfit does a lot of bad things – both from what he tells us, and from what he actually does in the story – but the big question about him is why he does them. It's our job to figure out his motivation from what he says and thinks.

Clothing

The grandmother's roots in old Southern "gentleman" culture come out in her carefully-chosen clothing. In addition, her superficial nature is also manifest in her clothing choices. We're thinking specifically of that outfit with white cotton gloves, lace-trimmed collars and cuffs and the "purple spray of cloth violets" at her neckline, which is described over the course of an entire paragraph (12). She cares about looking like a "lady."

The grandmother's clothing provides a stark contrast to The Misfit and his accomplices, who are wearing mismatched and haphazard clothes. Their clothing reflects their particular set of circumstances: far from being good gentlemen, they're trying to hide from the law and actually got rid of their old clothes. That The Misfit doesn't have a shirt may add a sense either of directness or vulnerability to his character. (Notice that the grandmother perhaps picks up on this.) He's not concerned with appearances. Finally we have Bailey with his ridiculous parrot shirt. Maybe the point is to just make him more ridiculous, in the way only a badly dressed, modern middle-class dad on vacation can be.

Family Life

The family's dysfunctions are revealing. How each family member interacts (or doesn't) with the rest of the family is the main way we get a sense of these characters. Recall the kids' bad behavior and disrespect for their elders, the mother's fixation on the baby, and Bailey's unsuccessful attempts to stay in charge as the "dad." On the other hand, the family is still together, and apparently manages to go on family vacations. Compare that to The Misfit's family situation: he (probably) killed his dad (although he won't admit to it). That's some real dysfunction to consider.

Speech and Dialogue

O'Connor's fond of giving her characters speech that reflects their age, social class, or region (almost always Southern). The kids constantly say exaggerated things that sound childish – like "We've had an ACCIDENT" in all caps, or June Star's "wouldn't do that for a million bucks." And of course The Misfit has a pronounced down-home Southern (and lower class) accent, filled with "oncet" and "twict," "would of" instead of "would have," "Yes'm," and "nome." This contrasts quite sharply with the grandmother's standard speech.

Thoughts and Opinions

This is most relevant to the two major characters, the grandmother and The Misfit. The grandmother's nostalgia for the old days, her emphasis on manners, and her equation of "good blood" with "goodness" tell us a lot about her. The Misfit's character gets most of its meat – and its mystery – from what he says about religion and his understanding of good and evil.

The Grandmother

A Granny Who Gets What She Wants

Let's face it: the grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a manipulator. The first thing we learn about her is that she doesn't want to go to Florida because she's got relatives to see in Tennessee. The second thing we learn about her? "She was seizing every chance to try to change Bailey's mind" (2). Whenever something runs up against the grandmother's will, she tries to have it her way. Notice that she never does this directly or confrontationally, though. Her style is always a bit more subtle. How does she try to get Bailey not to go to Florida? Not by saying, "Well I want to go to Tennessee," but by trying to scare him with reports of a criminal on the loose and guilt trip him about taking his children there:

"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)

When that doesn't seem to get a reaction, her next recourse is to say that the children have already been to Florida. It's not about her, she implies, it's about the children. For some reason, though, we don't quite believe her.

The rest of the story shows the grandmother doing more of the same. We learn that Bailey doesn't want her to bring the cat. Instead of causing a ruckus (Bailey's the type who would make a big stink), the grandmother just hides the cat in a basket and secretly brings it along. The grandmother decides she wants to go see the old plantation, but knows Bailey won't want this. Her solution? Let the kids get him to do it:

"There was a secret panel in this house," she said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were, "and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through but it was never found . . ." (45)

So the grandmother's seems to be selfish, and tries to satisfy her selfishness by manipulating people. A big question to consider is what kind of role does manipulation play in her encounter with The Misfit, when getting her way will amount to keeping her life?

A Lady of the Old South

Another important thing we learn about the grandmother is that she considers herself a lady. This characteristic of herself is very important:

Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her necklace she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady. (12)

If the grandmother's going to die, she better darn well die looking like a lady (she does, by the way, although her hat gets a bit disheveled). She'll also appeal to being a "lady" in trying to get The Misfit not to shoot her: "You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?" (86)

What does being a lady mean for the grandmother? As you can gather from the clothes, it's in part a matter of appearances, of looking "nice" and "respectable." It's also a matter of manners and of being respectful. She complains to her grandchildren that:

"In my time," said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, "children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right then." (18)

She also makes similar laments to Red Sammy about people no longer being trustworthy.

Being a lady, for the grandmother, is tied to the way things were in the past. She has in mind the ladies of the Old South. And that means one more thing about being a lady: it's has to do with blood, with what kind of family into which you're born. We learn in passing that the grandmother's family had a plantation, the remains of which she points out to the kids (22). And we see those well-bred-lady ideas coming to the forefront in her encounter with The Misfit, a situation in which her notions are totally out of place:

"Listen," the grandmother almost screamed, "I know you're a good man. You don't look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!" (88)

For the grandmother, being "good" amounts to coming from the right people and behaving as a lady (or as a gentleman should). In her own mind, the grandmother is certainly a "good person," as are all people of her social class.

A Master Manipulator, or Just a Lady Who's Gone Slightly Senile?

Now once the grandmother encounters The Misfit, and tries the "you're a good man" stuff, some readers think she's the same selfish manipulator we've known from the story's beginning. She's particularly selfish in that she doesn't even beg for anyone else's life. The first words out of her mouth (after she's recognized The Misfit) are, "You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?" She keeps up this routine even as the rest of her family is taken to the woods and killed. From this "master manipulator" view, the grandmother is insincere and unconcerned with the rest of her family. And how, you might ask, could such a selfish woman be genuinely moved to love The Misfit? It seems to make sense to view her relationship with The Misfit as one more instance of clever manipulation.

Undoubtedly, the grandmother is selfish. But one problem with the theory of the grandmother as "master manipulator" is that she seems a bit senile. Think about her many acts of manipulation. Bringing the cat? Can she really expect that she'll be able to keep it hidden the whole time, and that Bailey won't blow a gasket when he inevitably discovers the feline friend? Then she forgets that the plantation is in a different state! And then, of course, there's her biggest mistake of all: telling The Misfit that she recognizes him. Anyone who's watched crime flicks knows revealing a murderer's identity is a horrible idea.

Plus, once she actually gets down to the work of "manipulating The Misfit," she doesn't seem adept. Telling a shirtless, oddly-dressed, gun-toting criminal who probably doesn't care what she says that he's a "good man," because he doesn't look like he has common blood would probably not be the best move in anyone's playbook.

In fact, all of the ways in which the grandmother tries to "manipulate" The Misfit seem like appeals that would only carry weight with someone like her. In the situation with The Misfit her arguments are irrelevant and inappropriate. She clings to what's familiar to her, even when it's beside the point. He's a serial killer, and probably doesn't care about shooting a lady if he's on the run and has been recognized.

Even if she's not a master manipulator, does she seem exceptionally selfish? That's a harder question. It's true that the grandmother doesn't make any pleas for anyone else. But then again, if you don't buy the manipulator thing, it's hard to see her cries of "Bailey Boy!" as deliberately faked. She probably is genuinely heart-broken to lose her son. If that's so, though, why doesn't she try to fight for him?

It could be that, even if losing her boy hurts, her number one concern is still her own skin. But we think this may be an unnecessarily harsh reading of the grandmother. If you see her as a somewhat delicate older person, rather than a diabolical genius, there are plenty of signs that she's in a state of shock, and not really thinking about what she's doing. In her panic, she may be instinctively trying to save her own life. It certainly looks as if she's losing control of herself and simply collapsing, especially towards the end:

"Maybe He didn't raise the dead," the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her. (135)

Even before then, we've already seen plenty of indications that the grandmother is barely keeping it together. From losing her "screaming" early on to saying things "desperately" to eventually losing her voice, it seems as if she is paralyzed by fear. Perhaps she feels powerless to save anybody else – her calls after Bailey definitely broadcast a certain sense of powerlessness.

Or perhaps some of her appeals to The Misfit's better nature are intended to save her family as well. She doesn't specifically beg for her own life for some time after the first "You wouldn't shoot a lady would you?" and responds to Bailey's being taken away with: "I know you're a good man," she said desperately. "You're not a bit common!" (98). At this point, she could be trying to change The Misfit's mind about Bailey.

Got Grace?

Although she talks about Jesus a lot with The Misfit, the grandmother certainly doesn't seem to be deeply religious. She never brings it up in the rest of the story, and only brings up Jesus when she hopes that it might help save her life. Her first appeal is not a religious one; remember she begins with the "You're not from commonfolk!" business.

Religion would have a place in her life as a respectable "lady." And she probably does believe that "if you would pray, Jesus would help you" (118), as she tells The Misfit. According to her notions, a respectable lady should believe in a merciful God. But her faith doesn't seem to run very deep. She probably can't understand how God could let something horrible like this happen to her, a good woman. That may be why, when she cries "Jesus, Jesus," it sounds "as if she might be cursing" (128).

Whatever faith she has is overcome by the shock of what's happening to her. That comes out most obviously when she doubts Jesus (above), at which point the contrast between her shallow faith and The Misfit's deeper but more troubled thinking about Jesus is most apparent.

But does Granny get grace? At the end of the day, she's not a particularly admirable or religious woman. In fact, she seems to be a petty, superficial, and somewhat selfish woman. However, we don't think she's a bad human being. She's more of a flawed, comical, and somewhat pitiable person. O'Connor is less sentimental in painting her, and more attentive in bringing out her faults than another author could have been. We tend to feel sorry for her, though we don't admire her.

Unfortunately, the grandmother's character won't help us all that much in resolving the question about grace. Grace, as O'Connor sees it, is supposed to be something sudden, miraculous, undeserved, and not produced by the human being upon whom it acts. The grandmother only becomes a "good" woman (that's not to say she was bad before) when she leaves behind her superficial ideas about "goodness" and religion and "being a lady" for a moment and does something radically out of keeping with herself. That sudden transformation is the focal point of the story.

The grandmother doesn't exactly seem like the kind of person to give her love to a murderer. But that isn't a compelling argument against the "moment of grace" theory. There's no reason to think that her final gesture is just one last attempt to manipulate The Misfit. In fact, a lot in the story points against that interpretation.

That being said, you also can't argue for the grandmother's moment of grace on the basis of anything else in the story. As we've said elsewhere, how you read the story's ending can depend on whether you share O'Connor's own religious outlook. Then again, you might treat the grandmother's gesture as something like a moment of grace, without explaining it religiously. All we can say for sure about the moment of grace itself is that it will remain mysterious. That might be one reason why people continue reading "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

The Grandmother Timeline

The Misfit

The Mysterious Misfit

The Misfit doesn't get it. He just doesn't understand why he's been punished the way he has for what he did. In his own words, "I call myself The Misfit […] because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment" (129).

Here's the big question: what did The Misfit do? That's not the easiest question to answer.

Was The Misfit "the Wrong Guy"?

The Misfit has just escaped from the federal penitentiary, and apparently he was put in for killing his father. He claims this isn't true:

"It was a head doctor who said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie. My daddy died in nineteen ought nineteen of the epidemic flu and I never had a thing to do with it. He was buried in the Mount Hopewell Baptist churchyard and you can go there and see for yourself." (117)

Earlier in the story, The Misfit calls his parents the "finest people in the world," and says his "daddy's heart was pure gold" (89). So is The Misfit lying about killing his dad, or is he innocent? Is he being sarcastic about his parents?

The situation is complicated because The Misfit says he can't remember why he got sent to the penitentiary. He's tried, but he "ain't recalled it to this day" (113). On the other hand, when she asks if it was a mistake, he also tells the grandmother it wasn't. Why couldn't it have been a mistake? The Misfit knows it wasn't a mistake, because "they had the papers on me" (115). Later on, he compares himself to Jesus, who never committed any crime. The difference between The Misfit and Jesus is that "they" could prove he (The Misfit) had committed a crime because they had papers on him:

"It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn't committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course," he said, "they never shown me my papers. That's why I sign myself now." (129)

From the way The Misfit frames it, it's almost as if he doesn't really believe he committed a crime, even though there seems to be evidence that he did. He certainly doesn't seem to feel as if his actions merited the punishment he received:

"I never was a bad boy that I remember of," The Misfit said in an almost dreamy voice, "but somewhere along the line I done something wrong and got sent to the penitentiary. I was buried alive," and he looked up and held her attention to him by a steady stare." (111)

And again:

"Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain't punished at all?" (130)

The Misfit victimizes himself here: he was made to suffer greatly for a reason he doesn't understand. But the tricky thing is, he also never denies committing a crime, and he never denies that the papers are evidence that he committed a crime. In short, he refuses to admit he was put in by mistake. It even sounds from the first of those two passages as if he knows he did something wrong. He just doesn't know what it was, or why he was punished.

A further problem here, though, is that although he claims not to have seen "the papers," he does say that a doctor at the prison told him he'd killed his father. And he does deny doing that.

Does The Misfit Lack A Conscience?

It's hard to believe The Misfit is actually innocent, regardless of whether he killed his father. He kills the grandmother's family in such a casual manner that it seems as if he's used to murder. And toward the end of the story, it becomes easier to believe that he's done a lot of nasty things.

Why? Well, it doesn't seem like an innocent person would say the following:

"[…] then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can – by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness," he said, and his voice had become almost a snarl. (134)

Here it sounds as if The Misfit commits crimes a lot. We figure might commits crimes because it is the only thing in his life that gives any pleasure. In light of this, a more likely explanation for what The Misfit says earlier might be that he doesn't think there's anything wrong with killing. It could be that he feels as if he doesn't deserve his punishment because he doesn't think any crime deserves punishment. He feels no guilt, which he'd need to have in order for his punishment to seem right to him. All he knows about punishment is that he doesn't like it, because it makes him miserable.

That might be what The Misfit's "forgetting" means. He can forget what he's done because it doesn't matter to him. And it doesn't matter to him because he doesn't feel it's wrong. The disconnect between punishment and "crime" is clear in something else he says:

"I found out the crime don't matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it." (123)

We think there's a big difference between killing someone and taking his tire, but The Misfit fails to acknowledge that there is a difference between these two acts. It's all the same to him, and punishment is all the same to him, because it's never deserved.

The Misfit as a "Moral Nihilist" with a Dose of Christianity

You know things are getting serious when we whip out phrases like "moral nihilist." What does it mean? Well, strictly speaking, a nihilist is someone who doesn't believe that there can be any basis for judging what is right and what is wrong. A social nihilist might believe that social institutions have no basis for judging right and wrong. That's a little sloppy, but still gets at the point. A nihilist can admit that certain things are "right" and others are "wrong," but he'll mean something different than a person who isn't a nihilist. When one says something's "wrong," one usually means that one should not do it. For a nihilist, something is wrong if other people say you shouldn't do it. The nihilist won't really feel or recognize it to be wrong, and won't be troubled by committing any particular act.

It seems that The Misfit has this view. He admits that he's done things that are obviously wrong by other people's standards, but they don't feel wrong to him. As a result, he resents being punished for his actions. For him, they're just pleasurable. It might also seem strange that he could resent being punished for his acts if he doesn't believe it's wrong to kill someone. Why then is it wrong to lock him up?

Part of the point may be that The Misfit's nihilism is inconsistent. But it also doesn't seem like he is a nihilist through and through. In other words, The Misfit isn't a nihilist at heart. He does wrong things because at a deeper level he knows they're wrong. Why would he do that? Because he's angry at Jesus.

Just before that bit about there being "no pleasure but meanness," The Misfit says something very revealing:

"Jesus was the only one that ever raised the dead," The Misfit continued, "and He shouldn't have done it. If He did what He said, then there's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left…" (134)

The Misfit thinks that everything in life comes down to an all-or-nothing question about Jesus. The big question for us is the following: why all or nothing? We'll leave that question open to you, but we will put in our two cents. The Misfit thinks that if Jesus was really the son of God (which he'd have to be to raise the dead), then life has a point. The point would be to follow Jesus and his teachings. In that case, it would be clear what you should do. But if Jesus wasn't the son of God, then life is meaningless, and there is no real right and wrong. The Misfit doesn't actually believe in Jesus, so for him life doesn't have a point and there's no real right and wrong. The idea that by following Jesus one arrives at salvation and eternal life might be important to The Misfit. It may be why he speaks of "the few minutes you got left." Without eternal life, life is short, and ends in death, which is part of its pointlessness.

It seems like The Misfit wants to believe. He wants life to have a point; he wants there to be eternal life, and he wants Jesus to be the son of God. But for some reason he can't believe it. And this leads him to his strange, apparently contradictory situation of doing bad things, because he's angry life doesn't have a point. The Misfit may be getting back at Jesus for not being who he said he was. In a curious sort of way, maybe The Misfit believes in Jesus, while also not believing in Jesus.

The Misfit is Misunderstood

And that's why we get this:

"I wisht I had of been there," he said, hitting the ground with his fist. "It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady," he said in a high voice, "if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn't be like I am now." (136)

The Misfit believes that if he had actually seen Jesus, he would know that Jesus is the son of God. And he's angry that he doesn't know. In essence, he's angry because he thinks he would have been a believer if he had been there to witness Jesus firsthand. But it's as a result of believing to some degree, that he's angry for not believing completely. He thinks if he could believe, he wouldn't be the man he is now. So beneath all that anger and despair, he has a conscience after all.

The sadness, anger, and hurt that The Misfit reveals is what moves the grandmother to have sympathy for him. The intensity of his resentment at the world is also why he kills her, even though she's just shown him kindness. If we take seriously what he says at the end of the story, though, that single act of kindness may have struck home.

The Misfit Timeline

Bailey

Bailey is the grandmother's only son, and the father of June Star and John Wesley. He is also the driver for the family trip. In his mind, he's in charge, and he won't let you forget it. We learn that he's high-strung and not in control of himself, much less his family. He's a guy who tries to maintain the illusion of being in control but really isn't. Although it's his idea to go to Florida, it's unclear why he wants to go on a vacation at all, since, "He didn't have a naturally sunny disposition and trips made him nervous" (29). All of this leads to frequent glares and a "jaw as rigid as a horseshoe" (49).

When the family has its unfortunate encounter with The Misfit, Bailey loses it. Even before he knows who The Misfit is, the accident itself has already frayed his nerves. And after the grandmother recognizes The Misfit (and probably dooms them by doing so), Bailey tells his own mother something really nasty. Then he tells his family to shut up and let him handle things. This leads to a trip to the woods, and we all know what happens then.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Bailey doesn't have much to do with him at all. He's the son of the grandmother. When he is killed it breaks her heart. Consider that she repeatedly calls "Bailey Boy!" – we don't hear her calling "June Star," for example. Indirectly, Bailey is the cause for the reader's strongest moment of sympathy with the grandmother. His other main role in the story is to be the hotheaded son, whose wrath the grandmother is constantly trying to avoid (through careful manipulation, usually).

Bailey Timeline

June Star

June Star is Bailey's daughter, and the grandmother's granddaughter. Though she's cute, she's just plain nasty to everybody, as we learn pretty early on in the story from the way she treats her grandmother:

"She wouldn't stay at home for a million bucks," June star said. "Afraid she'd miss something. She has to go everywhere we go." (7)

Or how about her nice little exchange with Red Sammy's wife:

"Ain't she cute?" Red Sam's wife said, leaning over the counter. "Would you like to come be my little girl?"

"No I certainly wouldn't," June Star said. "I wouldn't live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks!" and she ran back to the table. (30-31)


Apparently June Star likes to say "a million bucks" a lot. We never learn how she came to be this way. All we know is that she's annoying throughout the whole story, from her whining about the old plantation, to her disappointment that nobody died in the accident, to her impertinent remarks to the criminals. To her credit, she doesn't seem phased by the fact that they have guns.

June Star Timeline

John Wesley

June Star's eight-year-old brother, John Wesley is almost as nasty as she is, though not quite as bad. This might be due to the fact that he doesn't get the opportunity to say as much. His hobbies include tormenting his grandmother and kicking his father in the kidney through the car seat to get what he wants. Like June Star, he is also very excited by car accidents, though disappointed when there are no fatalities.

The only thing we really want to know about John Wesley is why he would be named after the founder of the Methodist church? Is the family supposed to be Methodist, or was Bailey enjoying a bad joke?

John Wesley Timeline

The Mother

The mother (of June Star and John Wesley) is a bland character who barely says or does anything in this story. Sadly, she does not play much of a role in the story until she dies. Most of the time she's just taking care of the baby. Her only really notable moments come towards the end of the story. When Bailey is taken into the woods, she becomes horribly upset.

The Mother Timeline

Bobby Lee

Bobby Lee is the boy who smiles noticeably and apparently thinks killing people is "some fun." He's one of The Misfit's two accomplices. He's young, though beyond that we really know how old he is. His description as a "boy" doesn't give us much information. He does seem to enjoy killing people; he's "grinning" all the time, including when he grabs June Star and takes her to meet her end in the woods. He also thinks that shooting the grandmother every moment of her life would be "some fun" (141). If The Misfit is a more complicated criminal who might have undergone a transformation at the end of the story, Bobby Lee certainly isn't.

Bobby Lee Timeline

Hiram

Hiram is the skinnier of The Misfit's two "boy" accomplices. Apparently, he's the one who knows something about cars, since The Misfit asks him if the family's car is easily reparable. He doesn't say much, which gives him a slightly better personality than Bobby Lee. Like Bobby Lee, though, his primary purpose in the story is to take the family into the woods and shoot them.

Hiram Timeline

Red Sammy

Red Sammy, "the fat man with the happy laugh" (27), is the owner of The Tower, the BBQ restaurant where the family stops for lunch. He's sad that people aren't trustworthy like they used to These days, he says, "a good man is hard to find," (43). He encounters a person of like mind in the grandmother. He appears to be the only person in the story who enjoys her conversation. The grandmother calls him a "good man," which seems fine by him. He also owns a monkey.

Red Sammy's Wife

Red Sammy's wife is a "tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter than her skin" (29). She helps Red Sammy run The Tower restaurant and is apparently responsible for taking people's orders and preparing them. Unfortunately, she's not very efficient at this task. She thinks June Star is cute for doing her tap dance routine; June Star does not respond kindly to the woman's praise. Interestingly, she doesn't trust anyone, including Red Sammy.

Pitty Sing

The grandmother's cat, Pitty Sing, is named after one of the characters in The Mikado. The grandmother worries that Pitty Sing would asphyxiate himself if left alone in the house, so she brings him on the trip secretly, hidden in a basket. It is Pitty Sing who causes the car accident by leaping onto Bailey's neck when the grandmother accidentally releases him from the basket. We don't know why the cat leaps onto Bailey: the feline could be maniacal or just plain startled. Bailey, who apparently doesn't like Pitty Sing, responds by hurling it into a tree after the accident.

It's likely that the cat who rubs up against The Misfit's leg is Pitty Sing, although we never get a clear indication either way.

The Baby

The baby has little other role in this story than to occupy the mother's attention, and to give the grandmother one happy moment (when she plays with it on her lap). The baby's sleeping when it's shot. Other than perhaps the mother, it's the easiest member of the family for whom we feel sorry.

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Toombsboro

"Toomsboro" is mentioned (45) as the town the family passes right when the grandmother wakes up to remember the old plantation that isn't really there. In other words, "Toomsboro" is mentioned right before the family falls into the hands of The Misfit. The word itself sounds like tomb, so we get some foreshadowing that the family is headed for doom.

"Big black battered hearse-like automobile"

This is the description given of The Misfit's car as it approaches the family (70). A hearse, in case you're not familiar with the word, is a vehicle that carries a coffin to a funeral. So, this is another image of imminent death, which foreshadows the fate of the family before The Misfit and company even get out of the car.

The Dark Forest

The forest that looms over the ditch where the family's trapped, "tall and dark and deep" (70), is another image in keeping with the hearse and Toombsboro. The forest is threatening, and suggests the impending death of the family. Keep in mind that it is where everyone, except the grandmother, is taken to be shot.

The Cloudless, Sunless Sky

The cloudless, sunless sky is mentioned several times after the family has the car accident, and most notably by The Misfit shortly after we meet him (89). This peculiar sky is also mentioned by the narrator after the grandmother has been shot ("her face smiling up at the cloudless sky" [137]). If there's no sun and no clouds, we would expect it to be night. But the narrator never tells us it's night or dark, and the grandmother remarks, right after The Misfit mentions the sky, that it's a "beautiful day" (90). Is it just after sunset?

This sky is also an ambiguous image, in that it has two sides. On the one hand, there's something barren and austere about the cloudless, sunless sky because it's empty. You might see this emptiness as a reflection of the family's extreme situation at the end of the story: they're dying in the middle of nowhere, without anyone to help them. You might also think this sky complements the character of The Misfit. The Misfit is "empty" inside – he's lost all sense of good, but isn't passionate about evil either. He's also the character who, unlike the grandmother, isn't concerned with appearances, and wants to get straight to the heart of things. It may be significant that he's the first character to mention the sky.

On the other hand, a cloudless sky is often considered an ingredient of a beautiful day, and the grandmother says it's a beautiful day right after The Misfit mentions the sky. Looking at the image this way gives it two different consequences. The beautiful, cloudless day contrasts sharply with the events that are happening under it; murders in the woods in the middle of nowhere should happen during a dark and stormy night, not a beautiful cloudless day. There's something jarring about that which makes it all the more disturbing to the reader. But when it returns for the last time in the description of the grandmother's smiling face, the image of the cloudless sky seems to transform, suggesting the peace the grandmother found in her last moment.

Setting

Georgia, sometime in the 1940s or after

The story takes place in Georgia. We don't have much in the way of a description of the original setting. This tale begins in a nameless city where the family lives, and takes us various places along the road as the family travels. Plenty of local color – there are the old plantations that get passed, and Red Sammy's roadside barbeque joint.

The second half of the story takes place in the ditch in the middle of nowhere where the family lands after running off the road. We're told the ditch is about ten feet below the road, and lies between the road and a "tall and dark and deep" forest. There's forest on the other side of the road too, so the forest "looms" menacingly over the scene on both sides. This part of the story is like a staged play: the site of the action doesn't move, the ditch is the stage, and the forest is "backstage," where characters are taken. We only learn what's going happening from the noises people make (usually screams or gunshots).

As for the time, the era of the story is never explicitly defined, but given the cars and the mention of Gone With the Wind (published as a book in 1936 and released as a movie in 1939), we can guess it's the 1940's or later. Since there's no mention of a war going on, and the grandmother says that "the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money" (44), it's almost certainly after the war, meaning late '40s or early '50s. That would be right about when O'Connor wrote the story (1953) anyway.

The particular timing of the story is a more interesting issue. We know that the family leaves their home in the morning, and that they leave Red Sammy's in the "hot afternoon" (presumably it's summer). We don't actually know how late it is, though, when they land in the ditch. The narrator never says it's night, and the grandmother says it's a beautiful day. We also know there's no sun in the sky. Does that mean it's around sunset?

Narrator Point of View

Third Person (Limited Omniscient)

The story is told in the third person, and it centers singularly on the grandmother. She's the character we're told the most about, by far. She's also the only character whose point of view we can access directly. We get to hear her thoughts and feelings, although we never get too much detail. We are usually given a direct, short summary that leaves a lot of room for imagination on the part of the reader. (That there is room for interpretation with regard to the grandmother's inner thoughts continues to be a subject of debate).

The only other character who is given comparable attention is The Misfit. Interestingly, we only learn about him through the grandmother's perspective. After the grandmother is killed, though, there is a brief switch to The Misfit's perspective (although we don't get any further into his head). Some early critics really didn't like this shift in perspective at the end. They claim that O'Connor's handling of point-of-view is sloppy. On the other hand, if she wanted the story to continue after its main character died, what choice did she have? Besides, the story might be about the beginnings of The Misfit's transformation as well.

Genre

Southern Gothic, Comedy

O'Connor's fiction is often called "Southern Gothic," though she herself rejected that label. many of the elements of "gothic" fiction, or plain old horror, but with a distinctively Southern vibe. There's a looming sense of darkness, suspense, and foreboding about the story, which is established right at the beginning when the grandmother reads about The Misfit in the newspaper. Just to make sure we don't forget about the element of horror, The Misfit is also mentioned at Red Sammy's. It's even suggested The Misfit might come to that very place. The scenery – the dirt road in the middle of nowhere that's supposed to lead to an old plantation house, the looming forests, the family trapped alone in a ditch – could also be right out of a horror movie.

Let's not forget The Misfit himself, who is a terrifying killer without a conscience. Though we do see what may be the beginnings of a moral transformation at the end of the story. Finally, although there's not anything obviously "supernatural" in the story (a common but not required element of gothic fiction), there is that potentially supernatural moment of grace. Plus, the whole sequence of events – ending up in exactly the wrong place because of misplaced memory and a disturbed cat – just feels too convenient for the story to ever actually happen. That lends it a slightly fantastic or unreal aura.

O'Connor rejected the label "Southern Gothic" for the same reasons she rejected the idea that her writing was "grotesque" (See "Writing Style" for more on this). She associated Southern Gothic (which was a label commonly associated with William Faulkner's work, and the works inspired by it) with fiction that depicted human "degeneracy" in the South, in such a way that it would strike readers almost like a horror story would and at times have an air of something supernaturally dark. Because of O'Connor's religious perspective, she always emphasized that her work was interested more in the light that could come through in moments of darkness, and was meant to inspire hope and meditation rather than horror or disgust. That's why she preferred the term "Catholic realism" to describe its genre (source: The Habit of Being).

Tone

Cynical and Caricaturing, at times Dehumanizing…or is it Humanizing?

Many readers are struck by the apparent cynicism of O'Connor's writing. As a narrator, she rarely seems sympathetic to the characters of her story. On the contrary, she seems more interested in bringing out their worst, exposing their superficialities, and then making the reader laugh at them. Sometimes she accomplishes this by being disarmingly upfront, as with many of the grandmother's little manipulations:

She knew that Bailey would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house, but the more she talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin arbors were still standing. "There was a secret panel in this house," she said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were… (45)

More striking, though, the narrator often describes the characters in as caricatures – as if they were exaggerated, laughable, and rather grotesque cartoons. The grandmother, for example:

There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called, "Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!" as if her heart would break. (133)

Although that makes us laugh, it also troubles us a bit. In that passage, for example, the grandmother has just lost all her family members, and is (at least we think) in a moment of incredible despair. The reader should sympathize with her at this moment. Yet she's described as a turkey, in a way that makes her seem gross and funny to the reader, more like a cartoon image than a human being. Does that "dehumanize" her? Does O'Connor show human beings at their comically exaggerated worst, in a way that makes it impossible to feel sorry for them?

A lot of people think so, and for that reason Flannery O'Connor's writing has been called "grotesque" (source: Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, p. 40). By "grotesque," critics mean the people in O'Connor's stories are ugly, gross cartoon figures, rather than real human beings possessing good qualities with which we can sympathize.

But O'Connor did not agree with that label, and thought it reflected a northern bias against the South. She felt that she was being realistic. In O'Connor's opinion, if we're honest with ourselves, the world we live in and the people in it often are like caricatures, and much harder to sympathize with than the people we read about in books. To keep ourselves sane and humble, we can laugh at them (provided we recognize we're just as laughable as everyone else is). But ultimately, the real task is to sympathize regardless (source: Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, p. 40). So the author's point is, even if the grandmother looks an awful lot like an old turkey at her most desperate moment, we should still sympathize with her. Instead of looking at her work as grotesque, O'Connor herself called her work honest "Catholic realism."

Writing Style

Bare Bones and Folksy

O'Connor once said she could only write one type of sentence (source: The Habit of Being, p. 69). There's a bit of truth to that. Many of her sentences are bare bones consisting of: subject, verb, some modifiers, and nothing more. We don't find many descriptive words or complicated structures in her writing. In addition, there's not much that feels clipped (like Hemingway) and certainly nothing flashy or unconventional in the postmodern vein. Nope, just plain, meat and potatoes sentences. You can really notice this in paragraphs without dialogue, where one short, simple sentence after another begins with the subject:

He and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy. (44)

See what we mean?

The simple construction of the narrator's sentences complements the colorful speech of O'Connor's characters. Notice that O'Connor often fully writes out the accents and regional speech of her characters (read anything The Misfit says for an example of this). It also enables O'Connor to use the written equivalent of deadpan delivery when she wants to be funny.

What's Up With the Title?

Have you heard the phrase "A Good Man is Hard to Find" before? At this point, it has become a proverb in American English. You might hear just about anyone from your grandmother to a six-year-old girl trying to be cute repeat this phrase. O'Connor herself didn't invent it. It's actually the title lyric of a song composed and performed by Eddie Green back during the time of piano rolls (1918). The song was a hit when it was first written, but became even more popular as a signature tune by Sophie Tucker.

O'Connor probably expected her readers to know the song, or at least the lyric that comes next:

A good man is hard to find
You always get the other kind


That certainly seems to be true in the story.

The title is also a line in the story; it comes into play when Red Sammy and the grandmother are talking about how no one is trustworthy anymore. They both agree that a good man is hard to find, particularly these days. The interesting question, though, is the following: what is a good man? Characters in the story certainly have something to say about that, but each one might offer a different perspective.

What's Up With the Ending?

The big question about the ending – and the one that's kept critics arguing with each other ever since the story was published – has to do with the fact that the grandmother calls The Misfit her child and reaches out to him. What does this gesture mean in the context of the story? How the rest of the ending "feels" – hopeful, cynical, depressing, zany – hinges on how you read that moment. So too does the whole "point" of the story.

O'Connor wrote the story with a particular understanding of the ending in mind, and it's an understanding that comes from her Roman Catholic worldview. What happens to the grandmother when she reaches out to touch The Misfit is called a "moment of grace" in Catholic terminology – a special kind of gift from God, in which God suddenly fills her with almost supernatural love and understanding. That enables her to see The Misfit as a fellow suffering human being whom she is obligated to love. (Jesus commanded each person to love her fellow human beings like herself, even her enemies.) The grandmother realizes that she does in fact love The Misfit just like one of her own children. O'Connor presents both the perception of The Misfit as a fellow human being, and the sudden but real feeling of love for him, as gifts from God. From the Catholic worldview, the grandmother, as a human being is inclined towards evil, pettiness, and selfishness, so could never have come to feel such love without God's help.

This moment of grace is hugely important in the story. The Misfit kills the grandmother, recoiling from what seems so foreign to him, but the grandmother has already had her moment of redemption. She's grown at the moment of death more than she ever did before in her life, and dies with a peaceful smile on her face.

What's more, her act may have changed The Misfit too. At the end, he says she would have been a good woman if he'd been there all her life to shoot her. This is a strange line, but think about what it means. The grandmother was redeemed by confronting evil in The Misfit, and finding the ability within herself to pity him. The Misfit's response shows that he recognizes her act as goodness, even though he recoiled from it. It's also noteworthy that in his last line he goes from claiming that the only pleasure in life is "meanness" to stating that "It's no real pleasure in life." Killing the grandmother gave him no pleasure. Instead it troubles him. In that way, grace has worked on him too, and we might see the beginnings of a deep transformation. For O'Connor, then, the story's ending is hopeful.

Some readers (maybe you included) don't see this as an uplifting ending. You might wonder if the grandmother has lost her senses by the end of the story. It seems like she's starting to lose it when she becomes dizzy and sinks to the floor. And what of the fact that The Misfit is wearing her son's shirt? This might be what reminds the grandmother of her son, who she's just lost. Perhaps that last gesture results from delusion.

If you don't buy the "moment of grace," the story seems cynical, brutal, and bleak. Many readers don't see hope at the end of the story. And even for those who do believe "the moment of grace" interpretation there are other problems. What, for example, do we do about the rest of the family, who seem to die meaninglessly without any moments of grace? And some have a hard time with a God who only gives people moments of grace right before they die.

The ending of the story depends just as much on what's believable to you as a reader as it does on the story itself. If you believe that a miraculous moment of grace is possible, O'Connor's interpretation might be the most compelling one. If you don't, you will come to your own interpretation. Whatever the case may be, there's a lot to unpack from the ending of this story.

Plot Analysis

Initial Situation

There's a criminal on the loose. But let's go on a road trip anyway.

In the first paragraph, we get the essential information that a murderer called The Misfit is on the loose. We suspect that he's lurking in our characters' future. In the meantime, we get to enjoy all of the comedic delights of family squabbles as the grandmother and her family hit the road and dine at Red Sammy's. In the process, we learn as much about the characters as we need to.

Conflict

There's a car accident…but nobody is killed. Yet.

That pleasant family vacation has taken a sudden turn for the worse. The family is now trapped and waiting for someone to help them. Who could it be? For the time being, everyone is safe and sound. (Alternately, you could place the beginning of the conflict at the moment the grandmother "remembers" the plantation being nearby. We suspect that something is about to go wrong, but don't know anything's going to happen until the accident occurs).

Complication

The Misfit arrives on the scene.

The Misfit shows up, making the situation much worse. The grandmother endangers the family by revealing that she knows who he is. Suspense builds, but doom is certain. One by one, the family members are killed in the woods, until only the grandmother is left. Meanwhile, the grandmother has been growing frantic trying to convince the killer to spare her life. Will she succeed?

Climax

"One of my babies!"…

The grandmother's moment of grace is definitely the climax of the story. It seems as though the grandmother triumphs in the end, since she's miraculously redeemed. But how will The Misfit react?

Suspense

The Misfit kills the grandmother.

The suspense part of this story lasts for all of one sentence. That's as long as it takes for The Misfit to recoil and shoot the grandmother three times in the chest.

Denouement

"Take her off and throw her where you thrown the others"

It's all over. The Misfit's thugs return, and are told to dispose of the grandmother's body. The grandmother appears to have died happily, smiling up at the sky. The lingering question is how this has affected The Misfit.

Conclusion

"It's no real pleasure in life."

The Misfit reverses what he said earlier. Is it possible that he's been changed by his experience with the grandmother?

Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis: Rebirth

Falling Stage

There's a criminal on the loose.

In this stage, the protagonist falls under the shadow of a "dark power," and the first paragraph of the story fits the bill nicely. The grandmother brings up The Misfit, a murderer who's apparently on the run. Although she might be using the idea of a murderer as an excuse to vacation in Tennessee, we get the sense that a confrontation with the "dark power" is inevitable.

Recession Stage

Driving along.

The family goes on the trip in spite of the grandmother's warnings, and the day is off to a good start. There are those troublesome kids of course, but it seems like a normal family vacation. We are reminded of The Misfit once again, though, when the family stops to eat at Red Sammy's. The discussion between the grandmother and Red Sammy reinforces the idea that The Misfit must be arriving on scene soon.

Imprisonment Stage

Dumped in a ditch…with a serial killer.

With the car accident, the grandmother and her family are actually "imprisoned," trapped, in the ditch, waiting for help. Somebody arrives, but it's not help – it's The Misfit. The grandmother reveals that she recognizes The Misfit and things start to look bad.

Nightmare Stage

Doom

Things get bad because, The Misfit's cronies start killing off the family members. Eventually, the grandmother is alone and unarmed with The Misfit. She appears to be losing control of herself, despairing, and growing desperate.

Rebirth Stage

Grace saves the day.

The bad news is that the grandmother dies. But this is definitely a "miraculous redemption" – literally. That's why she dies smiling. And the grandmother's "moment of grace" might induce The Misfit to be reborn too.

Three Act Plot Analysis

Act I

The grandmother warns that The Misfit is on the loose, but the family chooses to head towards Florida anyway. They set off and stop for lunch at Red Sammy's. The grandmother remembers there's an old plantation around here somewhere that she wants the children to see.

Act II

Car accident! The family is trapped. The Misfit arrives, and the grandmother brings down his wrath by recognizing him. As the grandmother talks with The Misfit, her relatives are shot in the woods. She starts to lose it.

Act III

Moment of grace saves the day, but not the grandmother. The Misfit shoots and kills her. He's left to think about what's happened.

Trivia

Steaminess Rating

G

There might be many reasons you wouldn't want an eight-year-old to read this story, but sex isn't one of them.

Allusions

Literature and Philosophy

Historical Figures

Pop Culture

Plot Analysis

Initial Situation

There's a criminal on the loose. But let's go on a road trip anyway.

In the first paragraph, we get the essential information that a murderer called The Misfit is on the loose. We suspect that he's lurking in our characters' future. In the meantime, we get to enjoy all of the comedic delights of family squabbles as the grandmother and her family hit the road and dine at Red Sammy's. In the process, we learn as much about the characters as we need to.

Conflict

There's a car accident…but nobody is killed. Yet.

That pleasant family vacation has taken a sudden turn for the worse. The family is now trapped and waiting for someone to help them. Who could it be? For the time being, everyone is safe and sound. (Alternately, you could place the beginning of the conflict at the moment the grandmother "remembers" the plantation being nearby. We suspect that something is about to go wrong, but don't know anything's going to happen until the accident occurs).

Complication

The Misfit arrives on the scene.

The Misfit shows up, making the situation much worse. The grandmother endangers the family by revealing that she knows who he is. Suspense builds, but doom is certain. One by one, the family members are killed in the woods, until only the grandmother is left. Meanwhile, the grandmother has been growing frantic trying to convince the killer to spare her life. Will she succeed?

Climax

"One of my babies!"…

The grandmother's moment of grace is definitely the climax of the story. It seems as though the grandmother triumphs in the end, since she's miraculously redeemed. But how will The Misfit react?

Suspense

The Misfit kills the grandmother.

The suspense part of this story lasts for all of one sentence. That's as long as it takes for The Misfit to recoil and shoot the grandmother three times in the chest.

Denouement

"Take her off and throw her where you thrown the others"

It's all over. The Misfit's thugs return, and are told to dispose of the grandmother's body. The grandmother appears to have died happily, smiling up at the sky. The lingering question is how this has affected The Misfit.

Conclusion

"It's no real pleasure in life."

The Misfit reverses what he said earlier. Is it possible that he's been changed by his experience with the grandmother?

Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis: Rebirth

Falling Stage

There's a criminal on the loose.

In this stage, the protagonist falls under the shadow of a "dark power," and the first paragraph of the story fits the bill nicely. The grandmother brings up The Misfit, a murderer who's apparently on the run. Although she might be using the idea of a murderer as an excuse to vacation in Tennessee, we get the sense that a confrontation with the "dark power" is inevitable.

Recession Stage

Driving along.

The family goes on the trip in spite of the grandmother's warnings, and the day is off to a good start. There are those troublesome kids of course, but it seems like a normal family vacation. We are reminded of The Misfit once again, though, when the family stops to eat at Red Sammy's. The discussion between the grandmother and Red Sammy reinforces the idea that The Misfit must be arriving on scene soon.

Imprisonment Stage

Dumped in a ditch…with a serial killer.

With the car accident, the grandmother and her family are actually "imprisoned," trapped, in the ditch, waiting for help. Somebody arrives, but it's not help – it's The Misfit. The grandmother reveals that she recognizes The Misfit and things start to look bad.

Nightmare Stage

Doom

Things get bad because, The Misfit's cronies start killing off the family members. Eventually, the grandmother is alone and unarmed with The Misfit. She appears to be losing control of herself, despairing, and growing desperate.

Rebirth Stage

Grace saves the day.

The bad news is that the grandmother dies. But this is definitely a "miraculous redemption" – literally. That's why she dies smiling. And the grandmother's "moment of grace" might induce The Misfit to be reborn too.

Three Act Plot Analysis

Act I

The grandmother warns that The Misfit is on the loose, but the family chooses to head towards Florida anyway. They set off and stop for lunch at Red Sammy's. The grandmother remembers there's an old plantation around here somewhere that she wants the children to see.

Act II

Car accident! The family is trapped. The Misfit arrives, and the grandmother brings down his wrath by recognizing him. As the grandmother talks with The Misfit, her relatives are shot in the woods. She starts to lose it.

Act III

Moment of grace saves the day, but not the grandmother. The Misfit shoots and kills her. He's left to think about what's happened.

Study Questions

  1. All right, we've got to ask it: do you think the moment of grace is a moment of grace? Why or why not? How does the story change if it isn't?
  2. If the grandmother's moment of grace isn't actually a moment of grace, what is it? And how do you interpret The Misfit's reaction to it?
  3. Could the grandmother have something like the moment of grace without bringing God into the picture? How would that change the story?
  4. If you do read the moment of grace as a real moment of grace or something like it, how responsible was she for it, and how responsible was the situation, The Misfit, or even God? Why does she receive it when she does?
  5. Even if you read the grandmother's gesture as a moment of grace, does this moment lose its meaning since she dies right afterward?
  6. How much do you think the story's meaning depends upon the religious perspective of the author? How much do you think it depends on the religious perspective of the reader? Is the author the best person to say what the story means? What does it mean to describe what the story "means"?
  7. If you don't read the story religiously, does it work as well as a story? Does it have a message? Does it have as clear of a structure? How would you judge that? (Try to answer this question even if it isn't the way you read the story).
  8. What's the grandmother really like? Is she a manipulative genius? A superficial and selfish woman? A rather average grandmother, with her share of human faults? A positively lovely lady? Does she remind you of other people you know?
  9. Are any of O'Connor's characters sympathetic? Is the grandmother sympathetic? The Misfit?
  10. Is the story hopeful or cynical? How do you feel at the end?
  11. Why does The Misfit not order the grandmother into the woods with Bobby Lee and Hiram? Would he have done it anyway if he hadn't shot her first?
  12. Given how much of the story seems to center on the grandmother and The Misfit, what do we do with the other characters? Are they just there for show or comic relief? Can it be a hopeful story if they die?
  13. How do you think The Misfit sees the grandmother throughout the story? By the end? How, if at all, does she affect him?
  14. Is The Misfit a believable character, and a believable personification of evil? Why or why not?
  15. Could a grandfather have filled the role of the grandmother in the story?

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Flannery O'Connor was, as she put it, an "innocent" speller. She preferred to spell words as they sounded to her, usually heavily inflected with Southern dialect. You'll find just as many "oncets" in her letters as you will in The Misfit's speech. (Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, xiv.)

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On writing in dialect, O'Connor once said: "If my characters speak Southern, it's because I do." (Source)

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Once she was forced to return to her family home, because of lupus, Flannery O'Connor took up raising peacocks. She soon had a farm full of them. She was also fond of Muscovy ducks, Chinese geese, and one-eyed swans. (Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, xvi.)

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Once she was forced to return to her family home, because of lupus, Flannery O'Connor took up raising peacocks. She soon had a farm full of them. She was also fond of Muscovy ducks, Chinese geese, and one-eyed swans. (Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being<\/i>. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, xvi.) <\/p>","_TITLE_":"Once "} [currentMetadata:protected] => {"_PERMISSIONS_USER_GROUPS_":{"Shmoop Employees":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true},"Shmoop Literature Editors":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true,"_PERMISSION_WRITE_":true},"Shmoop Literature Assistants":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true,"_PERMISSION_WRITE_":true},"Shmoop Engineering":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true,"_PERMISSION_WRITE_":true,"_PERMISSION_PUBLISH_":true,"_PERMISSION_PUBLISH_MODULE_":true}},"_PERMISSIONS_USERS_":false} [currentAssociations:protected] => {"_SECTION_TO_PARENT_SECTION":{"_ASSOC_ROOT_":{"SHTriviaSection":{"_ASSOCIATION_TO_":{"_SHARD_DATA_":null,"_UUID_":"6E06CD3C218A4E13B0E185705DE4DCAF","_CLASSNAME_":"SHTriviaSection"}}}}} [commitMetadata:protected] => 1 [shardData:protected] => ) [CAB41C79F2894EE89CF033468AB68882] => SHDidYouKnow Object ( [propertyMap] => Array ( [_TITLE_] => text [_PAYLOAD_] => textarea [_BASE_INACTIVE_] => boolean ) [associationTypeMap] => Array ( [0] => _SECTION_TO_PARENT_SECTION ) [indexTable:protected] => [basePropertyMap] => Array ( [_BASE_INACTIVE_] => boolean ) [UUID:protected] => CAB41C79F2894EE89CF033468AB68882 [declaredClass:protected] => SHDidYouKnow [loaded] => 1 [version] => [lastUpdated] => [properties:protected] => Properties Object ( [alteredProperties:protected] => Array ( ) [allowable:protected] => Array ( [_TITLE_] => text [_PAYLOAD_] => textarea [_BASE_INACTIVE_] => boolean ) [data:protected] => Array ( [_PAYLOAD_] =>

Being secluded at home, Flannery O'Connor kept in contact with the outside world through a very lively correspondence. Although she corresponded with people to whom she was particularly close, she also got plenty of letters from all kinds of random people, and usually responded to them. One rather unkind critic wrote: "Any crank can write to her and get an answer."(Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, xiv.)

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Being secluded at home, Flannery O'Connor kept in contact with the outside world through a very lively correspondence. Although she corresponded with people to whom she was particularly close, she also got plenty of letters from all kinds of random people, and usually responded to them. One rather unkind critic wrote: \"Any crank can write to her and get an answer.\"(Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being<\/i>. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, xiv.)<\/p>","_TITLE_":"Being"} [currentMetadata:protected] => {"_PERMISSIONS_USER_GROUPS_":{"Shmoop Employees":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true},"Shmoop Literature Editors":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true,"_PERMISSION_WRITE_":true},"Shmoop Literature Assistants":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true,"_PERMISSION_WRITE_":true},"Shmoop Engineering":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true,"_PERMISSION_WRITE_":true,"_PERMISSION_PUBLISH_":true,"_PERMISSION_PUBLISH_MODULE_":true}},"_PERMISSIONS_USERS_":false} [currentAssociations:protected] => {"_SECTION_TO_PARENT_SECTION":{"_ASSOC_ROOT_":{"SHTriviaSection":{"_ASSOCIATION_TO_":{"_SHARD_DATA_":null,"_UUID_":"6E06CD3C218A4E13B0E185705DE4DCAF","_CLASSNAME_":"SHTriviaSection"}}}}} [commitMetadata:protected] => 1 [shardData:protected] => ) [A270BCAE81764251B4BBFD78FB80C337] => SHDidYouKnow Object ( [propertyMap] => Array ( [_TITLE_] => text [_PAYLOAD_] => textarea [_BASE_INACTIVE_] => boolean ) [associationTypeMap] => Array ( [0] => _SECTION_TO_PARENT_SECTION ) [indexTable:protected] => [basePropertyMap] => Array ( [_BASE_INACTIVE_] => boolean ) [UUID:protected] => A270BCAE81764251B4BBFD78FB80C337 [declaredClass:protected] => SHDidYouKnow [loaded] => 1 [version] => [lastUpdated] => [properties:protected] => Properties Object ( [alteredProperties:protected] => Array ( ) [allowable:protected] => Array ( [_TITLE_] => text [_PAYLOAD_] => textarea [_BASE_INACTIVE_] => boolean ) [data:protected] => Array ( [_PAYLOAD_] =>

After the publication of "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor started to receive letters from single men who tried to assure her that, actually, good men weren't so hard to find. (Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, 87.)

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After the publication of \"A Good Man is Hard to Find,\" Flannery O'Connor started to receive letters from single men who tried to assure her that, actually, good men weren't<\/i> so hard to find. (Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being<\/i>. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, 87.)<\/p>","_TITLE_":"After"} [currentMetadata:protected] => {"_PERMISSIONS_USER_GROUPS_":{"Shmoop Employees":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true},"Shmoop Literature Editors":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true,"_PERMISSION_WRITE_":true},"Shmoop Literature Assistants":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true,"_PERMISSION_WRITE_":true},"Shmoop Engineering":{"_PERMISSION_READ_":true,"_PERMISSION_WRITE_":true,"_PERMISSION_PUBLISH_":true,"_PERMISSION_PUBLISH_MODULE_":true}},"_PERMISSIONS_USERS_":false} [currentAssociations:protected] => {"_SECTION_TO_PARENT_SECTION":{"_ASSOC_ROOT_":{"SHTriviaSection":{"_ASSOCIATION_TO_":{"_SHARD_DATA_":null,"_UUID_":"6E06CD3C218A4E13B0E185705DE4DCAF","_CLASSNAME_":"SHTriviaSection"}}}}} [commitMetadata:protected] => 1 [shardData:protected] => ) )

Flannery O'Connor was, as she put it, an "innocent" speller. She preferred to spell words as they sounded to her, usually heavily inflected with Southern dialect. You'll find just as many "oncets" in her letters as you will in The Misfit's speech. (Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, xiv.)

On writing in dialect, O'Connor once said: "If my characters speak Southern, it's because I do." (Source)

O'Connor was diagnosed with lupus in 1950. Her father had died of the disease, as she eventually would. From 1955 onwards, she was forced to spend the rest of her life on crutches. (Source)

O'Connor made one trip to Europe to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes, the location of the miraculous healing spring discovered by St. Bernadette. O'Connor wrote to a friend that she did not ask for healing of her body so much as of her flagging novel, The Violent Bear it Away. She maintained that her prayer was granted: she finished it. (Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.)

Once she was forced to return to her family home, because of lupus, Flannery O'Connor took up raising peacocks. She soon had a farm full of them. She was also fond of Muscovy ducks, Chinese geese, and one-eyed swans. (Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, xvi.)

Being secluded at home, Flannery O'Connor kept in contact with the outside world through a very lively correspondence. Although she corresponded with people to whom she was particularly close, she also got plenty of letters from all kinds of random people, and usually responded to them. One rather unkind critic wrote: "Any crank can write to her and get an answer."(Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, xiv.)

After the publication of "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor started to receive letters from single men who tried to assure her that, actually, good men weren't so hard to find. (Source: O'Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being. Edited and with an introduction by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979, 87.)

Allusions

Literature and Philosophy

Historical Figures

Pop Culture

Steaminess Rating

G

There might be many reasons you wouldn't want an eight-year-old to read this story, but sex isn't one of them.



The Flannery O'Connor Collection

The official O'Connor site on the web, particularly for researchers. Has biography, resources, and also manages access to O'Connor's manuscripts (not online).

The Comforts of Home: Flannery O'Connor Information Center

Another good O'Connor resource on the net. Has biography, essays, links, etc.

The Andalusia Foundation

The website for the Andalusia Foundation, dedicated to preserving and promoting the understanding of O'Connor's work. It's also responsible for preserving her farmhouse.

"A Good Man is Hard to Find"

An online version of the story at Pegasus.

Black Hearts Bleed Red

Jeri Cain Rossi's 1992 adaptation of the story. Fifteen minutes.

Sufjan Stevens "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

Artist Sufjan Stevens wrote and recorded a song inspired by the story. Here's a live video of him performing the song.

Flannery O'Connor reads "A Good Man is Hard to Find"!

A link to a radio station site that has O'Connor reading both "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and a lecture she wrote entitled "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction." File is in Real audio.

Flannery O'Connor

Perhaps the most famous photo of Flannery O'Connor.

Flannery O'Connor with Peacock

A crutch-bound Flannery with one of her peacocks.

Flannery's Farmhouse

Flannery O'Connor's farmhouse near Milledgeville, Georgia.

Flannery's Workspace

Flannery's desk and typewriter.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

The original cover for the 1955 collection, A Good Man is Hard to Find.