Study Guide

A Good Man is Hard to Find Family

By Flannery O'Connor

Family

"A Good Man is Hard to Find"

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)

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.

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)

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)

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

John Wesley

"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)

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 Misfit

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)

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.

Bailey

"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)

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.