Study Guide

A Good Man is Hard to Find Society and Class

By Flannery O'Connor

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Society and Class

"A Good Man is Hard to Find"
John Wesley

"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)

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.

[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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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

Red Sammy

"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)

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.

The Grandmother

"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)

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.

"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)

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.

"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 N**** child standing in the door of a shack. (18)

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.

The Misfit

[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)

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.

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