Study Guide

A Good Man is Hard to Find "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

By Flannery O'Connor

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"A Good Man is Hard to Find"

  • We meet the grandmother and immediately learn that she does not want to go to Florida. (The grandmother has no name in the story.)
  • The grandmother's only son, named Bailey, is sitting with her at the table. Bailey does, however, want to go to Florida.
  • The grandmother, trying to convince Bailey to axe his plans in the subtlest and most convincing way possible, suggests that she would never take her children to a place with a criminal on the loose.
  • Apparently some murderer—called "The Misfit"—is out of the slammer and headed toward Florida.
  • The grandmother would rather go to east Tennessee, because there are no mass murderers there. And besides, the children have never seen it before.
  • Neither Bailey nor his wife, who's feeding the baby, seem to pay any attention to her.
  • On the other hand, she does get a response from John Wesley and June Star, Bailey's two kids.
  • John Wesley tells the grandmother to just stay home, but June Star retorts that she never would, because she has to go everywhere the family goes.
  • It's now the next morning and the grandmother is the first one in the car. She's packed her valise and a basket that houses her cat, Pitty Sing.
  • Bailey can't appreciate this, but the grandmother believes Pitty Sing would kill himself if he was left alone. The grandmother had no choice but to bring him along (secretly).
  • John Wesley and June Star sit on either side of the grandmother, and Bailey and his wife (with the baby) sit in the front.
  • They're off. It's 8:45am and they're leaving Atlanta (which is apparently where they live).
  • The grandmother has clothed herself carefully, so that in case they have an accident anyone looking at her could tell she was a lady. She seems happy to be in the car, and points out various things on the road.
  • The children aren't impressed with their home state of Georgia, and say so. The grandmother tells them they need to be more respectful—like people were in the old days.
  • The grandmother points out a "cute little pickaninny" (18) – that's her derogatory way of referring to a small Black child they pass on the road who's apparently wearing no pants. She explains that "Little n*****s in the country don't have things like we do" (20).
  • The grandmother holds the baby, and plays games with the children. She also tells them a story about a former suitor of hers, Edgar Atkins Teagarden, who liked to carve his initials (EAT) into watermelons and leave them for her.
  • The family stops at a place called The Tower to eat. The Tower is owned by Red Sammy, "the fat boy with the happy laugh" (27), who happens at this moment to be working on a car outside. He has a monkey.
  • The whole family goes into the restaurant, where they meet Red Sammy's wife, who takes their order. June Star impresses her by doing a tap dance routine to the jukebox. The young girl then calls the restaurant a broken-down place that she wouldn't live in for a million bucks.
  • Red Sammy comes in, complaining that these days you can't trust anyone. Apparently, someone took advantage of him last week.
  • The grandmother quickly comforts Red Sammy by telling him he let himself get fooled because he's a good man. Red Sammy supposes he is.
  • The grandmother brings up The Misfit, and Red Sammy's wife, who appears to have read about him, says that he might show up at that very place.
  • Red Sammy adds "A good man is hard to find" (43). Nothing is as good today as it used to be. He and the grandmother talk about the good old days.
  • The family leaves. As they ride along, the grandmother tells the children of an old plantation house around these parts that she'd once visited a long while back. It had a secret panel somewhere. The children think this sounds cool and want to visit.
  • Bailey doesn't want to take them, but the children throw a collective tantrum. John Wesley kicks the front seat, June Star whines, and even the baby gets in on the action by screaming.
  • His will broken, Bailey agrees to go. All he wants is some peace and quiet.
  • The grandmother directs him to a dirt road that they had passed a while ago, which they can take to get to the house. Meanwhile, she also tells the children more exciting details about the house.
  • They go onto the dirt road, which is hilly, with "sharp curves" and "dangerous embankments" (60), and looks as if no one has driven on it in quite a while.
  • Time passes and there is still no sign of the house yet. Something feels a little off about this adventure.
  • The grandmother tells Bailey it's just a little further.
  • But just then, a horrible thought hits her.
  • The thought is so horrible, in fact, that she starts and kicks her feet, which knock the valise off the basket where Pitty Sing has been hiding. The startled and snarling Pitty Sing hurls himself onto Bailey's shoulder.
  • The next thing we know is that the children have been thrown onto the floor, mother and baby have flown out the door, and the grandmother has toppled into the front seat. Bailey remains in the driver's seat, cat firmly clinging to neck.
  • The car has flipped over into a ditch off the side of the road. The children, upon realizing they can still move, jump out of the car and celebrate the fact that they've had an accident. They're terribly excited.
  • Here's the grandmother's horrible thought: she's realized that the house she was thinking of is actually in Tennessee. She hopes she's injured herself so Bailey won't be too angry at her.
  • Bailey disposes of the cat by throwing it out the window, right into a pine tree.
  • He gets out of the car.
  • The children are still screaming in excitement, although June Star is disappointed that nobody died.
  • The ditch they're all in is apparently ten feet or so below the road. Behind it extends a forest.
  • The mother, offering up her first line of the story, hopes that maybe a car will come along to help them.
  • Bingo: a car comes along to help them.
  • The car approaches slowly. It looks like a hearse. There are three men in it.
  • The driver tells the two other guys—a large boy and a boy with a hat—to get out of the car on either side.
  • The boys exit, slowly. The driver also gets out. He's shirtless. All three have guns.
  • The driver tells the family he saw their "spill" happen. He instructs Hiram—the hat-wearing one—to check out the family's car.
  • When John Wesley asks why they have guns, the driver tells the mother to keep the children with her. He doesn't like children.
  • In a flash of insight, the Grandmother realizes the driver is The Misfit. She is shocked, and blurts this out to him as loudly as she can.
  • The Misfit tells her he is indeed "The Misfit," though it wasn't very smart to let him know she knew. Bailey agrees, and whispers something really nasty to her (though we don't know what).
  • The grandmother, perhaps on the verge of hysteria, screams at the misfit that he's got to be a good man. She doesn't see a trace of "common blood" (88), in him. She can tell he comes from "nice people" (88).
  • As the grandmother tries to convince The Misfit he's got to be a good man, Bailey demands that everyone shut up and let him take care of things.
  • Hiram informs The Misfit that the car will take about a half hour to fix.
  • The Misfit asks Hiram and Bobby Lee (the large kid) to take Bailey and John Wesley into the woods. They go off, and both the mother and the grandmother call after them.
  • The grandmother turns back to convincing The Misfit of his virtues (being "good" and "not a bit common") (98). The Misfit admits he's not a good man, but he's not the worst either. He's one of those guys who, as his father said, is "different," because he's "into everything" (99).
  • The grandmother pursues this line, and asks The Misfit if he doesn't want to just be honest and live a comfortable life. She asks if he ever prays.
  • The mother wants to know where the hell Bailey is.
  • The Misfit doesn't pray.
  • Two pistol shots are heard from the woods. That's where Bailey is, or was. The Grandmother screams.
  • The Misfit mentions that he was a gospel singer for a bit. He's been just about everything. Somehow along the way he wound up in a penitentiary, but, can't remember how.
  • The grandmother tells him he should pray.
  • Apparently, a psychiatrist at the penitentiary told The Misfit that he'd killed his father. The Misfit but he didn't believe it. They had papers on him, though.
  • The grandmother again tells him he should pray, because if he did, Jesus would help him.
  • The Misfit doesn't want any help.
  • Hiram and Bobby Lee come back from the woods carrying Bailey's parrot shirt, which The Misfit puts on himself.
  • The Misfit, philosophizing, says that you can do just about anything, because eventually you'll forget about it and just get punished.
  • The Misfit then asks the mother if she'd like to "join" Bailey. The mother says yes, thank you very much. Now it's her turn to go to the woods with Bobby Lee and Hiram. The baby and a very spiteful June Star go too.
  • The grandmother finds that she has lost her voice, and just keeps moving her mouth soundlessly. When it comes back, she's saying "Jesus, Jesus" (128).
  • The Misfit has some ideas about Jesus. "Jesus threw everything off balance" (129). He says he himself is kind of like Jesus, except Jesus never committed a crime whereas The Misfit's got a record. He explains that he's called himself "The Misfit" because he can't ever make the punishments he's received match up to his crimes in his own mind.
  • A scream comes from the woods, followed by a pistol shot. The Misfit asks if it seems right to the grandmother that some people are punished a lot and others not at all.
  • The grandmother, crying now, once again tells the Misfit that he is a good man and should pray to Jesus. She reminds him that good men don't shoot ladies. As a perk, she'll give all the money she has.
  • Two more shots come from the woods, and the grandmother once again calls out for Bailey, "as if her heart would break" (133).
  • The Misfit, still going on about Jesus, says that Jesus was the only one to ever raise the dead, and "he shouldn't have done it" (134). If he actually did it, then there would be nothing to do but throw away everything else and follow him.
  • If he didn't, there's nothing to do but enjoy the little time you have left however you can. The Misfit seems to think this is best done by killing people or burning down houses. "No pleasure but meanness" (134), he says.
  • The grandmother, feeling dizzy and sinking to the ground, mumbles that maybe Jesus didn't raise the dead.
  • The Misfit says he doesn't know, because he wasn't there, but wishes he had been. If he had been there, he wouldn't be like he is now. His voice seems to crack.
  • The grandmother's head clears, and looking at the Misfit's face, it seems to her as if he's about to cry. She murmurs, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" (136), and reaches out to touch him.
  • The Misfit recoils and shoots the grandmother in the chest three times.
  • Hiram and Bobby Lee come back from the woods and see the grandmother's crumpled body. She's lying in a puddle of blood, her lifeless gaze looking toward the sky, smiling.
  • The Misfit tells them to throw the body in the same spot where they threw the others.
  • He picks up a cat rubbing itself against his leg (presumably Pitty Sing).
  • Bobby Lee says the grandmother was quite the talker. The Misfit tells him she would have been a good woman "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life" (140).
  • Bobby Lee says that would be fun, but The Misfit tells him to shut up. "It's no real pleasure in life" (142).

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