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A Good Man Is Hard to Find
by Flannery O'Connor


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1998-2002; 2002 by Gale Cengage. Gale is a division of Cengage Learning. Gale and Gale Cengage are
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eNotes: Table of Contents
     1. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Introduction
     2. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Flannery O'Connor Biography
     3. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Summary
     4. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Themes
     5. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Style
     6. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Historical Context
     7. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Critical Overview
     8. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Character Analysis
             The Grandmother
             The Misfit
             Other Characters
     9. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Essays and Criticism
             O'Connor's Story as a Good Example of the Author's Fiction
             Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find: The Moment of Grace
             A Cloak of Grace: Contradictions in A Good Man Is Hard to Find
    10. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Compare and Contrast
    11. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Topics for Further Study
    12. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: What Do I Read Next?
    13. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Bibliography and Further Reading

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Introduction
Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" first appeared in the author's short story
collection by the same name, which was published in 1955. Since then, it has become one of O'Connor's most
highly regarded works of short fiction because it exhibits all the characteristics for which she is best known: a
contrast of violent action with humorously and carefully drawn characters and a philosophy that underscores
her devout Roman Catholic faith. Critics have admired the prose and the way O'Connor infuses the story with
her Catholic belief about the role God's grace plays in the lives of ordinary people. The story is disturbing and
humorous at the same time--a quality shared by many of O'Connor's other works, including her novels Wise
Blood and The Violent Bear It Away.

Though the story begins innocently enough, O'Connor introduces the character of the Misfit, an escaped


A Good Man Is Hard to Find                                                                                      1
murderer who kills the entire family at the end of the story. Through this character, O'Connor explores the
Christian concept of "grace"--that a divine pardon from God is available simply for the asking. In the story, it
is the Grandmother--a petty, cantankerous, and overbearing individual--who attains grace at the moment of her
death, when she reaches out to the Misfit and recognizes him as one of her own children. For O'Connor, God's
grace is a force outside the character, something undeserved, an insight or moment of epiphany. Often,
however, O'Connor's characters miss moments of opportunity to make some connection; their spiritual
blindness keeps them from seeing truth.

"A Good Man Is Hard to Find'' is the title story of O'Connor's first short story collection, and, therefore, often
serves as an introduction to the rest of her fiction. The story is enjoyable for its humorous portrayal of a
family embarking on a vacation; O'Connor has been unforgiving in her portrayal of these characters--they are
not likable. However, in creating characters that elicit little sympathy from readers, O'Connor has carefully set
the premise for her main argument: that grace is for everyone, even those who seem loathesome.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Flannery O'Connor Biography
Although she produced relatively few works in her short lifetime of 39 years, Mary Flannery O'Connor is
considered one of the most important short story writers of the twentieth century because of her strange but
interesting characters, her violent plot elements, and her religious world view. O'Connor was a Roman
Catholic writer who knew that most of her audience did not share her strict moral view of the world. She
sought, however, to present a message of God's grace and presence in everyday life. Born in the "Bible Belt"
Southern city of Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925, O'Connor's region and upbringing influenced her
fiction in her depiction of character, of conflict, and in her choice of themes.

O'Connor was the only child of wealthy parents and attended high school in Milledgeville, Georgia. Her
father, Edward Francis O'Connor, died when she was sixteen from degenerative lupus, the same disease that
later took her life. At the Georgia College for Women, O'Connor majored in social sciences and edited and
wrote for school publications. She later received a master's degree in writing from Iowa State University in
1947, using six of her stories as her master's thesis. After completing graduate school, O'Connor attended the
prestigious Yaddo writers' colony in upstate New York in 1947-48, where she worked on her first novel Wise
Blood. Moving to New York and then to Connecticut to live with good friends Sally and Robert Fitzgerald,
O'Connor continued to work on her novel until she suffered her first attack of lupus, a chronic, autoimmune
disease which causes inflammation of various parts of the body, such as the skin, joints, blood and internal
organs. O'Connor then moved back to Milledgeville, where she lived the remainder of her life with her
mother.

O'Connor wrote steadily through the 1950s. Her novel Wise Blood was published in 1952, and A Good Man Is
Hard to Find, a short story collection containing the well-known story by the same name, in 1955. A second
novel, The Violent Bear It Away came out in 1960. The year of her death, 1964, saw the publication of Three
by Flannery O 'Connor and another short story collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge. Most of her
stories were originally published in periodicals such as Accent, Mademoiselle, Esquire, and Critic. She won
three O. Henry Memorial Awards for her short stories, a Ford Foundation grant, a National Institute of Arts
and Letters grant in literature, and two honorary doctor's degrees during her lifetime. After her death, her
fiction won a National Book Award, and her collection of letters The Habit of Being won an award from the
Library Journal.

O'Connor's health prevented her from traveling much, so she spent much of her time writing hundreds of
letters to friends, family, and strangers. The collection of letters The Habit of Being reveals a great deal about
O'Connor's compassionate, but often critical, personality. Besides her friendships and her correspondence,
O'Connor helped her mother on their Georgia dairy farm, Andalusia, painted with oils, and raised peacocks,


A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Introduction                                                                         2
birds that figure prominently and often symbolically in her fiction. She traveled when she could and presented
lectures and speeches. She died on August 3, 1964, at the age of 39, from the effects of her disease and
abdominal surgery associated with it; however, her fiction lives on, appearing in anthologies, garnering
critical attention, and continuing to astound readers with its depiction of the human condition.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Summary
O'Connor's story is told by a third-person narrator, but the focus is on the Grandmother's perspective of
events. Even though she complains that she would rather go to Tennessee than Florida for vacation, she packs
herself (and secretly her cat, Pitty Sing) in the car with her son Bailey, his wife, and their children June Star,
John Wesley, and the baby. In a comical instance of foreshadowing, she takes pains to dress properly in a
dress and hat, so that if she were found dead on the highway everyone would recognize her as a lady.

When the family stops for lunch at Red Sammy Butts' barbecue place, the proprietor, a husky man, is insulted
by June Star. Nevertheless, he and the Grandmother discuss the escaped murderer known as the Misfit. Noting
that the world is increasingly a more dangerous and unfriendly place, Red Sammy tells the Grandmother that
these days "A good man is hard to find." Back on the road, the Grandmother convinces her hen-pecked son to
go out of their way so they can visit an old plantation she recalls from her childhood. The children second her
suggestion when she mentions that the house contains secret passageways. Soon after Bailey turns down a dirt
road "in a swirl of pink dust" with "his jaw as rigid as a horseshoe," the Grandmother realizes that the
plantation is not in Georgia, where they are, but in Tennessee. This sudden realization causes her to upset
Pitty Sing's basket. The cat leaps out onto Bailey's shoulder, and the surprise causes him to lose control of the
car and roll it into a ditch.

No one is seriously hurt, and the children are inclined to view the accident as an adventure. Soon a car
happens along the desolate stretch of road, and the family believes the driver will stop and help them. As the
driver makes his way down the embankment, the Grandmother thinks "his face was as familiar to her as if she
had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was." As soon as he starts to speak, however, she
recognizes him as the infamous Misfit. He is accompanied by two other men; they are all carrying guns and
are dressed in clothes that are clearly not their own. The first thing he wants to know is if the car will still run.

While the Misfit talks with the grandmother, his two accomplices, Hiram and Bobby Lee, take each member
of the family off to the woods and shoot them. Soon the Misfit obtains Bailey's bright yellow shirt with blue
parrots on it, and he and the Grandmother are alone. She tries to convince him that he is "not a bit common,''
in an effort to flatter him and spare her life. When it becomes clear that her words are having little effect on
him, she becomes speechless for the first time in the story. "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."

The Misfit's explanation for his behavior provides an opportunity for the self-centered Grandmother to reflect
on her beliefs in the moments before he shoots her "three times through the chest." The Misfit explains that
"Jesus thown everything off balance." In her final moment, the Grandmother reaches out and touches the
Misfit, whispering "You're one of my own children!" The Misfit's final commentary on the Grandmother is
that "she would of been a good woman ... if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Themes
In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" an escaped convict and his companions murder a family because of a series
of mishaps on the part of the Grandmother. Thinking that an old house is in Georgia rather than Tennessee,
she insists that her son Bailey take a detour that leads them to their deaths. Because she has secretly brought

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Flannery O'Connor Biography                                                             3
her cat along, her son Bailey drives the car off the road when the cat leaps to his shoulders. Finally, she blurts
out the identity of the murderer so that he has no choice but to murder them all. Readers are introduced to a
quirky family and what appears to be a typical family car trip, but the story ends on a more philosophical note
when the Grandmother attains a state of grace at the moment she realizes that the murderer is "one of her
children."

Prejudice vs. Tolerance
The Grandmother demonstrates racial and class prejudice through her words and actions. She is vain and
selfish, and she believes that good character is a result of coming from "good people," an important concept in
O'Connor's fiction. When she sees an African-American child without any clothes, she exclaims, "Oh look at
the cute little pickaninny!" She continues, "Wouldn't that make a picture, now?" When her granddaughter
comments on the child's lack of clothes, the Grandmother says, "He probably didn't have any .... Little niggers
in the country don't have things like we do." Believing that she came from a good family and from a time
when "People did right," the Grandmother possesses a false sense of self-righteousness. She tells Red Sammy,
a restaurant owner, that she believes that the United States' problems can be blamed on Europe. She says "the
way Europe acted you would think we were made of money." In her ignorance of others' lifestyles and points
of view, the Grandmother is one of O'Connor's numerous characters who flaunt their prejudice. Early in her
encounter with the Misfit, she tries to flatter him, telling him that he does not look "common," and therefore
could not be a "bad'' person. A lifetime of prejudicial attitudes is erased, however, at the end of the story when
she realizes her helplessness and the fact that discriminatory views such as hers are related to monstrous
behavior like the Mistfit's. This moment is encapsulated in her epiphany: "Why you're one of my babies.
You're one of my own children!"

God and Religion
Most of O'Connor's fiction involves God and religion in some way. She created characters and put them in
situations which convey her message that human beings are trapped in their selfish, petty worlds and often
overlook opportunities for understanding and connection; they miss out on love. Central to O'Connor's
theology is the idea of grace, that God's love and forgiveness are available to people in everyday life. Some
have defined grace in O'Connor's fiction as the moment in a human being's life when a power from the outside
intervenes in a situation. O'Connor's stories almost always teach by negative example; her characters are often
too selfish or unobservant to see the acts of grace in everyday experience. She used violence in her fiction to
grab the characters' attention, because she believed that people needed to be coerced into noticing God's
presence in the modern world. She shocked readers into understanding that people cannot survive alone in the
world. As she said in Mystery and Manners, a collection of her nonfiction writing published after her death,
grace is "simply a concern with the human reaction to that which, instant by instant, gives life to the soul. It is
a concern with a realization that breeds charity and with the charity that breeds action." Charity, in this
context, is a synonym for love; certainly, readers have noticed the absence of love in O'Connor's fiction. In "A
Good Man Is Hard to Find" all of the characters--most obviously the Grandmother--are concerned only with
their own wants and desires. There is no real connection or love between them until they encounter the Misfit
and his gang of murderers. When the Grandmother exclaims at the end, "You're one of my children!," she
makes the first statement of connection in the story. At this point she receives grace as she understands her
place in humanity. All are sinners in O'Connor's fiction, but all are capable of being saved.

Violence and Cruelty
Much of O'Connor's fiction contains violence, which she claimed was necessary to get readers' attention. Her
violence has a purpose, therefore; she claimed that the world in general would not notice God's presence
unless something monumental occurred. In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," the Grandmother must be shocked
out of her selfish and judgmental views by the barrel of a gun. Only when her entire family is murdered within
earshot of her and when she faces her own death does she make a real connection with another human being.
She says to the Misfit, "You're one of my own children!" and recognizes her own mortality, her own
sinfulness, and her relationship to other "children of God." O'Connor believed that God's grace often came

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Themes                                                                               4
into people's lives precisely when they are not looking for it. As she said in Mystery and Manners, her
"subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil."

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Style
Symbolism
Symbols, elements in a work of fiction that stand for something more profound or meaningful, allow writers
to communicate complicated ideas to readers in a work that appears to be simple. O'Connor includes several
symbols in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." For example, skies and weather are always symbolic to O'Connor,
and she often uses such descriptions to reveal a character's state of mind. In another story "The Life You Save
May Be Your Own," O'Connor ends the story with a man being "chased" by an ominous thundercloud,
because the man is feeling guilty for abandoning his mentally and physically challenged wife at a roadside
diner. In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," the sky at the end of the story is cloudless and clear, indicating that
the Grandmother has died with a clear vision of her place in the world. Another symbol in the story is the old
house that the Grandmother insists on visiting. It represents the woman's habit of wanting to live in the past, in
a time she believes people were more decent and better than they are today. However, the house is not where
she thought it was--it was in Tennessee, not Georgia--a realization that symbolizes that one's perception of the
past is often distorted. This focus on a distorted past leads the family directly to their ruin; they have been
sidetracked by a past that did not exist.

Point of View
O'Connor was extremely interested in point of view, and she was careful to keep her point of view consistent.
"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is told in third person, which means that it is not told directly by one of the
characters involved in the action. The first sentence of the story indicates an "objective" narrator: "The
grandmother didn't want to go to Florida." However, the reader is privy to the Grandmother's thoughts and no
one else's. This point of view is sometimes called "third person limited," in which the author reveals only one
character's emotions and thoughts to the reader. Even the names of characters illustrate the story's point of
view; Bailey's wife--the Grandmother's daughter-in-law--is referred to genencally as "the children's mother."
This reveals that the Grandmother thinks of her only in terms of being her son's wife and her grandchildren's
mother. O'Connor is careful, however, not to enter completely into the Grandmother's thoughts; she keeps
what is called "authorial distance." O'Connor is often praised for being "detached" in her narration, allowing
readers to come to their own conclusions about the characters. Consistent with this idea of detachment is the
fact that the Grandmother is never given a name in the story either, a technique that keeps readers from
identifying too closely with her, or recognizing her as an individual. She is simply a "type" of person. This
tactic allowed O'Connor to present characters who must be judged by their actions, rather than on some
criteria that O'Connor would have deemed "less objective."

Foreshadowing
Instances of foreshadowing, an indication of future events, occur several times in "A Good Man Is Hard to
Find." Many writers of short fiction include few superfluous details; every detail contributes to an overall
effect that the story intends to produce. Thus, certain descriptive phrases or dialogue in a story that first appear
to have no special significance often take on new meaning in retrospect. In the first paragraph of the story,
O'Connor introduces the Misfit, the murderer who eventually kills the family. Similarly, as the family
prepares to embark on their vacation, the Grandmother plans her outfit with an eye toward tragedy. Dressed in
a polka-dot dress trimmed with organdy and decorated by a spray of violets, "anyone seeing her dead on the
highway would know at once that she was a lady.'' Later, as the family drives through the countryside, they
pass a cotton field "with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it," a hint of approaching death for the six
occupants of the car. Finally, as the Misfit and his gang approach, their car is described as "a big battered
hearse-like automobile," a further indication that death will figure into the story.



A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Style                                                                                 5
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