Flannery O’Connor

A Good Man is Hard to Find

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A Good Man is Hard to Find Summary

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A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor opens with a scene of a grandmother in the kitchen with her son, Bailey, and his family, which consists of a wife who wears slacks and a kerchief around her hair while she feeds a young baby as well as two children; a young boy and girl named John Wesley (which oddly enough is the name of the founder of the Methodist religion) and June Star. The family is preparing to go to Florida on vacation but the grandmother is insistent that they go to Tennessee instead. She is ignored by the family and no one seems to value her opinion. It is clear that she is trying to weasel her way into getting her wish but none of them are falling for it.

The grandmother mentions that there is a fugitive on the loose called the Misfit and that they might run into him if they go to Florida but again, this line of reasoning has no effect on them. They tell her she just shouldn’t go if she doesn’t want to go to Florida but they all know that she wouldn’t miss a trip for the world. “The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She 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” (12). It is becoming clear already that this grandmother is not only manipulative and a little child-like, she is also rather high maintenance. This becomes more clear as the plot of A Good Man is Hard to Find further unravels. For her travels, for instance, she is wearing white cotton gloves, a fancy hat, and a dress with fake flowers all over it whereas in contrast, her daughter-in-law is wearing the same slacks and still has her hair tied up.

The grandmother sits in the back seat between the two older children while the baby is up front on the mother’s lap. The two children prattle on about how Georgia is a boring state, even as they pass by Stone Mountain and the red and purple rocks. The grandmother tells them about Tennessee, but according to young John Wesley, “Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground” (13). The grandmother is appalled by this statement and begins talking about how children were more respectful of their home states. Just then, they pass by a little black boy standing by the road with no pants on.

The children remark on the fact that he isn’t wearing pants and the grandmother says in one of the important quotes from A Good Man is Hard to Find oh, “look at the cute little pickaninny!… Wouldn’t that make a picture now?” (13) and talks about how if she was a painter she would have painted that scene.  If the reader wasn’t getting the drift before, it is now abundantly clear that this grandmother comes from the Old South and revels in all things “southern charm” like romanticizing negroes in the fields and the “glory” days of the plantation south. This all leads her into a story  about her life as a southern belle on a plantation when a suitor used to bring her watermelons with his initials carved into them, which were E.A.T. She says that one day a (insert offensive word for African-Americans here) came along, saw the initials, and thought it meant he was supposed to eat it. No one but John Wesley thought this was a very funny story.

The family comes to a barbeque restaurant called The Tower, which is run by a man named Red Sammy. While the family is eating he talks with the grandmother about how “a good man is hard to find” and how no one can be trusted any longer. The Misfit is mentioned again along with countless other reasons why no one was trustworthy. The grandmother said to Red Sammy 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” (17) which was the nice, polite way for Red Sammy to tell her to drop the subject.

They get back in the car and the grandmother takes a catnap and wakes up remembering an old plantation house that was back on a road she thought they just passed. She wants Bailey to stop and knows he won’t so she “offhandedly” mentions that there is a secret panel in the house, which gets the children excited. They beg and beg Bailey, who for the whole trip is intense and one can imagine, fed up with his mother, and he finally gives in, although very reluctantly. He just wants the ride to be over with. The road to the house the grandmother remembers is back about a mile, so they turn around. When they finally get to it and start down the dirt the path, the grandmother has a horrible realization—something comes to her suddenly and she jerks, spilling the valise and the cat. At that moment, Pitty Sing, the cat, jumps out and right onto Bailey and the family’s car goes off the road and rolls over. Everyone is okay with the exception of some scratches and they get out and stare at the car. It is revealed by the narrator of A Good Man is Hard to Find that the grandmother’s big thought before the cat-astrophe (ha ha) was that the house she remembered was not in Georgia—it was in Tennessee.

Although shaken and bruised, the family is fine and waits for a car to come by. One eventually does approach them very slowly. Three men get out—they make no real movements to offer much help. As they come closer the family sees they have guns. The grandmother notices the one man with spectacles and sees that he looks familiar but she just can’t place him. He tells the children to sit down, that children make him nervous. Suddenly, the grandmother blurts out, “You’re the Misfit! I’d recognize you at once” (22) and the Misfit agrees that yes, he is, but it sure would have been better if she hadn’t recognized him. As this plot summary of A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Conner continues, it going to become very clear why she should have kept her mouth shut.

The grandmother begins to cry and the Misfit’s face turns red. She tries to tell the Misfit that she can tell he comes from good people, and he agrees again and talks about how his parents were good folks but that he was just different. One of the men says he is going to fix to the car and the Misfit tells John Wesley and Bailey to go over to the vast expanse of woods that surrounds them. They go and soon enough, two pistol shots are heard from the woods.

The man who shot young John Wesley and his father comes back wearing the brightly colored parrot print shirt Bailey had on.  The grandmother calls out for her son,  but either the realization hasn’t completely sunk in with her yet or she’s pretending not to know because she starts telling the Misfit again how he’s a good man and asks if he prays. The Misfits asks, quite politely, if Bailey’s wife, daughter, and the baby want to go off into the woods to join Bailey and she weakly nods. Three more shots are fired. The grandmother prattles on, but it is clear she is getting more and more nervous. She tries to talk about Jesus, but ends up just repeating the name Jesus over and over again.

Just when it seems that the Misfit is having some kind of revelation (or not, we can never know), the grandmother makes the mistake of saying, in one of the important quotes from A Good Man is Hard to Find to the Misfit, “you are my son” and then reaches out to touch him. The Misfit recoils from her touch and without a second of delay, shoots her three times in the chest. The Misfit says, “she would have been a good woman if it has been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life” (29). One of his companions says, “some fun” but the Misfit replies grimly, “It’s no real pleasure in life” (29).

And so yes, this concludes this plot summary of A Good Man is Hard to Find and yes, it is rather a grim ending, isn’t it? All of that character building and plot for what ends in an entire family left for dead in a senseless murder—well, not so senseless when we begin to realize it occurred because the grandmother did not have the forethought to keep quiet when she realized that it was the misfit they’d encountered.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find Literary Analysis

Flannery O’Connor is one of the names most closely associated with the southern gothic style of fiction and very often, the American south is one of the main characters in her stories, even if it has no lines and does not play a direct role. Throughout A Good Man is Hard to Find images of the south are frequent and interestingly, while we hear the grandmother pining for the good old days of the plantation south, back when she was a belle and could smile at the “cute” negroes, we cannot help but recoil. This sickening adherence to just about every stereotype of the old South that the grandmother represents is part of what makes her a grotesque character. In fact, every member of the family is grotesque in some way;  the children by their over-the-top rudeness and lack of manners, the father by his intense, simmering anger paired with a bright, happy-looking parrot shirt, the mother by her lack of personality or character—and, of course, the Misfit by his complete lack of regard for anything or anyone. This is not a delightful portrait of the south or a southern family—it is a critique.

The use of foreshadowing is one of the most-used literary devices in A Good Man is Hard to Find and instances of foreshadowing range from very direct (constant mentioning of the Misfit and how dangerous he is even though no one has any idea where he is) and smaller uses. Everything in this story works together to create a mood and part of this mood, this tone in A Good Man is Hard to Find is very much based on foreshadowing, especially after the family crashes. Notice that the car approaches slowly to “help” them and that it looks like a hearse. Notice as well that just about everything that happens once the family leaves is clouded with a certain darkness; the trip to Red Sammy’s, which is touted as being like a tourist attraction, is actually a lot like hell—for a great explanation of this see the web source on the next page that provides important quotes matched with main themes in A Good Man is Hard to Find. Performing a character analysis of characters in A Good Man is Hard to Find would be rather difficult unless you choose the only character who really stands out—the grandmother. Notice that she is never named directly, she is simply referred to by her status in the family and, of course, her age. The mother, who barely speaks, is not named. If you are writing an essay on A Good Man is Hard to Find and are looking for a short topic to write about, consider the conference of names and meaning. Those characters who are named, are done so in interesting ways. For example, the young boy, John Wesley, is named after the founder of the Methodist religious movement whereas his sister, June Star, has a very modern name.

The meaning of A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor is difficult to untangle, if only because the death of the family is so meaningless and all of their petty business getting to Florida, stopping to eat, having little family squabbles all results in nothing but a swift end. In some ways then, the meaning of A Good Man is Hard to Find is about the lack of meaning itself when confronted with the dull hate of crime. All of the things that we occupy ourselves with, that we find important in the moment, are really nothing. I’m not trying to depress you here or anything (although if you read the story you’re probably already feeling a little depressed) but in many ways it seems that O’Connor goes through such great lengths to detail the journey so that she can build character profiles and also so that she can show just how grimly meaningless many of the small things we concern ourselves with are in the grand scheme of things. After all, it is not until she is confronted with death that the grandmother shows any sign of depth and even this has been, in countless analysis efforts by scholars, also seen as a final act of manipulation.