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" is a short story written by Flannery O'Connor. The story appears in the collection of short stories of the same name. The interpretive work of scholars often focuses on the controversial final scene.

A man named Bailey intends to take his family from Georgia to Florida for a summer vacation, but his mother, (referred to as "the grandmother" in the story) wants him to drive to East Tennessee, where they have relatives. She argues that his children, John Wesley and June Star, have never been to East Tennessee and shows him a news article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about an escaped murderer who calls himself The Misfit last seen in Florida. The next day, the grandmother wakes up early to hide her cat, Pitty Sing, in a basket on the floor in the back of the car. She is worried that the cat would die while they were gone. Bailey finds her sitting in the car, dressed in her best clothes and an ostentatious hat; she says that if she should die in an accident along the road, she wants people to see her corpse and know she was refined and "a lady." The Grandmother talks continuously during the trip, trying to engage her two rude grandchildren in games and telling them jokes and a story, about which June Star makes disdainful comments. She recalls her youth in the Old South, reminiscing about her courtships and how much better everything was in her time, when children were respectful and people "did right then." When the family stops at an old diner outside of Timothy for lunch, she talks to the owner, Red Sammy, about The Misfit. He and the grandmother agree that things were much better in the past and that the world at present is degenerate; she concurs with Sammy's remark that "a good man is hard to find."

After the family returns to the road, the grandmother begins telling the children a story about a mysterious house nearby with a secret panel, a house she remembers from her childhood. This catches the children's attention and they want to visit the house, so they harass their father until he reluctantly agrees to allow them just one side trip. As he drives them down a remote dirt road, the grandmother suddenly realizes that the house she was thinking of was actually in Tennessee, not Georgia. That shocking realization makes her involuntarily kick her feet which frightens the cat, causing it to spring from its hidden basket onto Bailey's neck. Bailey then loses control of the car and it flips over, ending up in a ditch below the road, near Toomsboro. Only the children's mother is injured, the children are frantic with excitement, and the grandmother's main concern is dealing with Bailey's anger.

Shaking in the ditch, the family waits for help. When she notices a black hearse coming down the road, the grandmother flags it down until it stops. Three men come out and begin to talk to her. All three have guns. The grandmother says that she recognizes the leader, the lisping man in glasses, as The Misfit, who immediately confirms this, saying it would have been better for them all if she hadn't recognized him, and Bailey curses his mother. The Misfit has his two men take Bailey and John Wesley into the woods, claiming that "the boys want to ast you something." After they leave, the grandmother speaks to The Misfit who says he was falsely imprisoned for killing his father, when his cause of death was actually a flu epidemic. The Misfit mentions talking to a psychiatrist while in prison about why he did not remember what crime he had committed.

The Misfit's men take Bailey and John Wesley into the forest on a pretense, and then two shots are heard. The men then return to take the children's mother, the baby, and June Star for the same purpose. The grandmother begins pleading for her own life. When The Misfit talks to her about Jesus, he expresses his doubts about His raising Lazarus from the dead. As he speaks, The Misfit becomes agitated and angry. He snarls into the grandmother's face and claims that life has "no pleasure but meanness". In her growing confusion, she thinks that The Misfit is going to cry, so she reaches out and touches his shoulder tenderly, saying "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" His reaction is to jump away "as if a snake had bitten him" and he kills her with three shots through the heart.

When the family has all been murdered, The Misfit takes a moment to clean his glasses and pick up the grandmother's; he states that the grandmother would have been a good woman if "it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." The story ends with The Misfit chastising one of his sidekicks, Bobby Lee, for making a comment "some fun!" "Shut up, Bobby Lee," he retorts. "It's no real pleasure in life."

Product Details

BN ID: 2940157106904
Publisher: New York : Signet
Publication date: 10/26/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 251
Sales rank: 184,807
File size: 215 KB

About the Author

Mary Flannery O'Connor was an American writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, she wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries. She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. Her writing also reflected her own Roman Catholic faith and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics. Her posthumously-compiled Complete Stories won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and has been the subject of enduring praise.

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