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A Good Man is

hard to find


Mary Flannery
Mary Flannery OConnor

(March 25, 1925 August 3,

1964) was an American novelist, short-story writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, O'Connor 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. O'Connor's writing also reflected her own Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics.

a. Place
The story takes place in Georgia. We don't have much in the way of a description of the original setting. This tale begins in a nameless city where the family lives, and takes us various places along the road as the family travels. Plenty of local color there are the old plantations that get passed, and Red Sammy's roadside barbeque joint. The second half of the story takes place in the ditch in the middle of nowhere where the family lands after running off the road. We're told the ditch is about ten feet below the road, and lies between the road and a "tall and dark and deep" forest. There's forest on the other side of the road too, so the forest "looms" menacingly over the scene on both sides. This part of the story is like a staged play: the site of the action doesn't move, the ditch is the stage, and the forest is

"backstage," where characters are taken. We only learn what's going happening from the noises people make (usually screams or gunshots).

b. Time
As for the time, the era of the story is never explicitly defined, but given the cars and the mention of Gone With the Wind (published as a book in 1936 and released as a movie in 1939), we can guess it's the 1940's or later. Since there's no mention of a war going on, and the grandmother says that "the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money" (44), it's almost certainly after the war, meaning late '40s or early '50s. That would be right about when O'Connor wrote the story (1953) anyway.

The particular timing of the story is a more interesting issue. We know that the family leaves their home in the morning, and that they leave Red Sammy's in the "hot afternoon" (presumably it's summer). We don't actually know how late it is, though, when they land in the ditch. The narrator never says it's night, and the grandmother says it's a beautiful day. We also know there's no sun in the sky. Does that mean it's around sunset?

a. Major
A Granny Who Gets What She Wants The grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a manipulator. The first thing we learn about her is that she doesn't want to go to Florida because she's got relatives to see in Tennessee. The second thing we learn about her? "She was seizing every chance to try to change Bailey's mind". Whenever something runs up against the grandmother's will, she tries to have it her way. So the grandmother's seems to be selfish, and tries to satisfy her selfishness by manipulating people. Another important thing we learn about the grandmother is that she considers herself a lady. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her necklace she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet.

The Mysterious Misfit The Misfit doesn't get it. He just doesn't understand why he's been punished the way he has for what he did. In his own words, "I call myself The Misfit [] because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment" The Misfit victimizes himself here: he was made to suffer greatly for a reason he doesn't understand. But the tricky thing is, he also never denies committing a crime, and he never denies that the papers are evidence that he committed a crime. In short, he refuses to admit he was put in by mistake. It even sounds from the first of those two passages as if he knows he did something wrong. He just doesn't know what it was, or why he was punished. Bailey Bailey is the grandmother's only son, and the father of June Star and John Wesley. He is also the driver for the family trip. In his mind, he's in charge, and he won't let you forget it. We learn that he's high-strung and not in control of himself, much less his family. He's a guy who tries to maintain the illusion of being in control but really isn't. Although it's his idea to go to Florida, its unclear why he wants to go on a vacation at all, since, "He didn't have a naturally sunny disposition and trips made him nervous". All of this leads to frequent glares and a "jaw as rigid as a horseshoe". His other main role in the story is to be the hotheaded son, whose wrath the grandmother is constantly trying to avoid (through careful manipulation, usually).

June Star June Star is Bailey's daughter, and the grandmother's granddaughter. Though she's cute, she's just plain nasty to everybody, as we learn pretty early on in the story from the way she treats her grandmother. Apparently June Star likes to say "a million bucks" a lot. We never learn how she came to be this way. All we know is that she's annoying throughout the whole story, from her whining about the old plantation, to her disappointment that nobody died in the accident, to her impertinent remarks to the criminals. To her credit, she doesn't seem phased by the fact that they have guns. John Wesley June Star's eight-year-old brother, John Wesley is almost as nasty as she is, though not quite as bad. This might be due to the fact that he doesn't get the opportunity to say as much. His hobbies include tormenting his grandmother and kicking his father in the kidney through the car seat to get what he wants. Like June Star, he is also very excited by car accidents, though disappointed when there are no fatalities. The Mother The mother (of June Star and John Wesley) is a bland character who barely says or does anything in this story. Sadly, she does not play much of a role in the

story until she dies. Most of the time she's just taking care of the baby. Her only really notable moments come towards the end of the story. When Bailey is taken into the woods, she becomes horribly upset.

Bobby Lee Bobby Lee is the boy who smiles noticeably and apparently thinks killing people is "some fun." He's one of The Misfit's two accomplices. He's young, though beyond that we really know how old he is. His description as a "boy" doesn't give us much information. He does seem to enjoy killing people; he's "grinning" all the time, including when he grabs June Star and takes her to meet her end in the woods. He also thinks that shooting the grandmother every moment of her life would be "some fun". If The Misfit is a more complicated criminal who might have undergone a transformation at the end of the story, Bobby Lee certainly isn't.

Hiram Hiram is the skinnier of The Misfit's two "boy" accomplices. Apparently, he's the one who knows something about cars, since The Misfit asks him if the family's car is easily reparable. He doesn't say much, which gives him a slightly better personality than Bobby Lee. Like Bobby Lee, though, his primary purpose in the story is to take the family into the woods and shoot them.

b. Minor
Red Sammy Red Sammy, "the fat man with the happy laugh", is the owner of The Tower, the BBQ restaurant where the family stops for lunch. He's sad that people aren't trustworthy like they used to these days, he says, "a good man is hard to find,. He encounters a person of like mind in the grandmother. He appears to be the only person in the story who enjoys her conversation. The grandmother calls him a "good man," which seems fine by him. He also owns a monkey.

Red Sammy's Wife Red Sammy's wife is a "tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter than her skin". She helps Red Sammy run The Tower restaurant and is apparently responsible for taking people's orders and preparing them. Unfortunately, she's not very efficient at this task. She thinks June Star is cute for doing her tap dance

routine; June Star does not respond kindly to the woman's praise. Interestingly, she doesn't trust anyone, including Red Sammy.

Pitty Sing The grandmother's cat, Pitty Sing, is named after one of the characters in The Mikado. The grandmother worries that Pitty Sing would asphyxiate himself if left alone in the house, so she brings him on the trip secretly, hidden in a basket. It is Pitty Sing who causes the car accident by leaping onto Bailey's neck when the grandmother accidentally releases him from the basket. We don't know why the cat leaps onto Bailey: the feline could be maniacal or just plain startled. Bailey, who apparently doesn't like Pitty Sing, responds by hurling it into a tree after the accident. It's likely that the cat who rubs up against The Misfit's leg is Pitty Sing, although we never get a clear indication either way.

The Baby The baby has little other role in this story than to occupy the mother's attention, and to give the grandmother one happy moment (when she plays with it on her lap). The baby's sleeping when it's shot. Other than perhaps the mother, it's the easiest member of the family for whom we feel sorry.

Vocabulary words
Asphyxiate [as-fik-see-eyt] to cause to die or lose consciousness by impairing
normal breathing, as by gas or other noxious agents; choke; suffocate; smother.

Valise [vuh-lees or, especially Brit., -leez] noun. a small piece of luggage that can
be carried by hand, used to hold clothing, toilet articles, etc.; suitcase; traveling bag.

Yodel [yohd-l] verb. To sing with frequent changes from the ordinary voice to
falsetto and back again, in the manner of Swiss and Tyrolean mountaineers. ; to call or shout in a similar fashion.

Embark [im-brk] verb. To go on board a vehicle for transportation; to make a


Predicament [pri-di-k-mnt, 1 is usually pre-di-k-] noun. The character,

status, or classification assigned by a predication; condition, state; especially: a difficult, perplexing, or trying situation.

Reckon [re-kn] verb. Count; estimate; compute; to determine by reference to a

fixed basis; to regard or think of as consider.

Flog [flg] verb. to beat with or as if with a rod or whip; to criticize harshly.

Penitentiary [pe-n-ten(t)-sh(-)r] noun. an officer in some Roman Catholic

dioceses vested with power from the bishop to deal with cases of a nature normally handled only by the bishop; a cardinal presiding over a tribunal of the Roman curia concerned with dispensations and indulgences; a public institution in which offenders against the law are confined for detention or punishment; specifically: a state or federal prison in the United States.

Knack [nak] noun. a clever trick or stratagem; a clever way of doing something. Mileage [m-lij] noun. An allowance for traveling expenses at a certain rate per
mile; aggregate length or distance in miles

It's time for a family trip of some kind, and there's a disagreement in the family about where to go. Bailey wants to take his family, his wife, baby, and two

kids, John Wesley and June Star, to Florida. His mother, called simply "the grandmother," doesn't want to go there. To make her case, she mentions that there's a dangerous criminal named The Misfit on the loose, and that he's headed that way. No one seems to take her seriously. The next morning, it's off to Florida they go. Everyone piles in the car, including the grandmother, who seems to have acquired some enthusiasm for the trip. (She's also secretly stowed away her cat, Pitty Sing.) They hit the road and begin the trip from Georgia to Florida. During the trip the grandmother plays games and tells stories to the kids. They stop at a restaurant to eat, and converse a bit with the owner, Red Sammy, and his wife. The grandmother talks with the couple about how hard it is to trust people and find "good men" these days. She also talks a bit about The Misfit. Back on the road, the grandmother gets the kids all excited by telling them about an old plantation she once visited that's located nearby. The kids convince the reluctant Bailey to take them all to see it. He turns onto a dirt road, which, the grandmother assures him, leads to the plantation. After following the road for a while they don't see anything. Suddenly, the grandmother remembers that the plantation isn't here at all it's actually in Tennessee. She is so startled by this realization (which she doesn't tell anybody), that she jerks, letting her cat out of the basket where she's stowed it. The animal is propelled onto Bailey's shoulder. A dramatic accident follows, as the car veers off the road and flips over. As June Star laments, however, no one is killed.

The family waits for a car to come along, and sure enough, one does. Only it's not quite the help they were expecting. It turns out that their "help" is none other than The Misfit and two of his buddies. The grandmother recognizes The Misfit, and tries to convince him he's a good man who couldn't possibly want to do anything to harm them. The Misfit orders Bailey and John Wesley into the woods, where his cronies shoot them. The mother, the baby, and June Star soon follow. All the while, the grandmother, increasingly dizzy and in shock, talks with The Misfit, still trying to convince him he's a good man, and telling him he should pray to Jesus. This gives The Misfit the opportunity to tell a bit of his personal history and offer some his ideas on Jesus, about whom he's actually done some thinking. The grandmother, detecting a moment of vulnerability in him is suddenly moved to call him her child and reaches out to touch him. The Misfit responds by promptly shooting her three times in the chest. The story ends with him telling his cronies, who've returned from shooting the others, to dump her body with the rest. "She would've been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life," he says.

Moral lesson/s
Good vs. Evil
"A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a confrontation of between a grandmother with a rather superficial sense of goodness, and a criminal who embodies real evil. The grandmother seems to treat goodness mostly as a function of being decent, having good manners, and coming from a family of "the right people." What a contrast, when the grandmother encounters The Misfit, who seems straightforwardly evil, with little to no sense of guilt, and a genuine desire to do cruel or destructive things for their own sake. Understanding the motivations of The Misfit, and what "goodness" means by contrast, is one of the central puzzles of the story.

The central confrontation between the grandmother and The Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" revolves around Jesus. The grandmother brings up praying to Jesus in the hope that she can induce The Misfit to spare her life by appealing to his religious sense. It turns out, however, that The Misfit has probably thought about Jesus more seriously than she has. The Misfit's doubt in Jesus leads him to think that there is no real right or wrong, and no ultimate point to life. At the story's climax, the grandmother appears to receive a moment of divine grace, which might transform her and The Misfit. How this ending is understood is the major question of the story.

Flannery O'Connor understood her story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" as a tale of good, evil, and divine grace. Other critics, however, have seen in it something more cynical. Many see it as the story of a selfish woman who uses manipulation to get what she wants, but is ultimately unable to save herself by her acts. There are several moments in the story when the grandmother manipulates others, including her family members and the criminal. An interesting question is whether she ever stops manipulating, and, if so, when.

Besides its more serious themes, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" contains some mercilessly funny comedy about a dysfunctional family, and the ways they get on each other's nerves. You know, the kind of family that could be in a National

Lampoon movie? There's the two troublesome and annoying kids, the hot-headed dad who tries to maintain control of a situation and fails, the wife busy attending to the baby, and the grandmother, who's a case all to herself (and also the main character). Though the story starts out seeming like a comedy, it takes a serious turn when the family encounters a criminal, who kills them one by one. Whether this family members attract any genuine sympathy from the reader, or from each other, or whether they death presents little more than a black comedy is an issue up for debate.

Society and Class

The grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" gives great importance to being "a lady," and her ideas about what that means reflect an old-fashioned, somewhat upper-crust Southern mindset. She uses the n-word and longs for the good old days when kids were polite, people were trustworthy, and there were pretty plantations to visit. All of this leads her to associate being "good" with coming from a respectable family and behaving like a member of her social class; those who don't are outsiders. Her sensibilities are in for quite a shock when she meets The Misfit.

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