A Good Man Is Hard to Find (short story)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is a short story written by Flannery O'Connor in 1953. The story appears in the collection of short stories of the same name, A Good Man Is Hard to Find. The interpretive work of scholars often focuses on the controversial final scene.


The short story was "first published in 1953 in the anthology Modern Writing I" by Avon Publications. It was again published in another reprint in 1960 in the anthology The House of Fiction, published then by Charles Scribner's Sons. A Good Man Is Hard To Find, because of its publication in so many anthologies, became the most well known of O'Connor's works, along with the one that was featured the most in anthologies in general.


The story opens with an unnamed grandmother complaining to her son, Bailey, that she would rather go to Tennessee for vacation than Florida. The family resolves to go to Florida regardless. She spites them by rising early and waiting in the car, dressed in her Sunday best, so that if she should die in an accident she will be recognized as "a lady."

The grandmother talks incessantly during the trip, recalling her youth in the Old South and commenting on various things she sees. When the family stops at a diner, called "The Tower," for lunch, she engages the owner, Red Sammy, in conversation about an escaped murderer known as "The Misfit." The grandmother agrees with Sammy's assertion that a good man is increasingly hard to find.

Back on the road, the grandmother, trying to detour the family away from Florida, begins telling stories about a nearby home that she had visited as a child. Upon hearing that it has secret passages, the children become fixated on visiting the house, and they pester their father until he agrees to follow the grandmother's directions. When her directions lead them down an abandoned dirt road, she realizes that the house is, in fact, in Tennessee and not Georgia. Flustered, she upsets her cat, which panics, causing Bailey to lose control and end up in a ditch. The children view the accident as an adventure; the grandmother feigns an internal injury in order to gain sympathy.

The family waits for help. A car pulls up and three men get out, the leader a shirtless, bespectacled man. All three men have guns. The man in glasses instructs his cohorts to inspect the family's car and engages Bailey in polite conversation until the grandmother identifies him as an escaped convict known as "The Misfit." The Misfit shot his own father, he says, though he says that's what he's been told --he doesn't believe it. As The Misfit instructs his accomplices to murder the family one by one, the grandmother begins pleading for her own life by flattering The Misfit. When the Misfit ignores her pleas, she becomes speechless. Panicked, she attempts to witness about Jesus. The Misfit becomes visibly angry: he is angry with Christ for having given no physical evidence for His existence, casting doubt about the legitimacy of Christianity. He does not want to waste his life serving a figure who may not exist, nor does he want to displease an almighty God who may exist; he has settled on the idea that "There's no pleasure but meanness." The grandmother suddenly exclaims "Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!", and reaches out and touches The Misfit. He recoils and shoots her three times.

When the accomplice finishes murdering the family, the Misfit takes a moment to clean his glasses, concluding that "she [the grandmother] would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." He echoes O'Connor's traditional Christian view that this is properly the role of the conscience informed by the Holy Spirit. When his accomplice comments on the fun that they've had in killing, the Misfit tells him, "It's no real pleasure in life."

Again, in O'Connor's view, a phony Christian--that is, the grandmother--through an act of violence finally comes to be genuinely converted. A good man/woman is indeed hard to find. At last the grandmother humbles herself, realizing that she's no better than a murderer and misfit herself--for such are metaphorically her babies, part of the fallen human family. (He is wearing her son's shirt by then--as if to increase symbolically the connection.) She can finally receive saving grace.


The Grandmother
Bailey's mother that throughout the story insists that the family should go to Tennessee. She also often refers to herself as a "lady."
Atlanta resident with a wife and three children and his live in mother. He crashes their car on a family trip to Florida when he gives into the grandmother's wishes to visit an old plantation.
Bailey’s wife
Quiet woman who spends her time feeding or holding her baby. She is unidentified by name.
John Wesley, June Star
Bailey’s demanding, self-centered children. Their bratty behavior apparently results from a lack of parental discipline.
The Baby
Male child of Bailey and his wife. He is unidentified by name.
Red Sammy Butts
Restaurant operator who agrees with Bailey’s mother that the world is in a state of decline.
Red Sammy’s Wife
Waitress in Red Sammy’s restaurant. She observes that not a single person in the world is trustworthy.
The Misfit
Dangerous escaped prisoner who comes across Bailey and his family on a dirt road after they have crashed. We see that he is having an internal debate of the meaning of life and his purpose in it.
Hiram, Bobby Lee
Prisoners who escaped with The Misfit.
Edgar Atkins Teagarden
Man referred to in a story told by Bailey's mother. He would have been a good man to marry, she says, because he owned Coca-Cola stock and died rich.
Pitty Sing
Pet cat of Bailey’s mother.
Gray Monkey
Pet of Red Sammy Butts. The monkey is chained to a chinaberry tree.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "A Good Man Is Hard to Find (short story)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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