Flannery O’Connor is the brightest representative of the Southern Gothic in US literature. Her prose is filled with violence, erupting evil and dark features of a human being, and many stories shockingly end on a note of horror. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” first appeared in a small collection with the same name in 1955. It possesses all the peculiar features of her style: the contrast of violence with the humor of carefully written characters and religious philosophy. There are differing interpretations of the story mainly concerned with the final act of the grandmother. Some believe it was the scene of love and compassion, but others insist the selfishness of the grandmother is depicted throughout the story (Bryant 304). The grandmother, however, opposed the journey from the very beginning, being worried about the potential confrontation with the fugitive criminal, the Misfit, which turned into reality. Therefore, the grandmother’s actions were not of egoism but care for others.
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The Story Summary
The state of Georgia in the south of the US serves as the setting for the story. The provider of his family, Bailey, desires to take his son, John Wesley, his daughter, June Star, his wife with an infant, and his mother to Florida. But Bailey’s mother persuades her son to depart from his plans. The fact that they went there last summer serves as the first reason. There is also, however, the news of a criminal named The Misfit who was sent to Florida but escaped from federal prison. All the claims of Bailey’s mother are ignored, and the family drives out of Atlanta.
Their path carries them to a cafe where the family decides to have lunch. The operator of the cafe, who called himself Red Sammy Butts joins the family’s table conversation and begins complaining about his life, saying that, despite the most laborious attempts, one still finds himself in unfavorable situations. He supports his claim by sharing his personal experience. The grandmother suggests that Red Sammy’s troubles may be caused by the fact he is a good man. Red Sammy Butts accords with Bailey’s mother and explains that today, it is not easy to find a good man. One cannot trust anyone, unlike before, when it was possible to leave home without locking the doors.
After visiting the cafe, Bailey’s family continues its journey in the car. The grandmother sleeps sweetly in the backseat but wakes up as they drive through the city of Toomsboro. Abruptly, she recollects that somewhere nearby, there is a place with a fine residence and a beautiful alley. The grandmother insists that she stills holds a memory of the house’s location and she can show the road despite not visiting the place for many years. She is confronted by Bailey’s and his wife’s unwillingness to deviate from the route so as not to lose time, but she succeeds in intrigue the children. Bailey has to conform as his children share their desires to see the discussed destination.
Bailey grumbles because is not suitable for comfortable trips. Suddenly, the grandmother realizes that she has made a mistake: the place she has been talking about is not in Georgia but Tennessee. The car turns over and falls downhill, and Bailey’s wife breaks her shoulder and injures her face. Bailey looks at his mother silently and fiercely because it was the grandmother who involuntarily made Bailey lose control of the vehicle. Nobody is near as cars most likely do not drive along this road. There on the horizon, however, some vehicle appears near the woods on the ridge. The grandmother starts waving her hands and calls for help.
There are three men in the approaching vehicle, and the grandmother finds one of them very familiar. She realizes that it is the Misfit she learned about from the newspapers. The grandmother notices a gun in the hands of one of the Misfit’s companions and starts asking for mercy. She says that in his heart, the Misfit is seemingly a decent person. The Misfit, however, commands a gunman to take Bailey and his son to the woods. The grandmother, exceedingly frightened, assures the Misfit that he, nevertheless, can become a respectable man if he only prays to God. Two shots that rang out from the forest further intensify the situation.
The Misfit begins to tell the grandmother about his restless life. Meanwhile, his companions, Hiram and Bobby Lee hold Bailey’s shirt as they come out of the woods. The Misfit demands Bailey’s wife and daughter to proceed with the returning men back into the woods. Left alone, grandmother again tries to convince the Misfit to pray to God. She is troubled with the sound of shots that follow the desperate scream and asks the Misfit to release her. The criminal is further provoked by the grandmother’s cries to Jesus Christ. The Misfit shoots the grandmother three times through the chest. And then he orders his companions to carry her body to the forest.
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The behavior of the grandmother on the last page of the story has received mutually exclusive interpretations in American literary criticism. According to one point of view, it was the selfishness of the grandmother that became the cause of the tragedy (Bryant 304). She forced her son to change the route of the trip and took the cat with her that later caused the accident. It was the grandmother who told the criminal that she recognized him. Her words that stated the Misfit was one of her children, in this context, seem as fanciful as the previous manipulation of grandchildren through parables about fictional treasures.
On the other hand, in the face of death, the grandmother, like the characters of O’Connor’s many different stories, exhibits grace and charity. Through her attempt to caress the Misfit, she atones for her past sins (Shinn 70). The criminal is aware of her spiritual transformation, sarcastically noting that she could have been a good person if a gun was pointed at her every day. The grandmother tries to save one more soul even if its bearer killed her whole family (Kinney 94). This act has associations with Christian theology and represents Jesus Christ’s attempts to save his offenders.
Despite the small number of written works, Flannery O’Connor is considered one of the most outstanding short-form writers of the 20th century. Her stories are atmospheric and disturbing but depict a more profound meaning and cause many controversies among critics. The theme of grace is prevalent throughout her works, as O’Connor was a practicing Catholic. Her famous short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” is no exception because the grandmother’s final actions are an act of charity, as she tried to save both the criminal and herself.
Bryant, Hallman. “Reading the Map in ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find.’.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 18, no.3, 1981, pp. 301-307.
Kinney, Arthur F. “Flannery O’Connor and the Fiction of Grace.” The Massachusetts Review, vol. 27, no.1, 1986, pp. 71-96.
Shinn, Thelma. “Flannery O’Connor and the Violence of Grace.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 9, no.1, 1968, pp. 58-73.