A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

The best known short story attributed to Flannery O’ Connor, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” reflected the writer’s style and approach to fictional art that often featured a blend of comedy and terror, the use of bizarre characters, and more importantly a break for its characters e.g. the Misfit to repent and receive God’s mercy and kindness.

This dreaded story is narrated in the perspective of the grandmother who is the central character of the story.  The grandmother can be seen as self-interested and confoundedly pious in the course of the story.  This can be manifested at the onset on which the Bailey’s family is planning a vacation and the grandmother selfishly insisted to go to Tennessee in spite of everyone else’s wish to go to Florida.

During their trip through Georgia, the family had a stop over and made an evocative discussion about the past. The grandmother again tries to persuade everybody to visit an old plantation she once visited.

On through their journey, a ridiculous freak accident happened that eventually led to the family’s doom.  The grandmother’s cat, which she brought without Bailey’s permission, jumped out into Bailey’s shoulder while driving.

His surprised and startled reaction caused him to loose control of the wheel that flipped the car.  To get away from the blame, the grandmother tried to divert the discussion by complaining about some body pains she suffered from the crash while the whole family gets out.  Isolated in the middle of the road, a car came along from a distance that boarded criminals: Hiram, Bobby Lee, and the Misfit.

 The Misfit is a serial killer on the loose who the grandmother mentioned during the family vacation discussion to warn everybody of the perils of going to Florida. The Misfit killed the whole family, first Bailey and his son John, then Bailey’s wife and daughters, by taking them to the woods.  During which, the grandmother seemed negotiating with the Misfit to save her life by appealing to the Misfit’s conscience.

The grandmother applies reverse psychology in pleading for her life by repetitively referring to the Misfit as a “good man”, but to no avail.

Alas, when the grandmother tried to touch the Misfit and called him as “one of my babies”, the Misfit moved back a little and put three bullets into the grandmother’s chest without hesitation.   Incidentally, the grandmother may have called the Misfit as his son, because the Misfit took the “parrot shirt” that her real son, Bailey was wearing before he was killed.

On the other hand, the Misfit being a paranoid cold blood killer may have reacted with a visceral defensive aggression with the touch of the grandmother.

As the story is narrated in the perspective of the grandmother, the story may have been prejudicial in such a way that depicts the grandmother herself as sincere, nice and pure in her intentions.  For instance, she constantly dissuades the children not to throw their garbage out of the window. On the other hand, the story often depicts the children to be disrespectful crudely insulting their grandmother, especially for her selfish acts.

Bailey’s son, John Wesley often gives disparaging remarks about the family while June Star is often boorish and bad-mannered towards her grandmother. However, the actions of the grandmother seemed to suggest otherwise of her true real self.  For instance, her smuggling of the cat on board may either be her alternative means of rebelling from the family’s suppressions or a manifestation of her uncompromising recalcitrance.

Also om the climax of the story, the grandmother’s effort in trying to reach out to the misfit while she faces her pending death, can be interpreted as her selfish attempt to try to save herself from the tragic fate that the rest of her family have already suffered.  Her final act of calling the Misfit as her son can be a desperate attempt to save her life from death.

On the other hand, the climax can be construed as the grandmother’s final deed of becoming a real Christian, vis a vis her pretense of being one in the course of the story.  In calling the Misfit as her own, the grandmother showed the real essence of Christianity – that in the face of death and persecution (from the death of her family), she even gave the Misfit, her killer and persecutor, leniency and mercy and simply place their fate in the hands of God.

“The grandmother, having set herself apart from “common” man, learns now that The Misfit is one of her “own,” that they are both children of Adam” (Dyson, p149).  Moreover, the grandmother’s corpse was described as “like a child and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky” (p23).