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

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Good Man is Hard to Find "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is a story written by Flannery O'Connor in 1953.

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a short story written by Flannery O'Connor, a significant American writer and essayist. Her writing style reflects the ethnic relation in the South and her own Christian faith. The author writes in third person limited point of view to portray the tragic journey of a family who lived in Georgia in 1953. Bailey wants to take his family to Florida, but his mother, "the grandmother" disagrees with him because there's a dangerous criminal named The Misfit who is also on the way to Florida.

Bailey ignores the grandmother's concern and headed to Florida. On the road, The kids and the grandmother persuade Bailey to drive them to the see a plantation which the grandmother visited when she was a lady. Unfortunately, the family gets into an accident on the desolate dust road to the plantation. The only thing the family can do is to wait for help, and it turns out that their help is none other than The Misfit and his buddies. The Misfit orders his buddies to take all the family members except the grandmother into the wood and shoot them.

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Hopelessly, the grandmother calls The Misfit her child and wants to touch him on the shoulder, but this angers The Misfit. As a result, he shoots the grandmother three times on the chest. The author uses characterization, foreshadowing, and irony to illustrate the theme that the tendency to manipulate people's actions and thoughts may introduce tragic outcomes to the love ones.

In the short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" , the author applies both direct characterization and indirect characterization to exhibit the selfishness of the grandmother, the innocence of the children, and the wickedness of The Misfit .

In the exposition of the story, the grandmother wants to go to Tennessee to visit her connections instead going to Florida, so she tells Bailey that he " ought to take the kids somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be board. They have never been to east Tennessee" (O'Connor 403). From this quote the readers can perceive that the grandmother is good at manipulating her son by saying that going to Tennessee can be beneficial to the kids in order to achieve her own purpose.

She also mentions that The Misfit is also on the way to Florida and she "couldn't answer to her conscience" (O'Connor 402) if she brings the kids to Florida. In this quote, the grandmother uses the word "conscience" to threat Bailey with the idea that he is going to put his children in danger, so he would give up the trip to Florida.

In Katherine Keil's article "O'Connor's 'Good Man is Hard to Find'", Katherine analyzes "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and comments that "the grandmother shows her indifference for creation by selfishly manipulating and nagging to get her way on the family's vacation "(Keil 45).

Keil's analysis is reasonable because through the interactions between the grandmother and other family members on the issue about the family trip, the grandmother is used to manipulate people's decisions by taking advantage of the vulnerable side of people's mind and being selfish without knowing it herself. The kids, John Wesley and June Star, are innocent compare to their selfish grandmother. After the family encounter The Misfit in the country, John Wesley notices that The Misfit is holding a gun, so he asks him: "'What you got that gun for?"'(O'Connor 410).

Under this kind of circumstance, probably most of the people would be quiet in order to avoid trouble, but John Wesley mentions the gun just because he is simply curious. Unfortunately, his inquiry brings The Misfit into action, and results in tragedy. Although The Misfit is not present until the final pages of the story, he influences the story from the exposition of the story when the grandmother tells Bailey that he flees from the prison, and is on the way to Florida.

The author uses a clear and detailed direct characterization to portray The Misfit when he first appears in the story. The author describes him as a man whose Hair just beginning to gray and he wore silver rimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look.

He had a long creased face and didn't have on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that were too tight for him and was holding a black hat and a gun. (O'Connor 410) It is easy for the readers to realize that he is an antagonist from his appearance-- long ceased face, unsuited clothes, holding a gun, a typical image of villains.

The conversations between The Misfit and the grandmother also reveal the evil inside The Misfit. After the execution of Bailey and his son, The Misfit tells the grandmother that he " found out the crime doesn't matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it"(O'Connor 414).

John Desmond's, a professor of English at Whitman College made comment in his article that " the Misfit acts under the delusion that his actions are somehow good, i. e. good for him. Since he cannot make sense of his spiritual condition, he now tries to reduce ethical mystery to a perverse pleasure-pain principle"(Desmond135).

Desmond's comment reveals the characteristic of The Misfit because The Misfit's demeanor exhibits that his values is tangled, and he has developed his own philosophy, which is evil and lawless. As a result, his philosophy blinded his conscience, and make his sinful actions look naturally appropriate to himself. Besides characterization, foreshadowing is also a significant literary element throughout the story .

The author uses foreshadowing to give the story its air of suspense, and to hint the outcome of the story. At the beginning of the story, the grandmother refers to the news that "The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida" (O'Connor 402). Initially, the grandmother just wants to use this scary news to threaten Bailey, and tries to change his mind. The reference to a dangerous criminal raises a sign of hazardousness. The grandmother's dress on the day of departure also foreshadows the misfortune of the family.

"She had on navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet"(O'Connor 404). In the book Short Stories for Students, the author of the article 'Overview: "A Good Man is Hard to Find"' analysis that " as the family prepares to embark on their vacation, the grandmother plans her outfit with an eye toward tragedy"(Short Stories for Students 103).

Wilson's analysis is fair because when people die, they usually are dressed in their best outfit, just like the grandmother is dressed in her best clothes, so its clear that the grandmother holds a pessimistic view on the family trip. On their way to Florida, the family "passed a large cotton field with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island"(O'Connor 404).

It is pretty disturbing for people who are on a family trip to see thing like graveyard, and the number of the graves clearly represent the six family members, including the baby. When the family are waiting for help after the accident, they encounter The Misfit, who drives "a big black battered hearse-like automobile" (O'Connor 409).

It is very obvious that the appearance of the car is a vigorous example of foreshadowing, which foreshadows the tragedy that is about to happen. In Arthur F. Bethea's article, he states that "O'Connor's villain is relentlessly associated with death: he worked as an undertaker, drives a black "hearse-like automobile,"'(Bethea 239). Bthea's interpretation is vigorous because the image of a hearse-like automobile gives rise to a bodeful ambience which perfectly foreshadows the debut of The Misfit.

Other than characterization and foreshadowing, irony is another essential literary element that helps to carry out the purpose and the theme of the whole story. Both verbal irony and situational irony are used by the author in this story to illustrate how the grandmother's manipulative behaviors lead the whole family into deadly situation.

In the exposition of the story, the grandmother warns Bailey that she "wouldn't take her children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it "(O'Connor 402).

Ironically, she is exactly the person who take the family into dangerousness when she deliberately excites the children in order to force Bailey to take them to see the plantation, where they meet The Misfit. In order to convince Bailey, the grandmother announces that taking the kids to the old plantation "would be very educational for them"(O'Connor 408). To educate the children is not the purpose of the trip to the plantation in the grandmother's mind, it is just a excuse that used to disguise her selfishness.

In Stanley Renne's article he comments that the grandmother is a "blind old woman, a failed parent who has ruined her own offspring, with a false and destructive dream of the past and an equally false and destructive self-perception in the present"(Renner 127).

Renne's analysis is reasonable because the grandmother always wants others to accept her idea, and force his family members to do what she thinks is right and what she thinks is good for them, but the grandmother doesn't perceive that herself is being selfish and nostalgic all the time.

As a result of her selfishness and nostalgia, the grandmother ultimately brings misfortune to the family. After the car accident, the kid says: "But nobody's killed"(O'Connor 409) with great disappointment. It is very awkward that a kid could has this kind of horrible thought, and it is an example of verbal irony because at the end of the story every family member gets killed eventually. Another irony happens when the grandmother is giving her grandkids a lecture on respecting others.

She announces that in the old times "children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else"(O'Connor 404), but at the same time, she saw an African American child on the roadside and says: "Oh look at that cute pickninny" (O'Connor 404). It is ironic that the grandmother is teaching her grandkids the importance of respect while she calls an African American child pickninny, which is disrespectful.

In Stephen Brandy's article he analysis and describe the grandmother as a old woman who " is filled with the prejudices of her class and her time" (Brandy 110). Brandy's comment is agreeable because although the grandmother's conversations make her seems like a nice and traditional Southern old lady, her mindless insult on African Americans reveals that the racism is rooted in her mind for a very long time that even herself does not notice it, or she ignore this issue deliberately.

I the short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find", the author applies characterization, foreshadowing, and irony to illustrate the theme that the tendency to manipulate people's actions and thoughts may introduce tragic outcomes to the love ones. By using both direct and indirect characterization, the author is able to portray the characters in detail, and create a vivid image of interactions between characters.

Foreshadowing is also a important literary element that the author applies in this short story because foreshadowing gives the story its air of suspense thus make the story more interesting and dramatic. Through both situational irony and verbal irony, the author shows how the grandmother's character trait brings misfortune to the family, and unlock the theme of the story. Being manipulative not only distances a person from his or her family, but also could cause trouble to the love ones.

Most Common Questions:

  • What is the main theme of a good man is hard to find?

The primary themes of "A good man is hard to find" are death as a test of faith, grace in daily life, and the relationship of sinners. Death as a test of faith. As an example: in the last minutes of her life, her grandmother tries to The Misfit and show him love, emphasizing her discovery of true faith.

  • What is the moral of a good man is hard to find?

From a moral point of view, there are two types of people in "The good man hard to find": those who know they are bad and those who are bad, but at the same time everybody continue to believe that they are good. Grandmother makes the mistake of thinking that her moral qualities are obvious.

  • What is Red Sammy's purpose in the story?

His purpose in this story is to confirm the fact that no one can trust anybody. It is a foreshadowing that former prisoners have killed a family. He also states that "A good man is hard to find". He explained how some children lost the bill a few days ago.

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).

A Good Man is Hard to find Summary and Analysis

The definition that is given to characters also proves the main thesis of the author. In Flannery O'Conner's short story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," she shows how the character is a reflection of good and evil among each individual. The grandmother in the story becomes the representation of light and dark of an individual and how one can become hypocritical in various instances. The circumstances of the characters and the attitude of the grandmother are used as a reflection for those that are looking at the side of good and bad.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

A Good Man Is Hard to Find Summary

The short story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," begins with the grandmother of her son having to go to Florida. She states that she doesn't want to take this trip, but hesitantly packs and prepares to leave. She warns her son and his wife, who is holding a baby, of The Misfit, stating that this would be a warning to leave. However, they decide to take the road trip anyway while the grandmother continues to complain when leaving. The story narrates their story through Tennessee and Georgia as well as stopping for lunch while on the way. After this, the grandmother convinces the family to look at a wooden panel house, which is on a dirt road. While driving, they hit a rock and a tire goes flat, causing an accident of their car to turn.

After the accident, a man approaches to help with the children. The grandmother recognizes him when he pulls out a gun. He tells the children to go behind a certain distance and to remain in a line. Bailey, the grandmother's son, is taken behind a tree and two shots are heard. At the same time, the grandmother is asking The Misfit if he prays, in which he begins to tell her that he is not all good and not all bad, describing the events that caused him to go into jail and become a murderer. One by one, the family is taken off and more shots are heard. The Misfit kills the grandmother after she reaches out to touch him with the last words stating that she would have been good if someone would have not shot her every day of her life.

A Good Man is hard to Find


In this story, The Misfit and the grandmother are reflective of each other. One represents the good and one represents the evil; however, both are intertwined. The Misfit first shows this by being a criminal that is found murdering those that are in a given territory. His interpretation; however, changes him from evil to good when explaining his story. He shows that he was not bad but the law began to place him in a certain position. For instance, he states: "I call myself The Misfit," he said, "because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment" (O'Conner, 35). This caused him to change his ability to function in society, forcing him to murder others.

While he doesn't pray and says that he can fend for himself, he shows how he is innately good but becomes bad because of the surrounding environment.

The grandmother shows the other side of this, becoming a hypocrite to the situation. She asks the Misfit if he prays and calls on prayer while speaking to the Misfit. However, her attitude during the rest of the conversation shows the opposite. She causes conflict with her family and is seen as a burden. While she is recognized as good with praying and leading a good life, her family does not see her as good. The daughter calls her "queen of the day" (O'Conner, 33), while others in the family see that she causes them more burden. After The Misfit shoots her, he states that "She would have been a good woman... if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life" (O'Conner, 37). This shows how the grandmothers, while having some qualities that are good, are inherently evil while she becomes an example of hypocrisy between good and evil.


When looking at "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," it can be seen that there is reversal between the good and bad between characters. The grandmother, while praying and believing in Jesus, is also seen as a hypocrite and one that causes continuous problems in others lives. The Misfit contrasts with this. While he is seen as a criminal and inherently bad, it is his circumstances and definitions that cause the problem. This leads to the main theme of O'Conner stating that the definitions of evil and good are often misinterpreted by others and leads to misunderstanding, hypocrisy and a question of what the difference is between good and bad.

Works Cited

O'Conner, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Short Stories of Flannery O'Conner. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.

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