O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology,
Third Edition. Ed. Beverly Lawn. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.
Summary of Work
A grandmother is arguing with her son Bailey and his wife about taking the kids to Florida for a weekend vacation. There are plenty of other places to see in Tennessee that they have not yet taken their children, and a vicious murdering criminal, The Misfit, is on the loose from Florida. What if they get murdered by him on the way? The son and daughter-in-law do not listen and the next morning, the grandmother, her cat, the two kids, and the parents are in the car together for the weekend trip.
On the way they stop at a gas station and BBQ spot and eat lunch. June Star, one of the children, dances a tap dance on the floor to some fast music that they put on via the jukebox. Then, when the waitress compliments her and says that she would love to take her home with her, June Star is very rude and says she’d never stay in such a terrible place as where they’re at. The waitress is cold but polite from then on. The group talks more about The Misfit, and then when they are done with lunch, move on. On the way, they pass a dirt road, and the grandmother comments that there was a plantation she stayed on up the road that they should stop and visit. She fibs about there being a secret wall that opens up that might contain treasure, and the children kick their parents’ seats until Bailey turns around to go see it. He insists this will the be one time they venture off their intended path. It is a rough dirt road, and they go up it quite a ways and don’t see any plantation. Right as they wreck their car by it rolling from a rough spot in the road, the grandmother remembers that the plantation was in Tennessee, not Georgia, and she has misled them. She doesn’t say anything for fear of making Bailey angrier than he already is.
The mother has a broken shoulder from protecting her new baby, and is is holding the child on the ground. The kids are just fine, as is the grandmother and father, although the grandmother’s hat is ruined and the cat is scared and clinging to the father. They see a car coming down the road, and they offer to help. The grandmother thinks that the man looks familiar, and then shouts, “You’re the Misfit!” Because she’s recognized them, they decide they have to kill the family. The other men first take Bailey and his son out to the woods and shoot them, the whole time the grandmother talking to the Misfit, saying that she knows he’s a good man and won’t do them any harm if he just prays to Jesus for help. Then the men come back and take the mother, June Star, and the baby into the woods and shoot them. The grandmother is still talking at the Misfit and then yells that she knows him because he is her son, and the Misfit shoots her in the chest three times, telling the men that if someone had kept her at gunpoint her whole life, she might have been a good woman.
Brief Note on Themes
The story itself is a look at family life and traditions in the American South. It deals with the nature of people: their morals, their values and ideas about what makes a good person, and people’s actions. The title, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” puts into play not only what it means to be a good man, but what exactly it means to be a good person, as the Misfit claims that the grandmother was not a good woman, much as he doesn’t claim to be a good man. Southern nostalgia for plantation life and pastoral imagery play a large part in the grandmother’s character, as she is always looking toward the past and better times that are tied to plantation life in the South.
As a short story, the work is perfectly set up for drama and action with the foreshadowing of the Misfit coming around to meet the family by having the grandmother obsessed with the topic. The story continues to mention it, always through the grandmother, to the very end when she comes face to face with him.