A Good Man Is Hard to Find (short story)
|"A Good Man Is Hard to Find"|
|Genre(s)||Short story, Southern Gothic|
"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. 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. In 1960, it was collected in the anthology The House of Fiction, published by Charles Scribner's Sons. "A Good Man Is Hard To Find", because of its publication in many anthologies, became the most well known of O'Connor's works.
The Grandmother complains to her son, Bailey, that for the family vacation she does not want to go to Florida but to Tennessee instead. She chides her son for taking the family to Florida by noting an article in the news about an escaped convict called The Misfit headed to the same destination. The family goes to Florida anyway. She spites them by getting up 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." She hides her cat, Pitty Sing, in a basket in the back of the car because she can't bear to leave her at home alone during their vacation. The Grandmother talks almost continuously during the trip, recalling her youth in the Old South. She says children used to be more respectful of their home states and their parents, and that people did right in those days. When the family stops at an old diner for lunch, she engages the owner, Red Sammy, in conversation about The Misfit. The Grandmother agrees with Sammy's saying that "a good man is hard to find."
After the family returns to the road, the grandmother, trying to detour the family away from Florida, begins telling the children stories about a nearby house, with secret passages, she visited as a child. The children want to visit the house, and they pester their father until he agrees to let them go and follow the grandmother's directions. When her directions lead them down a dirt road, she remembers that the house is actually in Tennessee, not Georgia. Simultaneously, the cat leaps out of its basket and onto Bailey's neck, causing him to flip the car and end up in a ditch below the road. The children are excited and view the accident as an adventure, and the grandmother fakes an internal injury to evoke sympathy.
The family waits for help. The grandmother flags down a car. It pulls up, and three men get out, the leader a shirtless man. All three have guns. The grandmother announces that she recognizes the man in glasses as The Misfit. The Misfit confirms this, saying it would have been better for them all if she hadn't recognized him, and Bailey curses out the grandmother. The Misfit instructs his two accomplices to walk Bailey and John, his son, into the woods. After they leave, the grandmother speaks to The Misfit who says he's been falsely imprisoned for killing his father, when his cause of death was actually a flu epidemic.
The accomplices shoot Bailey and John in the forest, then come back to retrieve the children's mother, the baby and June Star for the same purpose. The grandmother begins pleading for her own life. When The Misfit ignores her pleas, she implores him to pray to Jesus. The Misfit becomes very angry. "There's no pleasure but meanness," says The Misfit. "You’re one of my own children!" the grandmother says. When she reaches out and touches The Misfit, he shoots her three times.
When the accomplices finish murdering the family, The Misfit takes a moment to clean his glasses, saying she would have been a good woman if someone had been there to shoot her every minute of her life.
- The Grandmother
- Bailey's mother. Throughout the story she 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 mother. He crashes their car on a family trip to Florida when he gives in to 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 not identified 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. Not identified 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 ("Pitty Sing" is a character in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, "The Mikado").
- Gray Monkey
- Pet of Red Sammy Butts. The monkey is chained to a chinaberry tree.
There are varying opinions of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." Most of this discrepancy centers on the grandmother's act of touching the Misfit.
The dominant opinion is that the grandmother's final act was one of grace and charity, which implies that "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" was written to show a transformation in the grandmother as the story progresses. In the beginning, she was more concerned about looking like a good Christian than being a good Christian. This is shown by her selfish desire to go to Tennessee instead of Florida and, more importantly, by her attempts to save her own life, even as her family continued to die around her (made worse by the fact that if she had kept her mouth shut, none of them would have been killed). In the end, she realizes she has not led a good life and reaches out to touch her killer, the Misfit, in a final act of grace and charity. This "epiphany" resembles the grandmother's newly found redemption. Even though she fails, her attempt is not lost on the Misfit, who remarks that through enduring a constant of violence, she would have been a good woman if there had been someone to shoot her every day.
A second opinion on the issue is that the grandmother's final act was not an act of charity and that she is yet again trying to save herself from being murdered. Some say that Flannery O'Connor uses the excuse as the grandmother's final "moment of grace" to save the story from the bloodshed and violence. Frederick Asals argues that "one can easily pass over her [O’Connor’s] hope that the grandmother’s final gesture to The Misfit might have begun a process which would 'turn him into the prophet he was meant to become'; that, as she firmly says, is another story, and it would be a reckless piety indeed which would see it even suggested by the one we have". It is also pointed out that by the time the grandmother touches the Misfit, proclaiming he is her son, he is wearing Bailey's shirt. Other opinions include that it is contradictory of her character or that she was simply again trying to save herself and that her selfishness was never overcome throughout the story.
A third opinion is that the grandmother has many faults but unlike the rest of the family she tries to be a good person and treats her family with respect even when they ignore her. Even when she manipulates the children so they will want to go see the house she wanted to see it is stated that "She said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were". The grandmother feels that to get anything she has to manipulate her family to get it, which is something she doesn't want to do. Additionally, the grandmother is the only one to provide both entertainment and discipline for the children while their parents simply ignore them.
Not every interpretation hinges on a moral judgment of the grandmother, though. For example, Alex Link considers how, until the family encounters the Misfit, the South is mainly something to ignore, forget, package in a movie or a monument, or remember with distorted nostalgia, such that the Misfit comes to stand for the persistence of what can't be bought, sold, or wholly understood, such as death, grace, and "the South."
Religious overtones 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2011)|
It was O'Connor's habit to use the dark and morose to reveal beauty and philosophical prowess; in the case of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” it conveys divine grace. Divine grace is a concept fundamental to Christian theology as unmerited favor. Christians believe the imperfect is made perfect, i.e. people are saved by Jesus Christ. The grandmother in the story gains grace by acknowledging that she helped to create The Misfit and that they are bound by kinship. She reaches out to him as if he were her own. Such religious overtones are common in O’Connor’s work. Related concepts include: Sola gratia, actual grace, and prevenient grace.
O'Connor explained that in her stories "violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace." In the case of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," O'Connor explained in a reflection piece "A Reasonable Use of the Unreasonable," published in 1969, that violence is her way to make her hard-headed characters, such as the grandmother, accept their time of grace.
At the end of the story, after The Misfit shoots the grandmother, he says to Bobby Lee, "She would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." This quote is showing The Misfit's enlightenment to what the grandmother had experienced right before he killed her. He is saying that he noticed that she was trying to preach the gospel to him, but that it only happened because she was threatened by death. According to The Misfit, if the grandmother had lived her life held up at gunpoint, she might have lived a more righteous life.
A film adaptation of the short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," entitled Black Hearts Bleed Red, was made in 1992 by New York filmmaker Jeri Cain Rossi. The film stars noted New York artist Joe Coleman but the film does not depict the story or its characters well according to most reviewers.
An original modern chamber opera based on "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" was completed in 2003 by David Volk, a University of Georgia music doctoral student, as part of his dissertation requirements in composition. The chamber opera was performed at the Seney-Stovall Chapel in Athens, Georgia with grant funding from the University's Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE). Later that same year, the work was performed at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia, and in Milledgeville, Georgia, at "Flannery O'Connor: the Visionary and the Vernacular," an interdisciplinary conference sponsored by Georgia College and State University (and home of the Flannery O'Connor Library). In 2007, the work was performed at the University of Virginia's College at Wise where Dr. Volk teaches as Assistant Professor of Music.
The American folk musician Sufjan Stevens adapted the story into a song going by the same title. It appears on his 2004 album Seven Swans. The song is written in the first person from the point of view of The Misfit.
- Ann Kirk, Connie (2008). Critical companion to Katelyn Smith. Infobase Publishing. pp. 74–78. Retrieved April 24, 2011.
- Desmond, John (2004), Flannery O'Connor's Misfit and the Mystery of Evil, Renascence, pp. 129–138
- Ochshorn, Kathleen (1990), A Cloak of Grace: Contradictions in "A Good Man is Hard to Find", Studies in American Fiction, pp. 113–117
- Asals, Frederick. "The Limits of Explanation." Critical Essays on Flannery O'Connor. Melvin J. Friedman and Beverly Lyon Clark, eds. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1985, p. 52.
- Bandy, Stephen (1996), 'One of my Babies': The Misfit and the Grandmother, Studies in Short Fiction, pp. 107–117
- “Means, Meaning and Mediated Space in ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.’” The Southern Quarterly. 44.4 (2007): 125-38.
- Wood, Ralph C. Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South. Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdman's Publishing, 2005, p. 41-42.
- O'Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970, p. 112.
Further reading 
- Flannery O'Connor (1993). In Frederick Asals. A good man is hard to find. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-1977-7. Contains the original text as well as a collection of critical essays on it.
- Jan Nordby Gretlund, Karl-Heinz Westarp, ed. (2006). Flannery O'Connor's radical reality. Univ of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-57003-601-9. Several essays discuss the story in the context of Flannery's work as whole.
- George Kilcourse (2001). Flannery O'Connor's religious imagination: a world with everything off balance. Paulist Press. ISBN 978-0-8091-4005-3. Focuses on the religious aspects of Flannery's writings, including those in this short story.
- Online text of the short story
- Detailed plot summary & analysis of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"
- Flannery O'Connor reading "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"