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A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In the first paragraph of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," what clues show the grandmother is not the upstanding person she portrays herself to be?

The grandmother has a high opinion of herself and wants to be seen as a lady. However, in the very first paragraph she acts insincerely and selfishly. The family is planning a trip to Florida, but she wants to go to Tennessee where she has connections. To influence their destination, the grandmother "was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind." The grandmother tries to manipulate Bailey through guilt. She insinuates—with The Misfit on the loose—Bailey is putting his children's lives in danger by going to Florida and claims she would not do that because "I couldn't answer to my conscience if I did." The grandmother is cynically claiming concern about the safety of her grandchildren in order to get her way. Over the course of the story the grandmother displays several negative traits, such as dishonesty and pettiness, that show her high self-opinion may be a false one.

In what ways does the author suggest the story's ending is inevitable in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

While the family is in shock when they meet The Misfit and his men at the end of the story, the reader is not. This is because the author, Flannery O'Connor, has foreshadowed the story's developments. In the very first paragraph, in an attempt to guilt Bailey into going to Tennessee rather than Florida, the grandmother says, "The Misfit is ... headed toward Florida. ... read here what ... he did to these people." Later on while talking to Red Sammy Butts the grandmother again mentions The Misfit. Red Sammy Butts's wife replies, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he didn't attact this place right here." These two hints let the reader know that the family will run into The Misfit.

How does each of the grandmother's family members feel about her in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The family does not respect or care much for the grandmother. As she expresses her concern about the trip to Florida, Bailey and the children's mother don't even respond to her. Bailey hardly speaks to his mother. "The Tennessee Waltz" stirs happy memories that the grandmother tries to share with her son by asking him to dance. His silent glare of refusal communicates far more than would be conveyed by a simple "no." The children's mother does not speak to the grandmother throughout the story. Attention from her grandchildren is mainly in the form of insults. The only time they respond positively to anything she says is when she tells the story about the plantation—and then their reaction is to loudly demand to be taken to see this "house with a secret panel." When the grandmother recognizes and acknowledges The Misfit, Bailey says something harsh to her that shocks even his two rude children. His outburst and the grandmother's tears manage to embarrass The Misfit, a hardened criminal. The Misfit recalls his mother as the finest woman God ever made, and Bailey's lack of regard for the grandmother does not sit well with him. This may be part of the reason that Bailey is one of the first family members sent to the woods.

In what ways is June Star's assessment of her grandmother's character accurate or inaccurate in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The grandmother does not want to go to Florida and makes that known to her family. John Wesley suggests that she not accompany the family. June Star asserts the grandmother will go because she is "afraid she'd miss something. She has to go everywhere we go." June Star views her grandmother as a busybody and someone who is excessively curious. These traits lead the grandmother to obsess over The Misfit. When The Misfit and his men find the family along the road, the grandmother is sure she has seen him before. When she calls out his name she must realize this endangers her and the rest of the family. Despite this probability the grandmother cannot help herself: she feels compelled to show off by sharing the information.

Why does the grandmother report details about the scenery as the family is driving in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

This running travelogue on their surroundings is another example of the grandmother's self-absorption and conviction that she is an important member of the family, even if no one else treats her as such. Therefore, she indulges in backseat driving and rambles on about "interesting details of the scenery." She finds this enjoyable despite the fact that none of the family seems to be listening to her. The grandmother's ideas on self-respect are tied not only to family but also to her surroundings. She is both hurt and annoyed when John Wesley voices rude opinions about Georgia and Tennessee. Her reply, "In my time ... children were more respectful of their native states and their parents" shows she is proud of where she comes from and regrets that John Wesley doesn't seem to feel the same.

How does the grandmother show more concern for her cat than for her grandchildren in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

When the family leaves for their vacation, the grandmother sneaks Pitty Sing, her cat, into the car despite knowing Bailey would not approve. The grandmother believes the cat will miss her too much if she is gone for so long and that he "might brush against one of the gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself." The grandmother claims to be worried about taking the children to Florida—where The Misfit is believed to be headed. However, she puts the children into possible danger when she has Bailey turn off onto a deserted dirt road. If she was truly concerned about the children she would not interrupt the family's journey on a whim to see the plantation but would encourage Bailey to get them to their destination as quickly and safely as possible.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" what do the clothing choices of the grandmother and the children's mother signify about these characters?

The grandmother wears a fancy hat and gloves. She is determined that, in case of an accident, people discovering her "on the highway would know at once that she was a lady." The grandmother is shallow and concerned only about herself. After all, if she ends up dead on the road the rest of the family would probably be injured as well. More than her family's welfare, the grandmother worries about people's opinions of her—even after she is dead. The children's mother is not concerned about what others think. She is wearing the same casual clothes she had on the previous day—slacks and a head scarf. She definitely does not dress to impress. Her only concern is the children—as her character name signifies. The baby is nearly a part of her wardrobe as she holds the infant throughout the story.

What does the grandmother's use of the term pickaninny say about her and the time period in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

As the family is driving further south the grandmother sees a young African American boy and describes him as a "cute little pickaninny!" This slang term is racist and offensive. The grandmother thinks nothing of the term and even uses it as part of a compliment. She does this while in the midst of giving a lecture to the grandchildren about how respectful people were in her time. The grandmother was probably born around the end of the Reconstruction period following the Civil War (1865–77). Therefore, her time includes the beginning of the Ku Klux Klan and the discriminatory Jim Crow laws. There was rampant racism in the South, and lynching of African Americans was not uncommon. Her time in the South includes an ugly period in American history. The grandmother glorifies this era and ignores the harshness that was part of it.

Why is it significant that the grandmother points out the old family burying ground in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The grandmother is tied to the past. Everything about the past is fascinating to her, and she feels it should be passed on to the children. John Wesley and June Star are not, however, interested in this morbid site. When the grandmother points out the old family burying ground, the author is foreshadowing the family's death. They will end up dead but will not be placed in a family burying ground. Instead, they will be stripped of any usable clothing and unceremoniously abandoned in the woods by The Misfit and his men. The grandmother's family will not be buried in a place where people can come by and visit their graves.

What kind of relationship does Red Sammy Butts have with his wife in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

Red Sammy Butts is rude toward his wife, and he treats her like a slave. He orders her to take care of the family while they are at the restaurant and never lifts a finger to help. When she joins in the conversation he scolds her, saying, "That'll do," and sends her off to tackle more chores. She is not happy with her husband. This can be seen when she notes that there is no one in the world that can be trusted. "Not nobody," she repeats while looking at Red Sammy. Red Sammy Butts is the character who utters the line "a good man is hard to find." Based on his behavior toward his wife, Red Sammy Butts is not a good man.

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