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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 11 - 20


In what ways does the restaurant scene in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" create dramatic irony when the grandmother discusses trustworthiness and how to recognize a "good man"?

It's an example of dramatic irony, where readers understand something characters do not, that the grandmother would consider herself a trustworthy and good person. To reach those conclusions means she ignores—or possibly does not even realize—her untrustworthy behaviors. She brings Pitty Sing along on the trip, for example, knowing this will annoy Bailey. She lies and uses guilt to manipulate people and get her own way. She puts her own self-interest above that of anyone else, including above the welfare of her family. Also since goodness is often equated with kindness and generosity, the grandmother fails the goodness test when she begrudges the postwar financial aid the United States provides to Europe. As she and Red Sammy discuss "better times" she complains, "The way Europe [acts] you would think we were made of money."

In what ways does the grandmother's declaration that Red Sammy Butts is "a good man" create dramatic irony in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

After hearing about Red Sammy Butts's generosity toward strangers, which ended up in losing money, the grandmother declares him "a good man." Red Sammy Butts is not sure if he deserves this title. The grandmother has seen that Red Sammy does not treat his wife well. Yet with one story and a shared longing for the past the grandmother is sold on Red Sammy's goodness. This is a form of moral shortsightedness because she sees only what she wants to see while readers understand that Red Sammy Butts is not a good man. The grandmother will later call The Misfit "a good man," as her standards vary based on her current needs and on what she sees at the moment. Ultimately, her words don't mean much.

What are some differences between Red Sammy Butts and Bailey in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

Red Sammy Butts is a minor character in the story, yet he speaks more than Bailey, who barely utters a word. In fact when the family is facing danger he struggles to get his words out. In addition Bailey hardly engages with his mother. He does not speak to her when she asks to change their destination from Florida to Tennessee and turns down her request to dance. Later the grandmother hesitates to ask him to detour to the plantation, yet she is able to have a whole conversation with Red Sammy Butts—a complete stranger. Red Sammy seems to share the grandmother's way of thinking while Bailey is annoyed with her.

What role does greed play in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The grandmother tells her grandchildren a story from when she was young. She tells them about a young man who pursued her. Ultimately it does not work out, but the grandmother says it would have been a good match "because he was a gentleman and ... he had died ... a very wealthy man." Wealth is important to her. When trying to raise the children's interest in going to the plantation, the grandmother mentions that there is silver hidden behind a secret panel in the house. Suddenly John Wesley wants to go, as he intends to find the silver. Like his grandmother he is greedy. The Misfit, unlike the grandmother and John Wesley, shows little interest in money. When the grandmother offers to pay him off so he will let her go, he says, "There never was a body that give the undertaker a tip.'' His actions are not based on money.

How do the similarities between the conversations the grandmother has with Red Sammy Butts and with The Misfit reveal their different personalities in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

In both conversations the grandmother describes the characters as good men. After a moment's reflection Red Sammy Butts agrees, "as if he were struck with this answer." He has an excessively high opinion of himself. The grandmother calls The Misfit a good man. While he accepts the part of the compliment that relates to his family, he does not accept the label as a description of himself. The Misfit says, "Nome, I ain't a good man, but I ain't the worst in the world neither." His response shows some thought, consideration, and humility. Red Sammy Butts, like the grandmother, is complacent. They each think highly of themselves. The Misfit sees himself in a lesser light and recognizes his faults.

Why are the children so eager to visit the plantation in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The grandmother arouses John Wesley and June Star's interest with her descriptions of the plantation. The children are curious and see the detour as a chance for adventure. The trip is of no interest to them, and they are not consulted about where they would like to go. Their parents do not bother to talk to them and all they have for entertainment is comic books: "John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mother's shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they that they never had any fun even on their vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to do." Their boredom becomes more clear when they are excited by the accident and disappointed that no one is killed.

In what ways does the description of the woods in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" contrast with Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

Although O'Connor makes a clear allusion here to the Frost poem, her tone within the story is more ominous that that of Frost's speaker, who calls the woods "lovely dark and deep." Both works acknowledge the woods as a possible place for "sleep," or death. Frost's speaker is wistful and, after contemplating the woods' quiet allure, moves on, declaring he has "promises to keep./and miles to go before [he] sleeps." When O'Connor describes the woods as "tall and dark and deep" the family has just emerged, shaken, from the wrecked car and are being observed by the occupants of the approaching "hearse-like automobile." Unlike Frost's speaker the grandmother and her family members have no knowledge what the woods signify for them until Bobby Lee and Hiram escort them there. The grandmother soon realizes that no one in her family will be moving on from here.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" how does the fate of Pitty Sing create an example of situational irony?

Situational irony involves a discrepancy between what readers expect to happen and what actually happens. In the story Pitty Sing repeatedly escapes death. The car crash that puts the family in harm's way could easily have killed all of the family members, particularly the baby or Pitty Sing, the grandmother's cat. Yet the fate of Pitty Sing thwarts this expectation. Bailey is furious that Pitty Sing caused him to lose control of the car. Following the crash Bailey throws Pitty Sing "out the window against the side of a pine tree." This—again—might have ended the cat's life. Yet Pitty Sing is the sole family member to survive both the crash and the encounter with The Misfit. The story ends with The Misfit "picking up the cat that was rubbing itself against his leg."

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" what is significant about the father's characterization of The Misfit?

The Misfit's father believed his son was "a different breed of dog from [his] brothers and sisters." His father said that some people can go through life without asking questions, while others need to know the whys and wherefores of things they encounter. He recognized that curiosity in his son and declared, "He's going to be into everything!" That inquisitiveness is seen in the adult Misfit and is probably what pushed him to explore jobs as varied as military service, undertaking, farming, and working on the railroad. Since ending up on the wrong side of the law, he has spent a long time trying to figure out what it was he initially did wrong and to try to match his crimes with the punishment he has received.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" how does O'Connor use foreshadowing when The Misfit apologizes for being shirtless?

After Bailey and John Wesley are marched off to the woods, The Misfit puts on his hat and seems to suddenly realize that it is inappropriate for him to be shirtless in front of the women. He then apologizes for his lack of clothing, and the grandmother replies, "That's perfectly all right. ... Maybe Bailey has an extra shirt in his suitcase." The Misfit's response, "I'll look and see terrectly," is an example of foreshadowing. By saying he intends to rummage through the family's luggage, he indicates he, not the family members, is now in control of their lives and deaths.

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