A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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Course Hero. "A Good Man Is Hard to Find Study Guide." January 12, 2017. Accessed May 23, 2022. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Good-Man-Is-Hard-to-Find/.


Course Hero, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find Study Guide," January 12, 2017, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Good-Man-Is-Hard-to-Find/.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" in what ways are the children's mother's first words significant?

The children's mother speaks only four lines in the whole story. When John Wesley claims he will break into the plantation house, she corrects him, saying, "We'll all stay in the car." This line, like her other speeches, shows her primary concern is for her children's safety and welfare. Unlike her mother-in-law she puts the needs of others before her own. After Bailey and John Wesley are shot by The Misfit, it is clear she cannot bear to go on. Somehow in her physical and emotional distress she dredges up gratitude when The Misfit asks whether she would like to join her husband. Her faint "Thank you" and a calm walk to the woods seem like the last kindness she can offer the baby and June Star, as she knows The Misfit will kill them regardless of what she does.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" how does the grandmother view her role in the family?

The grandmother feels it is her job to lead the family. She shows little faith in Bailey and thinks "he [doesn't] have a naturally sunny disposition ... and trips [make] him nervous." While on the trip it is the grandmother who continually talks to the children, telling them stories of the land and their family history and encouraging them to act respectfully. However, June Star and John Wesley are rude and pay her little attention. Bailey barely speaks with her and shows his annoyance when doing so. She is attempting to lead, but no one is following. The family shows little warmth toward each other, and things are clearly off track. The detour to the plantation and the following accident are further examples of the grandmother's failed leadership.

What is the relationship between Bailey and the grandmother in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

Neither character respects the other, and their strained relationship increases tension in the story. The grandmother tries to rule the family and believes that she can push Bailey around. She does, however, show some warmth toward her son (asks him to dance) and makes an attempt to respect his rules but ultimately does what she pleases. Bailey knows his mother thinks he's weak, and he resists her attempts at leadership. If the grandmother and Bailey had a respectful relationship—where they could speak pleasantly to each other and discuss things—the accident would not have occurred. They might have agreed on bringing Pitty Sing along, and the cat might have been caged more securely in the car. In addition when the grandmother realizes her mistake about where the plantation is located, she would have felt comfortable admitting the error. However, their poor relationship leads to Pitty Sing's enraged escape, the resulting accident, and the grandmother's irrational wish to be "injured so that Bailey's wrath would not come down ... all at once."

What is the significance of the grandmother landing in the front seat under the dashboard after the accident in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The grandmother is the ultimate backseat driver. She wants to be steering the car and directing the family. She has strong opinions about how the family should behave and what they should think. The grandmother would like the family to live as she has lived and follow in the southern tradition she was brought up in. However, her opinions are neither asked for nor well received when she offers them. The front seat is where the action occurs and the car is being directed. The grandmother ends up there because she wants to be the director of the action. However, she is not in the driver's seat and in fact not in a seat at all. It's not the grandmother's place to lead the family, and when she tries to do so things go awry.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" how are Pitty Sing and The Misfit alike?

Both characters escape imprisonment—with dire consequences for the grandmother's family. From the time the grandmother placed her cat in a basket held shut by her suitcase, Pitty Sing has endured cramped conditions, possibly without food or water or even a litter box. He has no idea why he is cooped up and likely becomes more annoyed as time passes. When questioned by the grandmother about the time he spent imprisoned, The Misfit states that he felt buried alive, saying that whichever way he turned "it was a wall. Look up it was a ceiling, look down it was a floor." In addition he could never remember the reason he was imprisoned. The moment each of these inmates escapes becomes catastrophic for the people around them. Pitty Sing's anger drives him to spring onto Bailey's shoulder, causing the crash that shatters the children's mother's shoulder and leaves the family vulnerable. Since their prison break The Misfit and his accomplices have been accosting people they encounter—murdering them and stealing their vehicles and clothing.

Following the accident in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" in what ways do the family members react passively rather than actively?

In the story's initial scenes and during the early part of the trip, the grandmother, John Wesley, and June Star all appear spirited and somewhat aggressive. After the car crashes the children voice their excitement and disappointment. In addition there is some discussion about the injuries suffered by the grandmother and the children's mother. However, once the family members have taken stock of injuries they do nothing further. They do not check the car or strive to come up with a plan on how to get rescued. They simply wait passively in the ditch for help. When The Misfit and his men reach the family, it soon becomes clear they are dangerous. Bailey tries to take action, but he is rendered mute. The narrator says Bailey is "in the position of a runner about to sprint forward but he [doesn't] move." A moment later Bailey again tries to say something; however, "his voice [cracks] ... and he [remains] perfectly still." As the children's mother sees Bailey and John Wesley led off, she hardly does a thing. After The Misfit offers her the chance to follow her husband, she docilely goes along. The grandmother only talks to The Misfit and does not do anything to try to save the lives of her family members. Despite her air of self-importance, the grandmother is a product of a patriarchal society, as is the children's mother. Both women look to a strong man to provide leadership in a situation such as this. Bailey wants to be that leader, but he seems to have no idea what to do in the immediate aftermath of the crash—and once The Misfit's gang appears he does not possess the courage to try to get them out of danger. The children, though sassy in a normal situation, now look to the adults for a way out. Unfortunately for the family their passivity leaves them in the hands of the only strong leader available—The Misfit.

For what purpose does O'Connor use personification in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

O'Connor personifies items in the story to increase their emotional impact. In speaking with Red Sammy Butts, the grandmother complains, "The way Europe acted you would think [the United States] was made of money." Here the grandmother personifies the continent in order to portray it as a greedy, grasping person, much as she herself is—although she would not admit this—and perhaps doesn't even realize it. Because the woods will soon become the last resting place for the family, O'Connor personifies trees along their journey to increase tension and intensify their eerie presence, such as the "dust-coated trees looking down on" the family as they travel the deserted road and the line of woods that looms behind them at the accident scene, "[gaping] like a dark open mouth."

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" how is The Misfit's treatment of Bailey similar to the way the grandmother treats her son?

On multiple occasions Bailey tries to speak to The Misfit. The Misfit does not acknowledge him but simply continues conversing with the grandmother. Like the grandmother he runs roughshod over Bailey and does not take him seriously. During these conversations she also ignores Bailey. After Bailey's third—and final— interjection, The Misfit unceremoniously sends him and John Wesley off to the woods with his accomplices, claiming they want to ask him something. "Would you mind stepping back in them woods there with them?" he requests. The Misfit has no interest or patience for dealing with Bailey as he has decided Bailey is not worthy of respect.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" what behaviors show that John Wesley and June Star are being raised in a paternalistic society?

John Wesley and June Star each show through their behavior that they are being raised with gender-specific roles. John Wesley shows no respect for women and believes that violence is an appropriate way to achieve results. He routinely insults the grandmother, and when playing a game with June Star he resorts to slapping his sister rather than admit he has been beaten by a girl. If confronted with The Misfit, he says he would "smack his face." He also resorts to violence when demanding to go to the plantation—kicking the back of the driver's seat so hard Bailey can feel the blows in his kidneys. Eager to find—and steal—the plantation's silver, he declares he'll break into the house. June Star has already learned that cultivating beauty and performing for others are ways to get ahead. She is vain about her naturally curly hair and wants to show off her tap dancing. She already has materialistic ideas about appropriate places to live, as she calls Red Sammy Butts's restaurant "a broken-down place." Her materialistic and paternalistic thoughts also include finding a well-to-do man to take care of her. She says she would never accept a suitor such as Edgar Atkins Teagarden, who brought watermelons as gifts to woo the grandmother. The grandmother instructs her that Teagarden would have made a good husband because he became quite wealthy. Also from the grandmother June Star is learning to whine in order to manipulate others.

How does the relationship between Bailey and the grandmother end as he is taken off to the woods to be shot in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

When Bailey is taken away by The Misfit's men, he calls out to the grandmother, "I'll be back in a minute, Mamma, wait on me!" It seems Bailey is trying to offer her some comfort—as both of them recognize he is being led to his death. It is the first moment of tenderness between mother and son. In his last words Bailey continues to be dependent. He insists his mother wait for him—as if she can help him out of the situation. He is not fully self-sufficient even at the end. The grandmother is touched and frightened by Bailey's departure and shrieks for him to come back. Recognizing her request is futile she then calls out "'Bailey Boy!' ... in a tragic voice." It is too late to retrieve her child.

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