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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 41 - 50


In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" for what purpose does O'Connor use a third-person limited point of view to share the grandmother's feelings or thoughts with readers?

O'Connor tells the story from the grandmother's perspective in third-person limited narration. By sharing the grandmother's thoughts and feelings with readers, O'Connor reveals motivations that may not be known to other characters in the story. These insights flesh out the grandmother beyond the self-serving façade she presents to the world. "She thought it would be interesting to say how many miles they had been." Although she may—mistakenly—believe this information would interest her family, the grandmother more likely intends to use these statistics to show off. Any form of self-promotion appeals to her—as when she ill-advisedly announces her recognition of The Misfit. "She knew ... Bailey would not be willing to lose ... time looking at an old house." This realization is no problem for the grandmother. She simply uses one of her favorite manipulation tools—lying in order to get her way. "Grandmother was ... hoping she was injured so ... Bailey's wrath would not come down on her." The grandmother—for once—feels embarrassed and ashamed: her mistake about the plantation's location has inadvertently led to the accident. Still her first thought is to manipulate the situation; if only she is injured Bailey will take pity on her instead of being angry.

What is the significance of the phantom plantation the grandmother wants to visit in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The story is set in the South, and the grandmother is a daughter of the old South. The old South includes racism, Jim Crow laws, and the Ku Klux Klan. At one point the plantation that the grandmother recalls probably was home to a master and many slaves. The grandmother was born at a time when former slaves were sharecroppers who were dependent, in many ways, on their former masters. The grandmother shows her racist views when she refers to the African American boy as a pickaninny and adds, "Little niggers in the country don't have things like we do." While the grandmother recalls the past as the good old days, that was not the case for African Americans. The story was written in 1953, and within the next year some major changes began in the South. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. In this and other areas African Americans were beginning to find more equality. The plantation was soon no longer a dominant image of the South.

Why is it significant that the grandmother is unhappy about going on the road trip that Bailey plans in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

Although she is not pleased with the Florida destination, over the course of the story the grandmother is the only character who truly travels—or grows. The other family members are static characters as they show no growth or development. They remain the same throughout the story. On the other hand the grandmother, the character who was the most reluctant to travel, is a dynamic character who develops significantly during the narrative's final scenes. At the beginning of the story the grandmother is selfish, conceited, and judgmental. By the time the story is over the grandmother shows concern for others and accepts people for who they are.

In what ways are the men of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" good or not good?

The grandmother dubs Red Sammy Butts a "good man" based on his issuing credit to his customers. However, Red Sammy treats his wife like a slave. He orders her around, does not help at the restaurant, and does not use her name. His treatment of his wife has caused her to not even trust him. This is clear when she looks at him while saying there is no one you can trust. Bailey has little interaction with his wife or children. He is disrespectful of his mother—ignoring her attempts at conversation, refusing to dance, and cursing her. The Misfit is gentle, thoughtful, and sensitive. Despite these traits he cannot be considered a good man as he is also a cold-blooded murderer. While The Misfit seems to have the potential for being a good man, he is not such a person in the story. The only "good man" in the story is, in fact, a woman. The grandmother achieves the role of a good man, or good person, at her moment of grace. Although she tries to pass this status on to The Misfit, he rejects grace and kills the grandmother instead.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" in what ways is The Misfit an antihero?

One of the story's two main characters, The Misfit is an antihero. An antihero is a protagonist who embodies both positive and negative characteristics. His character's inner struggle between good and evil is illustrated in his contemplation of whether people should follow Jesus or live only for their own pleasure. The Misfit's negative characteristics: His chief negative characteristic is, of course, that he is a cold-blooded murderer who will kill anyone he believes threatens him. While he would not think that anyone in the grandmother's family could physically harm him, he is aware they are likely to report his whereabouts to the authorities. He blames society—and Jesus—for what he believes is punishment that exceeds any crimes he may have committed. The Misfit's positive characteristics: A helpful individual, he and his accomplices stop their car when they witness the family's accident. It isn't clear from the story, but—had the grandmother not recognized him—he might have assisted the family and allowed them to go on their way. A respectful gentleman, he responds politely to the grandmother's questions and compliments, using "yes'm" and "nome" and apologizes for being shirtless in front of the women. He politely requests family members to accompany his men to the woods (even though they are going to be killed). He becomes upset when Bailey speaks harshly to the grandmother, as he believes no one should be rude to their parents. He has moral awareness, since he has spent time trying to determine any crimes he may have committed versus punishments he has received—although he ends up feeling victimized. He reaches an epiphany of sorts when killing the grandmother at her moment of grace brings him no pleasure. He then changes his goal of taking pleasure in meanness to the realization that "it's no real pleasure in life."

How is Bailey characterized in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

Bailey is a flat character who does not change over the course of the story. Before the family meets up with The Misfit, his few words are negative or cautionary. Bailey refuses to listen to the grandmother when she asks him to go to a different destination and refuses to dance with her when she asks. He does not speak to his wife throughout the whole story. When he agrees under duress to take the family to see the plantation, he declares, "This is the only time we're going to stop for anything like this." He further cautions that despite John Wesley's wishes they can't go inside the plantation house as they don't know who lives there. This sort of caution would have served them well in their encounter with The Misfit. When the family is confronted by The Misfit and his gang, Bailey declares, "We're in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is." Yet, the family members understand that Bailey is right: they are in dire trouble. All of them have seen the guns, and the grandmother has—unfortunately—identified The Misfit. Bailey is quiet, awkward, and, although he wants the best for his family, he is a coward.

What are the repercussions of The Misfit's lack of belief in Jesus in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

While The Misfit engages in a discussion with the grandmother about Jesus, he is not a believer. The Misfit wishes he could have been there to see if Jesus raised people from the dead because if he'd been there, "I would of known and I wouldn't be like I am now." The Misfit says belief in Jesus would make him behave differently—allow him to be that good man mentioned in the story title—and that the grandmother says he is. However, The Misfit cannot believe, which brings him pain and causes him to act in violent ways. He believes only in tangible things—those items he can see and touch. For example, The Misfit says he cannot argue about having killed his father because the authorities have the papers—something tangible.

In what ways is The Misfit a more fully developed character than the grandmother in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

There is no evidence that the grandmother gives any thought to inform her opinions and attitudes. For example, when the grandmother discusses better times with Red Sammy Butts, the narrator states the grandmother's opinion as, "Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now." This thought seems to have no basis in reality. The grandmother simply talks and has no backup for her opinions. On the other hand The Misfit shows reasoning in why he behaves—and believes—as he does. Because he cannot rationalize God, The Misfit does not hold religious beliefs. He wishes he could believe, and the inability to do so causes him pain.

Why is it significant that it is the grandmother, not The Misfit, who receives grace in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The grandmother claims to be a Christian. As part of her belief system, to be a lady and a good person one must be a believer in Jesus. This is part of the southern mentality that she personifies. When the grandmother is in trouble, she calls out to Jesus. On the other hand The Misfit says since he does not know whether Jesus raised the dead, he doesn't know whether to believe in Him or not. The grandmother encourages him to pray and says he will be helped if he does so. Despite this it is the grandmother who receives grace. While she says she is a believer, the grandmother does not act in a Christian way. It is only through her encounter with The Misfit—which helps her become forgiving, generous, and understanding—that she comes to Jesus.

In what ways is "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" a story of redemption?

In the grandmother's final moments, she overcomes her selfishness and judgmental ways. Her final action—trying to provide The Misfit with a moment of grace—is one of kindness and empathy. This ultimate act of decency lifts the grandmother up, and she is forgiven and receives grace. In death "her legs [are] crossed under her like a child's and her face [smiles] up at the cloudless sky." One can achieve redemption in unexpected places and times and through all kinds of circumstances even up to their last moments. Another lesson is that redemption can come with a price. While the grandmother does indeed receive redemption, it is gained at the cost of her life. One would be better off living as a decent person rather than simply dying as one.

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