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A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the themes in Flannery O'Connor's short story A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Themes



Chance is the occurrence of events that seem to have no obvious cause. In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" the events that lead to the family's demise do have causes. The grandmother and Bailey choose actions that eventually lead to their encounter with The Misfit. Choices build upon previous choices until the situation proves impossible to escape.

Bailey chooses to go to Florida despite knowing the danger involved. He has made up his mind and will not reconsider. The grandmother chooses to bring Pitty Sing despite knowing how Bailey feels about the cat. Later the grandmother chooses to press the children and Bailey about going to the plantation although she knows The Misfit may be in the area. Lastly, Bailey chooses to give in to the pressure from the children and go to the plantation even when it involves traveling down the deserted dirt road.

The fatal conclusion would not have happened if any one of these choices had not been made. Chance does play a part, however. Although readers know The Misfit is somewhere in the area, it is chance that Bailey and The Misfit end up driving down the same deserted road. Even though the grandmother directed Bailey to take that route, it's highly coincidental that The Misfit and his gang find them there. The accident also occurs by chance: the grandmother involuntarily jumps in her seat, frightening Pitty Sing who manages to escape—with catastrophic results. However, a person of faith believes that nothing is determined by chance alone. God has a plan. The family members cannot escape their fate, but the situation leads to a moment of grace for the grandmother.


Grace is a God-given moment of clarity—or epiphany—that allows people to see themselves as they truly are and to guide them toward spiritual salvation. The grandmother views herself as righteous and deserving. However, she is selfish and judgmental and is the character who is most in need of grace.

The grandmother is determined to be seen as a lady. She dresses for the ride so if there is an accident the people who find her "dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady." This callous and shallow behavior is laughable. She does not consider the fate of the rest of the family if such an event were to occur. This is a continuation of her treatment of them as she looks down on and insults each of her family members. She also lies and manipulates them.

The grandmother's concern about herself in case of an accident comes to fruition when The Misfit finds the family. Each family member is taken away and killed, and the grandmother is left alone with The Misfit. She still clings to the hope that she will be seen as a lady and therefore escape the violent death that the rest of the family suffers. As her life hangs in the balance, the grandmother comes to see The Misfit as a person, just like her. He is deserving of her concern and care. This genuine action is the grandmother's saving grace. She dies with an innocent smile on her face.

Spiritual Blindness

The Misfit talks respectfully to the grandmother, apologizes for being improperly dressed, is uncomfortable when Bailey talks rudely to his mother, and is sensitive to the children's mother when she misses Bailey and John Wesley. While talking with the grandmother he is introspective, considers his actions, and shows a depth of thought. The Misfit seems to have more positive traits than the narrative's other male characters. However, he is a murderer both in the past and present and one who believes that there is "no pleasure but meanness." He has good inside him but is unable to perceive it, let alone make it central to his being. Yet his final words, "It's no real pleasure in life," indicate that he is changing.

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