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Free Study Guide: A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor - BookNotes

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FREE STUDY GUIDE: A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND

SHORT STORY SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS

A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND

CHARACTER LIST

The Grandmother
An old lady with old fashioned ideas and manners. The grandmother is directive, talkative, a bit silly, and full of herself. She also can be manipulative. She considers herself a good person, and a kind one, and she loves her family, but is also selfish--though she wouldn't see herself this way. She is not very aware.

Bailey
The old woman's son. He is impatient with her, a bit silly himself, and angry a lot of the time. He wants to be in charge, but has a limited grip on things.

The mother
The wife of Bailey. She is a young mother who is doing what all young mothers do. She watches her kids, more or less, and is a bit vacant. As a character, she is not especially filled out.

John Wesley and June Star
The children, both of them little smart-asses. They are wild, will say just about anything, and are relentless whiners. They fight, manipulate their parents to get their way, and make fun of the grandmother often.

The Misfit
An escaped convict who looks 'educated,' and apparently killed his own father. He is gray-haired, smart--and chillingly exact. He is also polite, and can kill without much remorse.

Hiram and Bobby Lee
The Misfit's cohorts. They are younger, and do as he tells them.


CONFLICT

The family is going on a vacation while an escaped convict is loose in the same area. The grandmother is constantly trying to direct the trip, and directs them onto a deserted road, where they have an accident when her cat jumps out of its basket.


Protagonist and Antagonist

No one in this story is particularly appealing or sympathetic. The grandmother is the focal point, and she does have a revelation towards the end. The Misfit is clearly an adversary--he kills the whole family. But good and evil are not entirely distinct here: this is what makes these stories so compelling.

Climax

The grandmother recognizes one of the men who stops at the scene of the accident as The Misfit. He says that it is too bad for the family that she recognized him.

Outcome

The entire family is shot and killed, the grandmother last. She tries to save herself, but only annoys the Misfit further.


SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

The family is planning a vacation in Florida, but the grandmother points out that there is an escaped murderer loose there, and she wouldn't take her family to such a place! She wants to go to east Tennessee. Her son, Bailey, tells her she can stay home, then. The children roll their eyes at her--they know she can't stand to be left behind. She tells June Star not to be so smart.

The next morning she is first in the car. She is smartly dressed (so they know she is a lady if there is an accident and she dies) and has her cat hidden in a basket at her feet, so Bailey won't see--he won't like her bringing the cat. She sits in the back between John Wesley and June Star. Their mother is still dressed in her slacks with a kerchief tied around her head. She is holding the baby.

The grandmother warns her son not to drive too fast, and she points out the sights to everyone--it's a pretty day. The children say Georgia is ugly, and she tells them they should be proud of their native state--children were more respectful in her time. She sees a Negro child standing in the door of a shack; she tells everyone to look at the cute pickaninny and says she would paint that picture if she could, it was so cute. The children point out that the child was wearing no pants--the grandmother says he probably doesn't have any, being that he is poor and doesn't have lots of things like they do.

She holds the baby, points out a plantation grave yard, they eat their lunch, and play a guessing game--what do the clouds look like? But John Wesley and June star get in a fight. The old woman tells a story about one of her suitors, long ago, who used to bring her a watermelon every Saturday--and he became a rich man. She should've married him.

They stop for lunch at a roadside place, The Tower. The owner, a man with a pot belly named Red Sammy, is working on a truck and his wife, a tall burnt woman, takes their order. The mother plays the juke box, and then June Star tap dances on the dance floor. Red Sammy's wife says she's cute: "Would you like to come be my little girl?" June Star says "No, I certainly wouldn't," and the woman grins again, this time strained. The grandmother tells June Star that she should be ashamed of herself, talking like that.

Red Sammy comes in and talks to them--after he tells his wife to hustle with their food--and he and the grandmother have a discussion about how folks are different now and how a good man is hard to find. She tells him that he is a good man--she can tell. The wife brings the food and agrees that you can't trust anyone, not anyone at all--she's looking at her husband. When they talk about The Misfit, she exclaims that he would come right here, she wouldn't be surprised at all. Her husband tells her to shush and the old lady says that Europe is to blame for all the problems nowadays--the way they act over there.

They get back in the car and drive on. After a while, the grandmother thinks she remembers a plantation she once visited in this area. She suggests they go and the more she talks about it the more she wants to go. Bailey says no. She tells the children that the house had a secret panel--even though it really didn't. Sure enough, the children harass their father: they want to see the secret panel, they never get to see anything, the baby starts fussing, and Bailey pulls over. Ok, he says, Just this once, and don't ask again. The grandmother tells him the road leading to the plantation is a mile back and he turns the car around.

It's a dirt road. It twists and turns and doesn't look well traveled, though the scenery is pretty. Bailey threatens to turn around if the house doesn't show up soon. Then the grandmother suddenly remembers: that house was in Tennessee. She reddens, and shifts her feet and upsets the cat, who jumps up onto Bailey's neck and he loses control of the car and they roll over off the road and the mother and the baby fall out. Everyone is all right--the mom has a broken shoulder, that's all--and the children are delighted with all the fuss. June Star is disappointed that no one was killed. She watches the grandmother crawl out of the car, her clothes and hat all disarranged.


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