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

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FREE BOOKNOTES: A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND

A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND

SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

They are all shaken, and the grandmother thinks she has internal injuries. There are dark woods nearby, and they are below the road. They see a car coming, in the distance, and the grandmother gets up and waves for help. The car comes slowly, and then it stops. There are three men: two younger ones, and the driver. They all get out slowly and look down, and they all have guns. The driver doesn't have a shirt, and wears glasses. The children tell him they turned over twice, and he corrects them: he saw the whole thing, and they turned over once. He is solemn. Too calm. And doesn't move to help. When John Wesley asks about the gun, the man tells the mother to keep her children with her, and quiet. June Star sasses him, and the grandmother shrieks that he's The Misfit, she recognizes him! Bailey cusses her out, and the man tells her that it would have been better for them all if she hadn't noticed.

The grandmother tells him that he wouldn't dare shoot a lady, and also tells him that he must come from good people--she can tell. He shouldn't call himself The Misfit, she days it doesn't sound good. The Misfit says it's a beautiful day, and Bailey decides he's going to take over and tells everybody to hush up. The Misfit tells Bobby Lee to take Bailey and his son over to the woods and take care of them. Bailey objects, goes, and then at the edge of the woods shouts back that he'll just be a minute. The old lady tells him to come back right this instant. Then she tells The Misfit, again, that he must be good people, not common, and he tells her that his own daddy said he was different from other people. He apologizes for not having a shirt on in front of the ladies. The grandmother says that he might find one in Bailey's suitcase, and he says he'll look, but doesn't move. The mother asks where her husband is, and The Misfit tells them that his dad was a "card" and knew how to avoid the authorities. The grandmother tells him that he could be honest, if he tried. He could have a nice life. She asks him if he prays. They hear pistol shots in the woods, and he says no, he doesn't pray, though he used to be a gospel singer. He's been many things, been in the service, too, even seen a woman flogged.


The grandmother tells him to pray. He says he was a good boy, did nothing wrong, and then something happened and he found himself in prison. The grandmother says Pray, pray. He says they told him he killed his daddy. He doesn't remember, but they had the papers on him. He doesn't want to pray, says he does fine on his own.

The other men come back, bringing Bailey's shirt, which The Misfit puts on. He says the crime don't matter, they just punish you the same. He asks the mother if she and the girl would like to go into the woods and she says yes, please, and June Star says Hiram reminds her of a pig and he drags her off, too.

Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother mutters Jesus, Jesus, and he tells her that Jesus just threw the world off balance, that's all. The Misfit tells her that you should sign all papers yourself and keep copies, so they can't pull anything over on you. They hear a scream and more shots from the woods. The grandmother repeats all her pleas, and tells him he can have all her money. She calls for Bailey. The Misfit says that if Jesus is right, you have to follow him, but if he's wrong, you have to do all the meanness you can, because there's pleasure in meanness. She says that maybe Jesus didn't raise the dead--she's half senseless. He says he wishes he wouldn't been there, so he'd know just what Jesus did.

The grandmother sees the man's face close to hers, and he is about to cry. She mummers that he is one of her own children, one of her babies--The Misfit springs back like she'd bit him and shoots her three times in the chest.

The other men come back and the three look down at her in her pool of blood in the ditch--she has a smile on her face. The Misfit tells the others to put her in the woods with the rest of them. He says that she would have been a good woman, if there was someone there to shoot her every minute of her life. "Some fun!" says Bobby Lee. The Misfit says there is no real pleasure in life.


Notes

This is Flannery O'Connor's most anthologized story, the most popular of her works by far. Like many of her stories, it involves the characters' personal religious beliefs, and pulls on their deepest desires and fears. Many of the characters approach stereotype--the grandmother is a talkative old lady with not much sense, a standard stereotype. She has some strong beliefs, though, and is not the only silly person in the story. Bailey, the children, and Red Sammy all seem rather ridiculous at moments--and very human. The Misfit is an interesting character, and the choice of a theological discussion at the scene of a multiple murder is ironic, at the least.

The plot is linear and standard. The set up is clear: if they go to Florida, they are in danger. All the details are there, including the cat. Only the end is a little surprising. The grandmother seems to understand and have sympathy for The Misfit, and he is not happy to have shot her--he realizes what a miserable existence he leads.


THEMES

The theological discussion at the end of the story, between the grandmother and The Misfit, has gotten a lot of attention from critics. Is she serious about him being her child? Does he really believe in Jesus' miracles, since he believes there is no pleasure in life? Religious beliefs, invoked only at a moment of dire need are nothing like the beliefs that people live by--or are sudden realizations the actual crux of religious belief? There might not be any direct answers to these questions, but there is plenty of room for discussion.

The "good man" of the title reverberates off the "good woman" of the last lines. The grandmother would have been a good woman, if...

During the earlier course of the story, the term "good man" is used quite loosely: the grandmother calls just about anyone she wants to please a "good man." She bemoans, with others, the lack of any real respect or goodness in the present day--people make this complaint all the time. At the same time, she lies, and manipulates, and is generally a pain to everyone--she gets her entire family killed. At the same time, The Misfit does have some points: do punishments fit crimes? What is "good"? And what did Jesus really do, exactly?

The questions this story brings up are complex. Some other themes might involve the significance of landscape, the disjointed conversation (people seem unable to listen to each other), and the levels of deceit that various characters display.


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