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

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It's late when Mrs. Connin brings him home, and there is a party going on. She tells them that Bevel was a good boy. Bevel? his mother says. She is on the couch, dressed in tight black pants and high heels. Mrs. Cronnin says yes, same as the preacher, and the preacher baptized him, too. The mother is angry--the nerve! Then Mrs. Cronnin says they also prayed for her, Bevel's mother, to be healed from her affliction--and then she leaves without taking any money, in disgust.

The boy, whose name is Harry, doesn't say much about what happened when his mother questions him. She wants to know what they said about her. She finds the book and the handkerchief in his wet coat, and some of her guests look at the book and exclaim that is it very valuable, an old book like that. Harry goes to bed.

When Harry wakes up the next morning the house is all closed up dark but it is not early and there are still ashtrays and stuff left over from the party. His parents, he knows, won't be up for a long time. He looks for food in the refrigerator and overturns some ashtrays, and looks for his book--it's gone. His shoes are still damp, and looking at them gives him an idea.

He took a token and some Life Savers out of his mother's pocket book, and gets on the trolley line and follows all the paths he took yesterday with Mrs. Cronnin to get to the meeting on the river. He gets a little lost, and Mr. Paradise sees him and follows him, thinking something is not right. The old man loses sight of Harry. But Harry finds the river, and goes in. He doesn't see the man, but looks over the landscape and the river and decides he will baptize himself this time.

But the river won't have him. It keeps shoving him back up, choking him. He thinks it is all a trick, just another trick, and this is no special river, no special kingdom under there. He splashes, mad, and Mr. Paradise sees him and comes after him. But the man reminds him of the horrible pig and he leaps under one more time and the river takes him this time, in the current, shoves him down and takes him just like he thought, gentle, and his fear leaves him.

The old man searches and searches and finally comes up down-stream, empty-handed, like a sad, ancient sea monster.


This story is a standard, child-viewpoint, O'Connor story. Harry is a typical child, with some slightly a-typical things going on around him. It would be unfair to say that this is the story of a neglected child who finds, unfortunately, solace in the river. Perhaps it reflects the everyday lives and everyday mishaps that regular people encounter. Tragic, yes, but simply a part of living in an imperfect world.

After all, Harry does feel that he finds the peace he wanted. He is too young to realize what death is, and is so fascinated by nature, and then the bizarre promise of the preacher, that he is perfectly willing to go along, to search for what he wants and satisfy his curiosity. The tragedy may belong to Mr. Paradise (again, note her use of naming) who is a cynic, and maybe rightly so: he sees a young boy drown, and he intended to save him--in quite a different way than the preacher intended to save him. Is, then, Harry actually "saved"?


Religion in young lives is a recurring theme in O'Connor's fiction. All kinds of visions, connections, and desires are played out in the minds of those too young to understand the possible motives and results. Rather than count this a tragedy, or a travesty, it is suggested that religion is very real to young people, that they crave or at least connect with the idea of the supernatural, the order of good/evil, and the idea of a grand paternal figure. O'Connor's fiction is often sighted as "bizarre" for its religious depictions, but she saw her intent as reflective--in a positive way--of the living fact of religion and the interest it stirred in people, how it affected their lives at a very basic level.

Misunderstanding is at the forefront of this story. Harry does not know that he is killing himself. He doesn't know who Jesus is, and doesn't understand what he is doing when he takes Bevel's name. He also doesn't know that Mr. Paradise is trying to save him from drowning. The preacher does not want to be misunderstood as only a healer, and Harry's mother does not understand what the baptism means to Harry. The missed connections are what drive the plot of the story: even the pig incident lends power to what happens to Harry at the last moment.

Also in this story, we see the writer's reliance on hints--and the use of brand names. O'Connor was one of the first writers to use brand names in her stories, and she places them with exacting intent. Harry takes a roll of Life Savers with him to the river. The irony is quite direct.

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