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

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A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND: FREE LITERATURE NOTES

THE LIFE YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN

SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

On Saturday they go to town and the marriage is performed but Mr. Shiftlet is unhappy, like he has been insulted. He tells Mrs. Crater that it was only the law that said they were married, and the law don't satisfy him, don't know his heart. But the car is painted pretty, and Lucynell is all dressed up in a white dress that her mother pulled out of a trunk with a straw hat that has wooden cherries on it. Mr. Shiftlet takes Mrs. Crater home so they can pick up the lunch and take off on their honeymoon, but Lucynell doesn't look like she knows what is going on. Her mother tells her she won a prize. Her Sugarbaby. He pulls out of the yard as quick as he can, and feels less depressed when he drives his car fast, more depressed when he looks at Lucynell. He always wanted a car, and wants to get to Mobile by nightfall. She has already eaten all the lunch and thrown the wooden cherries out the car window. After a hundred miles he figures she must be hungry and he stops at a roadside cafe and orders her a big plate of food. But she is sleepy and she falls asleep sitting on her stool with her head on the counter. He tells the waiter that she is just a hitchhiker and that she can eat when she wakes up. The waiter says she looks like "a angel of Gawd" and fingers her pretty hair. Mr. Shiftlet pays for the meal and leaves her there.


Mr. Shiftlet is more depressed than ever as he drives away. He doesn't like being alone, a and also feels that as a man with a car, he has a responsibility to hitchhikers. He sees a sign that says Drive carefully, the life you save may be your own. The sun sets in front of him, and he sees a young man by the side of the road with a cardboard suitcase--he doesn't have his thumb out but he takes the offered ride. The young man is glum. Mr. Shiftlet feels oppressed, and starts talking about mothers, about his mother, about how a boy shouldn't leave his mother and how sorry he is that he left his mother. The boy tells him to shut up. He tells the boy that his own mother was "the very angel of Gawd," and his eyes tear up. The boy tells him that his own mother is a flea bag and Mr. Shiftlet's is a stinking pole-cat--and then the boy opens the door and jumps out.

Mr. Shiftlet drives along with the door hanging open, shocked. A cloud like a turnip moves over the sun, and in the rearview mirror there is shape like a turnip hunched in the road, with a hat on. Terrible, terrible. The rottenness of the world descends on Mr. Shiftlet, and he prays to the Lord. He hears thunder behind him, and races on, trying to beat the storm to Mobile.


Notes

The plot of this story is very simple, and moves along at an even pace, from detail to detail. The conversations between Mrs. Crater and Mr. Shiftlet are exquisitely crafted, showing each of their interest and crafty thinking, while obviously heading for disaster--meanwhile, the two agree with each other like crazy. The bargain conversation--over Lucynell, painting the car, and money for the honeymoon--is hilarious and sad.

Again, O'Connor sets up a situation with several people who have desires that are no so simple, considering the situation. Mrs. Crater is, in many ways, as crafty and shiftless as Mr. Shiftlet (note the names) and, like him, many of her notions are meant well, se just can't quite keep greed out of the picture.

Lucynell is left in a cafe, the result of Mr. Shiftlet and her mother's lies and poor thinking. When the waiter fingers her hair, there is a note of terrible foreboding--the type that O'Connor is a genius at presenting.


THEMES

The title is, of course, ironic. Not only are no lives saved, several are damaged. Mr. Shiftlet apparently saves his own, but at a cost to himself. He wants to believe all the things he says, and he feels terribly depressed about his bad behavior, but not enough to make him do anything different. Mrs. Crater, the reader may think, ought to know better, but is also blinded by another sort of greed, and sacrifices her idiot daughter. Greedy people treat each other terribly, and the tragedy in the story turns rather funny, when so much of the discussion turns on doing the right thing because so few people do things right nowadays.

Lies in this story are lies to one's self. Along with the greed, there is payback. At the end, Mr. Shiftlet prays, but a huge storm is chasing him all the way to Mobile, and he has left a hurt and possibly dead boy in the road behind him. All his bad deeds are chasing him, and it is implied that they will eventually catch him.



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