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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: SYNOPSIS

A STROKE OF GOOD FORTUNE

CHARACTER LIST

Ruby Hill
Ruby is a woman in her early thirties who is married and lives in an apartment in town. She was the oldest of several children, and she remembers her mother's childbearing with dread. She is certain she is very sick, but that thirty-four isn't old. All through the story she is trying to walk up the stairs to her apartment, but is very weary.

Rufus
Ruby's brother has come to live with the Hill's after being discharged from the army. Ruby had hoped that he would be changed by the army, by the traveling in Europe and other experiences, but he is still the same Rufus, no imagination. Her evidence for this is that he wants to eat collard greens, nothing fancier than that. The little town where he and Ruby grew up is no longer there for him to go home to.

Bill Hill
Bill is Ruby's husband, who has been the one to take care of their contraceptive needs. He works, is a "good" man, and likes it that Ruby is fat, lately.

Laverne Watts
Ruby's neighbor Laverne is her good friend. Laverne is funny, smokes, and provokes Ruby. She has lots of boyfriends, and is the first person to actually tell Ruby that she looks pregnant. She doesn't' mind Ruby getting mad at her, and knows it won't last.


CONFLICT

Ruby Hill can't figure out why she is feeling so sick.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Ruby is the character whose welfare we are most concerned with, and could be considered the protagonist. She is afraid of death and motherhood, and considers them firmly connected. It is Laverne who delivers the awful news.

Climax

When Laverne tells Ruby that she is pregnant, Ruby is shocked and appalled and angry.

Outcome

Ruby leaves Laverne's apparent and sits on the stairs and it begins to dawn on her that her life is finished, taken over by the thing inside her.


SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Ruby comes in her apartment building with her groceries, leans them on the hall table and looks at herself in a mirror without even recognizing herself, she is so tired and sick. She is short and round, and the curls in her hair are a mess from the heat and her walk.

She'd bought collard greens to cook for her little brother--Rufus, just home from the war in Europe--and she was disgusted by this request of his. He was unchanged, had no "get" in him. He had come to stay with her and her husband--Bill Hill, who sold Miracle Products--because there was no one left in the country where they grew up. Rufus was good for nothing, like most of her kin. Even Bill Hill had seen this immediately.

She left the sack for Bill to bring up, and tries to mount the stairs. Even Madame Zoleeda, the palmist, agreed she was sick. But Madame Zoleeda had told her that her long illness would result in a stroke of good fortune. Ruby knew this already: she and Bill were going to move, hopefully to a subdivision. Bill had to agree one of these days. These steps were killing her, though thirty-four years old is not that old. Her mother looked terrible at thirty-four. It was all those children that did her in. Several had died. What terrible ignorance.


Ruby's sisters had kids and she couldn't tell how they stood it. Rufus was so hard for her mother to birth--Ruby walked ten miles and watched three picture shows just to get away from the screaming. And now Rufus was worthless and looked old. Ruby looked young for her age. She sat down on the stairs, exhausted, and sat on a neighbor boys toy pistol. The boys mother acted like the little brat was her greatest fortune. Ruby would smack the little brat, if she could.

She felt nauseous, but she would not go to a doctor. They would have to knock her out, first. Could she have heart trouble? She looked good, and Bill seemed happy that she had put on weight lately. Her neighbor Mr. Jerger, seventy-eight years old, came out on the landed an shouted to her--he was part deaf. He always wanted to ask her silly questions, and then tell the answer when she didn't know. Like, Whose birthday is it today? Florida's!! And then other questions, about explorers and the like, the fountain of youth--he says it is in his heart, actually. He also says people just don't like to think anymore, and that Ruby should ask her husband these questions when he got home. She escapes back to the terrible stairwell.

She felt a pain in her stomach, things pushing around--could it be cancer? She gasps up a few more steps to her friend Laverne's door, and knocks with the toy pistol. Laverne thinks this is very funny. She asks ruby why she doesn't go to the doctor, and marches around the apartment with her stomach stuck out. Ruby sits, exhausted, staring at her ankles, while Laverne asks if Ruby likes her new shoes and is Rufus home so she can show him? Rufus! Ruby scowls--he's just an infant, and only made her mother deader.

They talk, and Laverne staggers around and sings MOTHER MOTHER and Ruby gets very upset--it's not that, and she won't go to a doctor. Laverne wants to know how long she is going to hold out? Ruby says Bill takes care of making sure there are no babies. Laverne points out that he slipped up, didn't he? Ruby is furious, and stomps out, saying Bill better move her before her heart gives out. Laverne tells her to give up the gun before she shoots somebody.

Ruby slams the door and then looks at her stomach, though she doesn't want to. Bill wouldn't. . . Her skirt is tight. And it is not a skirt that is usually tight. She tries going upstairs again, but thinks No, no. Madame Zoleeda said good fortune. It can't be cancer. No, it can't be a baby. Not like her mother. Bill said it always worked, what he did. No, no.

There is a bang at the bottom of the stairs and a little neighbor boy rushes up the stairs in a racket. Mr. Jerger tries to hush him and grab him but the little boy cusses him and runs up with his two pistols and crashes right into Ruby. She reels, and thinks Good Fortune. Baby. All is hollow and dark. She recognizes a little roll, as if it were not in her stomach, but resting somewhere outside, waiting, "with plenty of time."

Notes

This is one of the collection's shorter stories, and the structure is very simple. Ruby doesn't want to admit that she is pregnant, that her husband might have fooled her, that a child could be "good fortune." She can't think of anything more deadly than children, after watching her mother's struggle with difficult childbirths and dying children. For Ruby children mean defeat, not good fortune.

O'Connor has Ruby run into a series of "hints." When was Florida born? Where is the fountain of youth? Ruby is very concerned with aging and health. There's the toy pistol, and Laverne's teasing. And Bill Hill has "taken care of it all." (in a typical O'Connor detail, he sells "Miracle Products.") Ruby is a naive narrator: though she believes him, it is very clear to us that he has tricked her and is enjoying the result.

As in many of O'Connor's stories, the ending is rather tragic. Ruby does see, eventually, that she is pregnant, but she is horrified. This thing inside her is creepy and waiting to destroy her.


THEMES

The major themes in this story concern aging, worthlessness, and the horror of "good fortune." Ruby is constantly repeating her age to herself, and counting her health or lack thereof, and trying to work her mind around what she wants: to move to a subdivision as soon as possible. She looks young for her age, and thinks Rufus is still an infant. Ruby doesn't want to grow up.

Worthlessness is embodied in Rufus. She can't imagine why he would want collards after being in Europe. She thinks he won't make anything of himself--he already destroyed their mother. He hasn't moved beyond infancy for her. She believes that she is the only one of her siblings who is worth something--because she married Bill Hill and moved to the city and won't be making any children.

The story's title is ironic, as are many in the book. Ruby trusts Madame Zoleeda--who, like everyone else, can see that Ruby is pregnant. Of course, Ruby trusts Madame's predictions because she sees them her way: she will move to a subdivision. By the end of the story, it is clear that Ruby will not see her pregnancy as Good Fortune, but only as a stroke of bad luck.


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