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

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The girls come and wake her up, giggling. The child asks them what they saw, and they tell her, except for one thing. She demands to know, and they won't tell (they say she is too young to know) until she promises to tell them all about the time she saw some rabbits get born. They tell first: there was a tent, and inside you separated men from woman, but the stage ran through both parts. A person went from side to side, showing themselves. This person first made a speech you could hear from either side: God made me this way, and if you laugh or make fun you could be the same as this; this is God's will, I don't dispute it, and you must act like ladies and gentleman. Then the person lifted the dress they wore and showed that they were both man and woman. A freak. .

The child is fascinated. She can't imagine how it could be both man and woman without two heads. She tells them that the rabbit spit six babies out of its mouth. She crawls in bed and imagines the freak show as a religious ritual, with the invocation of God, Amens, and the freak presenting the Temple of the Holy Ghost--everyone in the room is a Temple. The people clap softly.

The next day Alonzo drives them all back up to the convent. The child sits in front and sticks her head out the window because he smells so bad. The mother sits in back with the girls, and tells them how fun it has been and that they should come back and how much fun she had had with their mothers way back when. When they get to the convent a nun invites them to a benediction service, and they all go. The nun tries to hug the child but she gets out of the hug by putting out her hand, which the nun then grasps heartily. They go to the service, and right in the middle, the child's ugly thoughts stop. Her mind went empty, and then she thought of the freak in the tent. As they were leaving the nun hugged her from behind, big.

On the way home the child sat in back with her mom. She watched Alonzo's fat neck. He told them that was going to go to the fair, but it got closed down. Why? the mother asks. He tells them that some preachers got together and brought the police and they shut it. The child looks out the window and imagines the sun as a host soaked in blood, dipping below the horizon and leaving the sky all like a red road.


This story is unlike the others in that the plot is not a series of events leading to a tragic breakdown. This plot hinges on the child's coming to realization of herself. It is a girls coming-of-age story, and one of O'Connor's most direct portrayals of a young person's confusion over religion and sex.

Again, the comic timing is perfect. Also, the characters clearly don't understand each other: the child and her mother think the girls are stupid, and the girls seem to think the same of them. They are all Catholic, however, and when any of them encounter the Protestant sects (Baptists or Church of Christ) the tangles of doctrine are amusing. When the girls sing to the boys in Latin (and the child stand up and screams at them) they confuse them hilariously.

When the child confuses the freak show with a religious service, it is a solemn moment. The child takes the Temple warning seriously, and seems to have not only compassion but deep respect for the freak--respect that the town preachers don't have.


Self-realization comes to the child in this story: she no longer wants to be "mean." We can understand the trials of a young girl who wants to know about sex and adult matters, but who is frustrated by her lack of knowledge and her desire for connection to faith of some sort. The child, by the end, has at least understood the plea of the freak, if not exactly the anatomy.

The Temple of the title is significant in the last vision the girl has: the host, representing the Body of Christ, is dipped in blood and moving below the horizon. The child sees the body, anyone's body, as a Temple, a holy place. It is hinted, not stated outright, that her body is changing--she is certainly curious about sex. Her fantasies all have to do with her body, what other people could do to it and how resilient it would be. She notes how the older girls dress and act. She wants to hide, and be visible.

The religious themes in this story are direct: the Protestant hymns verses the Catholic ones (the boys call them Jew songs),and the visit to the convent with the service--which provides the child with a moment of peace. She is sad about the freak show in the end--not because she will miss seeing it, but because she understood the freaks basic plea: God made me this way, it was His will. This is one of O'Connor's most directly positive portrayals of religious sentiment.

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