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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: PLOT SUMMARY

A CIRCLE IN THE FIRE

CHARACTER LIST

Mrs. Cope
Mrs. Cope, as her name implies, is trying "get by," to hold on to her farm and raise her little girl. She is a widow, and she has hired help. She is constantly trying to tell herself and others around her that she is very lucky to have what she has got, though she is always worried that she is about to lose it. She is also constantly reaching her limit of patience. She is small, and always looks astonished.

Mrs. Pritchard
Mrs. Pritchard is the wife of the hired farmer. She talks to Mrs. Cope about most things, and always loves a disaster. She is a large woman with "ferreting eyes," the opposite of Mrs. Cope. She loves to tell stories of misfortune, and likes her predictions of others' misfortunes to some true. She begins to imitate Mrs. Cope's "lucky," speeches.

Powell Boyd
Powell is the young boy who travels from Florida to see the farm, Mrs. Cope's farm, where he and his family once lived. His father is now dead, and his mother remarried, and he appears to be drifting freely with his two friends. He wears glasses, often seems distracted, and claims that Mrs. Cope's farm is his favorite place in the whole world. He is a bit creepy.


CONFLICT

When Powell shows up with two scrappy friends at Mrs. Cope's farm one day, she doesn't quite know what to do with them. When they start causing trouble, she can't seem to get rid of them. They are only boys, and the question arises: how much damage can they do?

Protagonist and Antagonist

Mrs. Cope is the protagonist and the boys the antagonists. But Mrs. Cope is also her own foil: she doesn't know how to handle the boys, though she thinks she does. The boys are only boys, and it is clear that they have not had difficult lives. In this sense, the stage is merely set for the playing out of the conflict


Climax

After Mrs. Cope finally tells the boys they must absolutely leave, they hide for a couple of days and then in a fit of anger set fire to her woods. It is the height of the dry season.

Outcome

The hired help runs to put out the fire, but it has gone out of control. Mrs. Cope's daughter watches the misery on her mother's face and can hear the boys shrieking wildly on the other side of the fire.


SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Mrs. Pritchard watches Mrs. Cope weed her garden and tells her the story of a woman who had a baby in an iron lung and how they both died. Mrs. Cope works hard, as if she is always struggling with evil. She is always worried about fire. She also dislikes Mrs. Pritchard's talk and constantly tries to change the subject. When she sees her Negro workers driving the long way around a field, in order not to lift a gate, she reprimands them and claims that she is the only one with any sense of responsibility or gratefulness. When Mrs. Pritchard says she has four abscessed teeth, Mrs. Cope tells her to be thankful she don't have five. Mrs. Pritchard grumbles: at least she would have the decency not to be making babies while in an iron lung. Think of the Europeans in boxcars, Mrs. Cope reprimands again. She says that she has this nice farm because she works so hard, and only takes trouble as it comes. The child watching the women from the windows (Mrs. Cope's daughter) can see three boys coming up the road.

Powell walks up to Mrs. Cope and introduces himself: he used to live here. She remembers him, sort of. She asks after his mother and father--it turns out he's died, and the mother has remarried. He lives in Atlanta, in a development. When she asks he introduces the other two boys with him, one huge and the other small, and when she introduces them to Mrs. Pritchard they ignore her.

The other two boys tell her how Powell is lawyers talking about this place, Mrs. Cope's farm, about the horses to ride and all. In fact, Powell has said he wants to die here. Mrs. Cope gets uncomfortable and then thinks the boys must be hungry. But they look like they are used to hunger, and they don't seem especially grateful for the offer of something to eat. The child in the window, listening, is excited. She is twelve and fat and has braces. she sees the big boy smoking. She hears her mother and Mrs. Pritchard in the kitchen discussing the boys, the suitcase, and the fact that Mrs. Pritchard thinks they intend to stay.

Outside with some crackers and coke, Mrs. Cope reprimands the big boy for tossing a cigarette butt--he could start a fire! The boy grudgingly picks it up. Mrs. Cope tries talking to Powell about his family, but the boys want to talk about the farm and what Powell told them about it--they could ride those horses to hell! Mrs. Cope is not happy with the language. The boys don't like the crackers, or where they live in Atlanta. They want to spend the night in the barn, and Mrs. Cope says no--they could sleep in the field. They agree and leave without saying thank you.

Mrs. Pritchard says they look like trouble. The boys come back all scratched up around dinner time, and claim they have not ridden the horses. They don't like the food Mrs. Cope offers and then she makes them sandwiches. She can hardly hold a conversation with them--Powell is distracted and the other boys say nasty and violent things. Mrs. Cope asks them if they are thankful for what they have in life. The little girl makes choking sounds, leans out the windows and crosses her eyes at the boys. The big one looks up and says, "Jesus, another woman." Later, her mother tells her to say away from them.

The next morning they are not gone, as promised, and Mrs. Cope offers them breakfast and tells them they must act like gentlemen. They are rather rude, and walk off, and when Mrs. Pritchard walks up she tells Mrs. Cope that the boys rode the horses into a sweat. Mrs. Cope is mad. Mrs. Pritchard repeats over and over "there isn't anything you can do about it," and then repeats a story that Mr. Pritchard told her about the boys' rudeness concerning Mrs. Cope.


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