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

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Mrs. Cope swears that they will leave on the milk truck, when it comes to pick up the milk later in the day. The boys agree, and then don't show up. The little girl says that she can take care of them, but her mother tells her to stay away from them. The little girl watches from the window as her mother and Mrs. Pritchard search for the boys, and the boys sneak away from them.

Later, they let the bull out, and then drain the oil on three tractors. Mrs. Cope is hopping angry, and Mrs. Pritchard is glad to tell her that the boys are down on the road stoning the mailbox. They get in he car and drive down to the boys, who sit on a bank, look sullen and remain silent. She tells them to go or she will call the sheriff. Mrs. Pritchard thinks this will only anger them. She thinks they have a gun in their suitcase.

Mrs. Cope will have none of it, and when she sees no sign of the boys that night or the net day, she is satisfied they are gone--though Mrs. Pritchard isn't. Mrs. Cope tells her daughter to be thankful that she isn't them, or in an iron lung, or a Negro or a European. The next morning the sun is hot and the weather is very dry, with wind, and the girl has dressed herself in overalls and a dress with a hat and toy pistols. When her mother tells her she looks like Mrs. Pritchard's child the girl runs out to the woods to get away from her: "Leave me be!" she yells.

The girl plays in the woods, cracking branches with her toy pistols and issuing orders to the trees. Then she sees the boys. They are bathing in the cattle trough. The little boy shouts that he wished he lived there, and then the big boy says he'd build a parking lot if this were his place. The boys run around the field and yell and scream and then they dress and the big boy gets an idea. They enter the woods near the girl--they don't see her--and gather sticks together to light a fire. They light it, gleefully, and the little girl is rooted to the spot--then she runs. She yells "they're going to build a parking lot!" and Mrs. Cope and Mrs. Pritchard see the smoke in the sky and the hired help moves towards it and the smoke goes higher and wider. "Hurry!" Mrs. Cope shouts. The girl looks into her mother's face and sees terrible misery, and hears the boys shrieking as if they were prophets dancing in a fiery circle the angels had made just for them.


This story has a rather simple shape, and when we are told about Mrs. Cope's fear at the beginning, we have an idea of what is bound to happen. When the boys show up, we know they are trouble--much like we know the Misfit in the title story, even before he reveals himself. Mrs. Pritchard's saying "there's nothing you can do about," over and over, seems to paralyze Mrs. Cope. At the same time, Mrs. Cope is determined to be thankful--almost as if she can ward off evil with being thankful for the good--and the result leads her directly into a compromised position: She wants to be nice to the boys, but she can't handle them.

Mrs. Pritchard is a typical sort of character in this stories. The hired woman is the one person the female farm-owner talks to, hears out, and must answer to in some sense. It's a powerful position, on the farm and in the story. These hired women are also difficult, a bit mean, and very aware of their positions. Mrs. Pritchard is notable for her penchant for disaster stories. In one part of the story she is even upset when there is no disaster for her to focus on.


The visitation of misfortune and the question of thankfulness are most evident in this story. When should one be thankful, and when cautious? If one is not thankful enough, will misfortune be greater? Does Mrs. Cope bring on her own troubles, or is her helplessness a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Misery is discussed as well. Mrs. Pritchard is fascinated by misery--almost as it were pure evidence of evil. The woman in the iron lung dies, with her baby, which also brings up the question of innocence and responsibility. In a sense, both Mrs. Cope and the boys are innocent, and responsible. Mrs. Cope sees how the combination of innocence and responsibility in the boys is disastrous--they have obviously not had someone looking after them--but it is so different than anything she has experienced, she has no idea of how to respond. Her own misery is the result.

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