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

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They stayed in a fancy hotel room, and a limousine came to get them, and there were crowds outside the auditorium and all the important people, including the General, where going to be introduced on stage. Sally helped him up. The Confederate Battle Hymn was played and a blonde young man asked him how old he was--but "General Sash" did not want to leave the stage, and kept talking: "I kiss all the pretty girls!" And only because Sally looked down at her feet and saw that she had forgotten to change out of her old oxfords did he get hauled off stage. She was so embarrassed. The colonel slept through the movie.

Since then, his feet stopped working and he only went down to the museum once a year on Confederate Memorial Day to sit in an exhibit in the museum in his uniform--sort of a living history exhibit. He scowled at the people who came through, and smacked a child who once tried to touch his sword. You could barely tell he was alive, except occasionally he talked about the movie premiere and the beautiful girls.

All went as planned for Sally. She spent her last summer at school while relatives took care of the old man, and she made all the arraignments for his appearance at the graduation. Her nephew, ten-year-old boyscout John Wesley, would wheel the old gentleman onto the stage. The day came and she got the old man dressed up. He swore at her and asked for his sword.

She lined up with the other graduates, looking back to check the progress of the old man and the boy. The day was very hot. She knew that the old man, herself, and the boy in his crisp BoyScout uniform would be the hit of the day.

She lost track of them, an then caught the boy standing in the full sun sipping a coke, while the old man sat half senseless baking in the sun. She chastised the boy and told them to get going on stage!

The old man thought a hole had opened in his head, and he couldn't reach up to fill it with his finger, even. He saw the procession, and people in black kept picking up his hand and shaking it and putting it back. The stately music entered his head through the hole. The procession made a black pool in front of him, though he didn't know what the whole thing was about. Then one of the black robes was talking, about him, and he was wheeled forward and the boy bowed and bowed again. He wanted to think of the pretty girls, but words from the speech came to him, place names, people, familiar from the past, but not quite clear. The words pursued him, came after him like the black procession. Other black figures, music, more words. Stop, dammit! He couldn't get away from them, he tried to run, his past pursued him and he tried to get away, to look over the black to his future, and clutched his sword into the bones of his hand.

Sally received her scroll, finally, and glanced over at the old man, whose eyes were wide and face fiercely set. As soon as it was all over, John Wesley made a bee-line for the coke machine. She found him in line, waiting with the corpse of the old man.


This is one of the simplest tales in the book, and one which contains the clearest example of a moment of transformation: the old man, suffering from a "hole in his head," confuses the past and the present and dies in panic while on stage. Sally does get her wish, but the consequences are awful. We don't see this part, but presumably when the death is discovered her triumph with turn to terribly embarrassed agony. The poor man, dying while on display!

O'Connor depicts Sally and the "General" in quick detail: she is an older student, reluctant, and prideful of a grandparent who is not what he is set up to represent. He becomes purely an object of other people's nostalgia. He knows this, resents it, and is unabashedly a dirty old man in a wheel chair. Sally is not budging either. It is only clear that she wants to use him as a type of revenge against the new order.

The title refers to the last encounter with the "enemy" for the "General": the pomp and ceremony of a academic event, where he is honored as living history, is his worst nightmare. The enemy is both real, and in his imagination. It is a stroke of genius, on O'Connor's part, to build a graduation ceremony around his death (instead of a standard funeral), as this sort of ceremony is "death" to an old man whose only pleasure is his costume and pretty girls.


The story touches on several dichotomies dear to O'Connor: past/present, history/moment, old/young, desire/fear. The past here literally comes after the old man, and it means something quite vague to Sally. The present moment, the ceremony, is a moment of glory for both of them, but not in the usual way. And it backfires on Sally.

The old man hates history, hates to have it imposed on him. He realizes it really doesn't have much to do with him. He prefers the young flesh of the moment, the pretty girls he can see and touch. The girls are much more real to him than events he can't remember, and which other people simply bend to their own desires.

John Wesley is very young, a BoyScout but mostly a boy. Of course he would want a coke on a hot day, and be oblivious to the old man's distress. Sally did not foresee this problem, and though her desires are satisfied, so are her worst fears.

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