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

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Yesterday a bible salesman had stopped by the house. Mrs. Hopewell saw Joy talk to him as he was leaving--what could she have possibly said to him? He had shown up at the door, all sweaty and nearly collapsed with hauling a big case of bibles. Not bad looking, and wearing a bright blue suit and yellow socks. He had sharp features, sticky brown hair.

He called her Mrs. Cedars, 'cause that's what it said on the mailbox: The Cedars. Ha! He fell into the hall and shook her hand and laughed again. He got serious about the bibles, and wouldn't be put off when Mrs. Hopewell said she didn't want to buy one. He said he knew she believed in "Chrustian" service, and that she ought to have a bible in every room of the house. Mrs. Hopewell thought Joy would have something to say about that. She told him her dinner was burning, and he didn't get up but said he was just regular country people and real simple.

Well, she could appreciate good country people. He brightened, and introduced himself: Manly Pointer, from way out in the country past Willohobie. Mrs. Hopewell invited him to dinner, though Joy suggested, aside, that she get rid of him. Joy had been listening.

Mrs. Hopewell goes back to the parlor to get him. He tells her he appreciates her honesty, that only country folks are like that anymore. She agrees, and hears Joy in the other room, snorting. He tells Mrs. Hopewell that he has a heart condition--it turns out to be the one Joy has. He stays for dinner and tells Mrs. Hopewell his life story. She is very nice, to make up for sullen Joy. He wanted to be a missionary. He tells her everything all over again before he finally leaves, promising to come back and visit sometime.

On his the way out, Mrs. Hopewell notes Joy standing by the road. She sees the young man confront Joy directly. Amazingly, they walk off together.

The next morning, Mrs. Freeman comes in and tells about her older daughter and the offers of marriage she has received. Joy is there, and Mrs. Hopewell mentions the bible salesman and Mrs. Freeman mentions that she saw him but Joy says nothing, turns red, and stomps out of the room.

She'd arranged to meet him at ten, out by the gate. She had thought about him all night, and also thought the whole thing was a big joke, but there was something to the conversation they had had. There was something in his eyes which seemed familiar.

She told him she was seventeen and told her he admired her--the leg and all. He liked girls that wore glasses and thought a lot. He thought a lot. He was going to die. She said she was, too. He said they had a lot in common, and asked her to meet him tomorrow. She had spent the night imagining that she would take him out to the far barn and seduce him, then deal with refusing him anything else. She'd just educate him.

She went out to meet him, and thought she'd been stood up. Suddenly, he popped out of the bushes and said he knew she would come! She doubts this, but asks him why he brought his bible case. He says, You can never tell when you might need the word of God, and she steers him across the field. After a bit he asks her about her leg--where does it join on? She is mad, but then they talk about God--she doesn't believe and he finds this unusual--and then he kisses her, sloppily. She had never been kissed, and found it dull. She pities him. As she walks on, he tries to keep the path clear for her, and asks can they sit down somewhere, and is she saved? She doesn't believe in God, in anything, really, but there is a barn over there. . .

They make for it rapidly, and when he notes the hay loft, and says it's too bad she can't climb up there--her leg and all-- she does just that. He climbs up after her, and, again, brings his bible case. He wants her to say that she loves him, he wants to see her leg, and he wants her to show him how to take it on and off. She decided that this boy is pure innocence--amazing. She shows him the leg and lets him take it off.

But he takes it out of her reach and won't put it back on. She demands. He opens his case and takes out some booze, swigs, offers her some, says, Wait. He has a condom and some dirty pictures he lays out. She says she thought he was good country people. He says he is just as good as her--what's eating her all of a sudden? She says she thought he was a Christian. He says he don't believe that crap, he just sells bibles--and he wasn't born yesterday. She yells for her leg. He puts her leg in his bible case and clips it shut and heads out the loft hole, telling her he once got a woman's glass eye the same way as this, and that she ain't as smart as she thinks she is--he's believed in nothing since he was born! She sees him disappear across the field.

In the garden, Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman see him emerge from the field and strike on up the road. Mrs. Hopewell says he was entirely simple, and the world would be better off with more like that. Mrs. Freeman says that some people, like her, could never be that simple.


Again, this story has a very simple structure, starts with the hired woman, moves to the proprietess, and, in this case, takes a sharp turn towards another character, the daughter, about half way though. As Mrs. Hopewell's daughter is contrasted with Mrs. Freeman's daughters, it becomes clear that an educated daughter with one leg is much harder to handle than two teenagers, one of them pregnant. Mrs. Freeman, refusing to be as innocent as Mrs. Hopewell, has Joy/Hulga pegged, but it is Manly who Joy/Hulga must have it out with, because more is at stake in their sexually charged relation.

As with many of O'Connor's stories, the stage is set with a cast of characters that will collide most disastrously with each other. It is often the character who is supposed to be "smart" who turns out most compromised, looking more foolish than anyone. Certainly Joy is a hard character, full of herself, and yet understandably unhappy with her mother. Likewise, the simplicity of Manly is deceiving--he is a good actor with impulses much darker than Joy's. It turns out that Joy is the innocent one.

Of course the names are significant, as in all the stories, and indicate the themes to be dealt with. The funniest her may be "Manly Pointer," whose idea of seduction goes far beyond Joy's.

With the mix of characters, this story is the funniest of the book. Mrs. Hopewell's exasperation with her daughter, and her daughter's smart quips and parries add to the bemused tone of the piece. And, of course, it is Mrs. Freeman who has the last word.


Many of the themes that appear in other stories are here, as well. "Good country people," are difficult for the women in these stories to find. But this story most directly pits innocence against education. Good country people may not be as simple as they seem. And someone with a Ph.D. is not necessarily smart. In essence, Joy is much more innocent than Manly. And Mrs. Freeman's cynical insightfulness may denote a lack of free thought, while Mrs. Hopewell seems to have given up hope on many fronts. Joy is also the opposite of that, and Hulga actually has some feelings. There are complicated levels of depth in everyone.

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