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

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She promises Mr. Shortley that she will fire Mr. Guizac, now, on the first of the month. He doesn't believe her, but says nothing. His wife was a different kind of woman, the only kind he knew like that, not scared of no one. Mrs. McIntyre looked more awful all the time, while the Poles were getting fat. Mr. Shortley did what he pleased on the place--she hardly noticed. Then he suggested that the Pole would buy her out one day soon.

The first came and went. He was not a violent man, but Mr. Shortley hated to see a woman taken by a foreigner. Meanwhile, she had nightmares (the priest reminding her of the boxcars, the ovens, in Europe)--she'd never fired anyone before. She went out right out to fire him one morning, but all she could say was that she had bills to pay--he said he did, too. Mr. Shortley heard, and decided he was no longer keeping his mouth shut. He complained to everyone in town: he had risked his life in Europe, and now look what happens. He asks Sulk why he doesn't go back to Africa, and exclaims that at least in Africa and China you can see who is who. Not Europe. They shouldn't let them learn English over there-- like his wife said, it messes everything up.

Mrs. McIntyre hears the talk in town and realizes she has a moral obligation to fire the Pole, and she can't hardly do it. She tries again on a cold morning, walks on down to the tractor shed to give him his notice.

Mr. Shortley is there, backing out one of the big tractors, while Mr. Guizac is on the ground, trying to put a new part in another tractor. Mr. Shortley stops and gets off his tractor, and Mrs. Mc Intyre watches Mr. Guizac work, resentful that he never left on his own. Mr. Shortly turns his back. Mrs. McIntyre sees the tractor starting to roll, right towards Mr. Guizac, who doesn't see or hear it. The Negro jumps out of the way, and Mr. Shortley turns his head, slowly, and Mrs. McIntyre's eyes meet their eyes. The tractor rolls over Mr. Guizac and kills him. She faints.

She comes to and the priest is there, over the body, with Mrs. Guizac and the children. The priest slips something in the dead man's mouth, and Mrs. McIntyre can sees the priest's withdrawn face. She feels not quite herself, like she is in some foreign country.

Mr. Shortley leaves that night, without notice, and Sulk went off to see the world. Mrs. McIntyre got a nervous affliction, and went to the hospital. When she returned, she couldn't keep the place up and had to sell off the acreage and take to her bed, with only a colored woman to look after her. And the priest. He came to see her, and preach the doctrines of the church at her bedside, and feed bread crumbs to the peacock.


This is the longest story in the collection, and the most complex. The plot is simple and straightforward, but there is also a well-developed subplot concerning the Shortley's. Mrs. Shortley, though she dies about half way through, has ideas about the Displaced Person which will eventually cause his death--and certainly contributed to hers.

This story also clearly portrays the thinking of some Americans after the Second World War, the deep suspicion against Europeans, and the fear and disgust set off by the widespread media images of death camps. As in all wars, people afterwards tend to get confused about the purpose, the victims or heroes, and where to set their allegiances after the "victory." The tragedy of the story is that Mr. Guizac, who survives the Nazis, is killed by the people who are supposedly helping him get back on his feet.

In typical O'Connor fashion, the misguided are re-guided by the workings of fate. This is not always pleasant, of course. Mrs. McIntyre is never the same, after letting the tractor run over Mr. Guizac. Mrs. Shortley pays for her fervor, and Mr. Shortley--who spreads mischief in order to guarantee himself a place--has no place, in the end.

Race is discussed in this story, as well. O'Connor writes of the times she experienced, when whites and blacks in the south very rarely married. It doesn't occur to Mrs. McIntyre that the cousin of Mr. Guizac may well agree to marry Sulk and be glad of it. Mrs. McIntyre sees only the social disaster of her world, not the refigured truths of anyone else's existence. It is ironic that the two white women are determined to "save" the Negroes from Mr. Guizac, when he already accepts them as equals. He expects them to work like he does. He expects them to make their own decisions. The women don't think much of them.


In this last story of the collection, everyone ends up displaced--except, maybe, Father Flynn, who preaches doggedly and is always rather distant and unconnected anyway. Displacement is quickly destructive in Mrs. Shortley's case, slower for the others, but complete in all cases. The Displaced Person of the title becomes not just a European in America, but anyone who gets jostled out of place and can't cope. No one in this story knows quite where they belong.

Religious themes arise in this story, quite directly. The Catholic priest is suspect, and his preaching about Christ is thudding and unheard; Mr. Guizac becomes Christ in conversations where the subject of sentences is lazily switched. Mrs. Shortley goes back to her bible, after deciding that Mr. Guizac is evil--mostly because she is insulted at Mrs. McIntyre's reaction to the Pole's hard work. She works herself into a fit about good and evil, and dies.

"Obligation" seems to drive Mrs. McIntyre to her grave. She can't figure out who (or what) she has an obligation to, until Mr. Shortley convinces her. When they kill (figuratively, at least) Mr. Guizac, the question of moral obligation in an employment situation is eclipsed by the horror of their heartlessness. They are very sure of their position against Mr. Guizac, but their doubts scatter them. The placement of obligation, or "responsibility," is fuzzy at best. When people are scared, they move to place their obligations without doubt, often with disastrous results.

The peacock becomes an idol to the old priest. He confuses its image with the image of the second coming. Mrs. Shortley does the same thing, suns being a significant part of her revelation. The sun is a "pagan" symbol, a center, a divine life-giver, a paternal representative--throughout human history it has been bestowed with all kinds of meanings and powers.

Many of the stories begin with a description of the hired woman, then go on to the woman-owner of the farm ,and end with her tragedy after a series of mishaps which result in the enactment of her greatest fear, some sort of ruin. Each woman is holding fiercely to what she has, and feels she has everything to lose. In each case, a moral dilemma is moved to an extreme case, and the humanity of each character is tested.


1. Discuss a theme common to many of the stories, and distinguish the treament of it in each story.

2. Chose a favorite story and explain why it strikes you as notable.

3. Explain the religious beliefs of one or more characters.

4. Compare and contrast two stories--possibly two that have similar main characters (a child, a farm owner).

5. Discuss O'Connor's use of secondary characters.

6. What ethical concerns are brought up in these texts?

7. How does the collection work as a whole?

8. How has World War II affected the people in these stories?

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