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 Introduction
Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” first appeared in the author’s
short story collection by the same name, which was published in 1955. Since then, it has become
one of O’Connor’s most highly regarded works of short fiction because it exhibits all the
characteristics for which she is best known: a contrast of violent action with humorously and
carefully drawn characters and a philosophy that underscores her devout Roman Catholic faith.
Critics have admired the prose and the way O’Connor infuses the story with her Catholic belief
about the role God’s grace plays in the lives of ordinary people. The story is disturbing and
humorous at the same time—a quality shared by many of O’Connor’s other works, including her
novels
Wise Blood
and
The Violent Bear It Away.
Though the story begins innocently enough, O’Connor introduces the character of the Misfit, an
escaped murderer who kills the entire family at the end of the story. Through this character,
O’Connor explores the Christian concept of “grace”—that a divine pardon from God is available
simply for the asking. In the story, it is the Grandmother—a petty, cantankerous, and overbearing
individual—who attains grace at the moment of her death, when she reaches out to the Misfit and
recognizes him as one of her own children. For O’Connor, God’s grace is a force outside the
character, something undeserved, an insight or moment of epiphany. Often, however, O’Connor’s
characters miss moments of opportunity to make some connection; their spiritual blindness keeps
them from seeing truth.
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is the title story of O’Connor’s first short story collection, and,
therefore, often serves as an introduction to the rest of her fiction. The story is enjoyable for its
humorous portrayal of a family embarking on a vacation; O’Connor has been unforgiving in her
portrayal of these characters—they are not likable. However, in creating characters that elicit
little sympathy from readers, O’Connor has carefully set the premise for her main argument: that
grace is for everyone, even those who seem loathesome.
Plot
O’Connor’s story is told by a third person narrator, but the focus is on the Grandmother’s
perspective of events. Even though she complains that she would rather go to Tennessee than
Florida for vacation, she packs herself (and secretly her cat, Pitty Sing) in the car with her son
Bailey, his wife, and their children June Star, John Wesley, and the baby. In a comical instance

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of foreshadowing, she takes pains to dress properly in a dress and hat, so that if she were found
dead on the highway everyone would recognize her as a lady.
When the family stops for lunch at Red Sammy Butts’ barbecue place, the proprietor, a husky
man, is insulted by June Star. Nevertheless, he and the Grandmother discuss the escaped
murderer known as the Misfit. Noting that the world is increasingly a more dangerous and
unfriendly place, Red Sammy tells the Grandmother that these days “A good man is hard to
find.” Back on the road, the Grandmother convinces her hen-pecked son to go out of their way so
they can visit an old plantation she recalls from her childhood. The children join second her
suggestion when she mentions that the house contains secret passageways. Soon after Bailey
turns down a dirt road “in a swirl of pink dust” with “his jaw as rigid as a horseshoe,” the
Grandmother realizes that the plantation is not in Georgia, where they are, but in Tennessee. This
sudden realization causes her to upset Pitty Sing’s basket. The cat leaps out onto Bailey’s
shoulder, and the surprise causes him to lose control of the car and roll it into a ditch.
No one is seriously hurt, and the children are inclined to view the accident as an adventure. Soon
a car happens along the desolate stretch of road and the family believes the driver will stop and
help them. As the driver makes his way down the embankment, the Grandmother thinks “his face
was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was.”
As soon as he starts to speak, however, she recognizes him as the infamous Misfit. He is
accompanied by two other men; they are all carrying guns and are dressed in clothes that are
clearly not their own. The first thing he wants to know is if the car will still run.
While the Misfit talks with the grandmother, his two accomplices, Hiram and Bobby Lee, take
each member of the family off to the woods and shoot them. Soon the Misfit obtains Bailey’s
bright yellow shirt with blue parrots on it, and he and the Grandmother are alone. She tries to
convince him that he is “not a bit common,” in an effort to flatter him and spare her life. When it
becomes clear that her words are having little effect on him, she becomes speechless for the first
time in the story. “She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out.
Finally she found herself saying, `Jesus. Jesus,’ meaning Jesus will help you, but the way she was
saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing.”
The Misfit’s explanation for his behavior provides an opportunity for the self-centered
Grandmother to reflect on her beliefs in the moments before he shoots her “three times through
the chest.” The Misfit explains that “Jesus thown everything off balance.” In her final moment,
the Grandmother reaches out and touches the Misfit, whispering “You’re one of my own
children!”. The Misfit’s final commentary on the grandmother is that “she would of been a good
woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
Characters
Bailey
variant: Bailey Boy
: Bailey is the son of the principal character in the story, the
Grandmother, and is the father of June Star and John Wesley. He drives the car as the family
embarks on their vacation. Bailey’s major importance in the story is his relationship to other
people, especially his mother. He allows her to boss him around and to convince him to go out of
the way to visit the old house of her childhood, where the family is killed. Bailey seems

unresponsive to his wife and children, allowing them to take advantage of him. Overall, Bailey,
who wears a yellow shirt with blue parrots, perhaps symbolizing his cowardice, is a “flat”
character.
The Misfit
: The Misfit is an escaped murderer who kills the family at the end of the story and
shoots the Grandmother three times in the chest. Described as having on tan and white shoes, no
socks, no shirt, he is an older man with glasses “that gave him a scholarly look.” By his speech,
readers can tell that he is rather uneducated. However, he speaks to the grandmother and the
others with deliberate politeness. He remains calm throughout the scene as he instructs his two
companions, Bobby Lee and Hiram, to take the family to the woods. He says to the
Grandmother, “it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t reckernized me.”
In the Misfit’s conversation with the Grandmother about Jesus throwing “everything off
balance,” O’Connor presents a view of a world out of balance. Just as the story’s violence does
not seem to match its comedy, the Misfit’s life of punishment has not fit his crimes. In a long
section of dialogue, the Misfit unburdens his soul to the Grandmother about his father’s death, his
own mistreatment, and his feelings about the world’s injustices. He kills her when she calls him
one of her “own babies.” Although critics have interpreted the actions and words of the Misfit in
many ways, one reading is that he brings the Grandmother to a moment of grace in which she
makes an unselfish, religious connection with another human being, something she had been
incapable of before that time. In his comment, “She would of been a good woman. . . if it had
been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life,” the Misfit seems to understand that
her grace required an extreme situation. The Misfit, by helping the grandmother understand her
own mortality and connection with “all God’s children,” is actually an unlikely—and evil—
messenger from God.
Grandmother
: The Grandmother in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is the story’s principal
character. Her religious epiphany at the story’s end provides the philosophical thrust behind the
narrative. By having no name other than Grandmother and through her crotchety conversation
that provides much of the story’s humor, O’Connor paints her as a tragically comic caricature,
one that a reader can easily, but wrongly, feel superior to. She is selfish and pushy; in fact, her
desire to see a house from her childhood results in the family’s death at the end of the story. The
story’s primary action involves a family car trip on which they meet up with an escaped criminal
and his gang. If the Grandmother had not insisted they detour to see the old house, which, she
realized too late was in Tennessee, not in the part of Georgia where they were, the family would
have escaped the disaster. The Grandmother is critical of the children’s mother, who is never
named, and she dotes on her son Bailey although she treats him like a child. She demonstrates
racist behavior by calling a poor Black child “a pickaninny . . . Wouldn’t that make a picture,
now?” and she reveals a superior moral attitude. In her conversation with the murderer, an
escaped convict called the Misfit, the Grandmother says that she knows he is from “good
people,” as she tries to flatter him in order to save her own life. Her last words to him, as she
reaches out to touch his shoulder, are “You’re one of my own children,” and signify that she has
experienced a final moment of grace. The Misfit shoots her three times, but her transcendence to
grace is underscored by the fact that she died “with her legs crossed under her like a child’s and
her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.” Through her portrait of the Grandmother, O’Connor

demonstrates her strong belief in the salvation of religion. Everyone’s soul deserves to be saved,
she is saying, no matter how impious their actions in life.
Red Sammy Butts
variant: Red Sam
: Red Sammy Butts owns the barbecue restaurant called
the Tower at which the family stops on their car trip. O’Connor describes him as fat with his
stomach hanging over his khaki pants “like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt.” Signs along
the highway advertise his barbecue: “Try Red Sammy’s Famous Barbecue. None like Famous
Red Sammy’s! Red Sam! The Fat Boy with the Happy Laugh. A Veteran! Red Sammy’s Your
Man!” He orders his wife around and engages in empty chatter with the Grandmother. Red
Sammy’s statement, “A good man is hard to find,” in reference to the proliferation of crime and a
nostalgia for the days when people did not have to lock their doors, becomes the title of the story.
June Star
: June Star, the granddaughter of the principal character in the story, is rude, self-
centered, and annoying. She argues with her brother John Wesley and seems disappointed when
no one is killed in their car accident. When Red Sammy’s wife asks her if she would like live
with them, June Star replies, “No I certainly wouldn’t. . . . I wouldn’t live in a broken-down place
like this for a million bucks!” She, like many of Flannery O’Connor’s characters, serves as comic
relief or as an example of realism.
John Wesley
: John Wesley, the eight-year-old grandson of the principal character of the story,
is described as a “stocky child with glasses.” He is portrayed as a kid with normal interests and
actions. His enthusiasm to see the house his grandmother tells them about, mainly to explore the
secret panel she says it contains, influences his father Bailey to make the fateful detour. John
Wesley’s name is undoubtedly an ironic reference to the English priest who was one of the
founders of the Methodist church.

     Above is the story for the discussion.

Below are the questions that need to be answered 

 

1. What is another example of foreshadowing you noticed in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”? Why do you believe the author includes this specific example?

2. Were you shocked by the ending? At what point did you see a change of tone and foreshadowing of the violent end?

3. What particular “things” or institutions (education, religion, government) do you believe Auden (poet – “The Unknown Citizen”) is criticizing? Why do you think he chooses this particular format? Do you find it more effective than writing an essay or short story? Why or why not?