Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is one of O’Connor’s most frequently anthologized short stories, and it makes an excellent illustration of her ability to combine grotesque humor with serious thematic material.
The story opens as a family prepares to go on vacation in Florida. The story focuses immediately on the grandmother, who wants to visit relatives in east Tennessee and who uses the escape of the Misfit, a murderer, from prison to try to persuade her son, Bailey, to change his mind. He refuses. The two grandchildren, John Wesley and June Star, are quickly characterized as smart alecks who nevertheless understand their grandmother and her motives very well. When the family sets out, the grandmother is resigned to making the best of things. She is first to get into the car and has even, secretly, brought along her cat. As she rides along, her conversation is conventional, self-centered, and shallow.
When the family stops for lunch at a barbeque stand, their conversation again turns to the Misfit, and the adults agree that people are simply not as nice as they used to be. Later, back in the car, the grandmother persuades Bailey to take a road which she imagines (wrongly, as it turns out) will lead by an old mansion. Suddenly the cat escapes its basket and jumps on Bailey’s neck, and the car runs into the ditch. As the family assesses its injuries, a man who is obviously the Misfit drives up with his armed henchmen. The grandmother...
(The entire section is 535 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the title story of Flannery O’Connor’s first collection of short stories, is one of her most anthologized stories. As in most of her stories, the theme of identity in this story involves O’Connor’s Christian conviction about the role of sin, particularly the sin of pride, in distorting one’s true identity. The focal character in the story, who is identified only as the grandmother, convinces herself and, she thinks, her family, that she is a good judge of human nature.
In fact, she assumes that she is the best judge on any matter. The story opens with her son, Bailey, planning a family vacation to Florida. The grandmother opposes the idea, because an escaped killer known in the papers as the Misfit is supposedly headed toward Florida. She has very clear ideas of the flaws in character and the influence of class that go to making a criminal such as the Misfit. The grandmother’s false sense of self-importance, which she sees as separating herself from vulgarity, which is represented by the Misfit, is a motif typical of O’Connor’s fiction, and the plot hinges on the revelation of the falseness of the grandmother’s self-image.
From the beginning, O’Connor is careful to distance the narration from the grandmother’s delusions, with judicious use of irony. After describing the physical details of the grandmother’s extravagant traveling clothes, the narration offers a reflection that is...
(The entire section is 484 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
This grotesque tale of sudden violence in the rural South opens quietly, with a family planning a vacation. The husband, Bailey, his wife, and their children, John Wesley and June Star, all want to go to Florida. The grandmother, Bailey’s mother, however, wants to go to east Tennessee, where she has relatives, and she determinedly attempts to persuade them to go there instead. Unable to convince them that the trip to Tennessee will be novel and broadening for the children, the grandmother offers as a final argument a newspaper article that states that a psychopathic killer who calls himself The Misfit is heading toward Florida.
Ignoring the grandmother’s wishes and warnings, the family sets out the next morning for Florida. The grandmother settles herself in the car ahead of the others so that her son will not know that she has brought along her cat, Pitty Sing, hidden in a basket under her seat. As the trip proceeds, she chatters away, pointing out interesting details of scenery, admonishing her son not to drive too fast, telling stories to the children. Throughout the drive, the children squabble, the baby cries, the father grows irritable. In short, the trip is both awful and ordinary, filled with the trivia, boredom, and petty rancors of daily life, from which the family cannot escape, even on vacation.
At lunchtime, they stop at Red Sammy’s, a barbecue eatery, where the grandmother laments that “people are certainly not nice like they used to be,” and Red Sammy agrees: “A good man is hard to find.” In this conversation, the grandmother, narrow-minded and opinionated, repeatedly assures herself that she is a lady, a good Christian, and a good judge of character: She maintains that Red Sammy, a bossy loudmouth, is a “good man” and that Europe “was entirely to...
(The entire section is 738 words.)