Explain the irony in the story "A Good Man Is Hard To Find."

There are many examples of situational and dramatic irony in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." Perhaps the most significant irony comes at the end of the story, when the grandmother actually becomes more compassionate and empathetic, nearer to being a "good woman" than she has been all along. When her life is threatened by the Misfit, it actually prompts her to become the "good woman" she has long thought she is.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A chief irony in the story is summed up in the words of the Misfit about the grandmother:

She would of been a good woman … if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.

The Misfit speaks to the fact that the grandmother only...

Read
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

A chief irony in the story is summed up in the words of the Misfit about the grandmother:

She would of been a good woman … if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.

The Misfit speaks to the fact that the grandmother only becomes an kind person at the moment of her death, when she is desperate to try to save her life. Up until that point, she had placed her faith in false forms of security, chiefly her social status as a lady and her money.

Throughout the story, the grandmother has taken her position as a Southern lady very seriously. She dressed carefully for the family road trip, wearing a lace trimmed frock and a hat that signaled her status. She considered herself superior to those she deemed lower class, such as a young Black child they passed on the road.

At the end, when the grandmother realizes the Misfit and his gang are taking her family into the woods to kill them, and that her own life is in danger, she appeals to the Misfit, calling him a "good man" and saying he wouldn't shoot her because she is a lady. She also tries to bargain with him by offering him money. The Misfit doesn't care about her social status and reminds her he can take her money once she is dead.

Ironically, it is only when the status symbols are stripped away that the grandmother becomes authentic and reaches out to the Misfit in a genuine, loving way, suddenly seeing him as like her own son. Ironically, too, it is as this moment of grace that she is killed.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the biggest ironies in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” comes near the end of the story, when the grandmother reaches out to the Misfit only to be shot and killed by him.

Here, we have a cantankerous old woman, someone who never has a good word to say about anyone, suddenly attempting to make a connection with another human being. And yet the old lady is rebuffed in the most brutal way imaginable as the Misfit shoots her dead.

This is ironic indeed as it's not what we would expect to happen. Like the grandmother herself, most of us would perhaps like to think that the Misfit is capable of changing his ways, of putting behind him his life of violent crime and walking along a different path.

But in actual fact, some people are incapable of doing this; they are just plain evil, and that's all there is to it. Unfortunately for the grandmother, the Misfit happens to be one such person.

Although much is made of the grandmother's apparent lack of sincerity in her telling the Misfit that he's one of her own children, the likelihood is that this psychotic criminal would've killed her anyway, even if she'd been a modern-day saint.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Irony is created when there's a discrepancy between what we expect and what is actually true. There are many examples of irony in the story. For example, it is ironic that the family would run into the Misfit given how large the state of Georgia is. We would not actually expect them to cross paths with this dangerous man, and so this is an example of situational irony. It is also ironic that readers would develop feelings of sympathy for the grandmother, a woman who is fairly self-righteous despite her own rampant racism and sexism. Likewise, it is ironic that the reader would develop empathy for the Misfit, a man who is an escaped convict and murderer. These are also examples of situational irony.

Dramatic irony, when the reader knows more than a character does, is created by our developing understanding that the grandmother is not actually a good person, despite her claims about "good men" and her idealization of the past. Dramatic irony is perhaps the most significant irony in the story, due in part to readers' understanding of the grandmother's real condition. She believes that she is a good woman, but the irony is that she didn't really act like a "good woman" until the final moments of her life. The Misfit says, "She would of been a good woman … if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." The grandmother only seemed to develop a more empathetic and compassionate view of people when her own life was in danger. She is not who she has long thought herself to be, and our—as well as the Misfit's—realization of this constitutes dramatic irony. It is also ironic that having her life threatened would actually make her more compassionate and loving rather than embittered and resentful.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Flannery O’Connor utilizes irony throughout her classic short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” in various ways.

Situational irony occurs when the grandmother tries to persuade Bailey against traveling to Florida in an attempt to avoid the Misfit—but she ends up directing her family into the murderer's path by convincing Bailey to take a back road to see an old house she remembers.

The grandmother's perception of others and judgmental nature are also ironic. The grandmother inaccurately judges individuals based on their appearances and superficial behaviors while lacking true insight into morality and ethics. She calls Red Sammy a "good man" simply because he gave two strangers free gas, which does not necessarily make him a good man. Ironically, she also refers to Misfit as a good man because of his calm demeanor and favorable appearance. Despite her assurance that she can judge a good man from a bad person, the grandmother fails to recognize that the Misfit is a sociopath and ruthless killer.

It is also ironic that the grandmother feels empowered to judge others by her narrow definition without exercising or examining her own morals. For example, the grandmother uses racial slurs, hides her cat from Bailey (who would not approve of its presence), and also conceals the fact that she misremembered the location of the estate where Bailey was driving. It is also ironic that the second the grandmother experiences an epiphany and attempts to show compassion for the Misfit, she is rewarded with a bullet in the chest.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team