In Flannery O'Connor's story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," how is social class and a code of conduct discussed in the story?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” portrays social class through the character of the unnamed grandmother. As an elderly woman from another generation, the grandmother finds it hard to understand the members of her family who are generally non-communicative.

The grandmother thinks of herself as a lady who should be treated with great respect.  She dresses with white gloves and a hat to demonstrate that she lives by a higher standard than the average person.  Her son and his family appear to be middle class; and she is happy to be included in their lives. It becomes obvious that she feels herself morally superior to everyone around her.

One of the ways that the author portrays social class is through the grandmother’s criticism of almost everyone.  Her language is also from another time.  She uses racial slurs when referencing a poor black child by calling him a “pickaninny” which was inappropriate to use in front of her grandchildren. The child is not wearing any clothes; and the grandmother attributes this to little black children not having the things that they do.

In addition, she also uses “nigger” in several places indicating her feelings of superiority toward the black race. To further her lack of civility, she tells a joke at the expense of a little black child.

Using the word good to denote qualities in people that she finds worthwhile, the grandmother sets a moral standard.    When she talks with  Red Sammy Butts about how people have changed,  it is Red Sammy who titles the  story by commenting on the difficulty in trusting people.

“A good man is hard to find,” Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible.  I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched.  Not no more.”

He and the grandmother discussed better times.  The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. 

One of the reasons that the family is involved in the accident which leads to their deaths comes from the grandmother remembering an antebellum mansion that she had visited as a young lady.  Wanting to visit it again and to show her grandchildren how she grew up, the family turns off the main road and onto a dirt road.  It is there that the cat jumps out and causes the son to wreck the car.

Within two levels of  social class, both The Misfit and the grandmother live by a moral code.  This does not mean that it is a good code, but rather it is a code of conduct. 

The grandmother’s moral code judges people by their station in life.  She believes that how people act and where they come from will determine their code of conduct.  Sadly, she does not follow her own canons  since she lies about various things to her family and, in particular,  to her son about bringing the cat along on the trip.

The Misfit’s code is based on his experiences in prison where he has spent the better part of his life.  Actually, although certainly immoral, he is at least consistent in his lack of trust in people and religion. 

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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