dotted outline of a black cat sitting within a basket in front of an older woman wearing a sundress

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

Start Free Trial

How is "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor related to the idea of good versus evil?

In the story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," by Flannery O'Connor, we are challenged to reconsider our definition of good and evil.

Expert Answers

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

O'Connor's no-holds-barred story inspires us to question how good and evil are defined. Perhaps, in that sense, how we relate good versus evil in the story will depend on how we judge or interpret the characters' actions.

In the story, the grandmother sets herself up in her family's eyes (and...

See
This Answer Now

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

Get 48 Hours Free Access

O'Connor's no-holds-barred story inspires us to question how good and evil are defined. Perhaps, in that sense, how we relate good versus evil in the story will depend on how we judge or interpret the characters' actions.

In the story, the grandmother sets herself up in her family's eyes (and ours) as a paragon of virtue. So, we must decide whether we will accept this exemplary image she flaunts before us or whether we will reject it. We are told that she refuses to go to Florida because the Misfit (a criminal) happens to be heading that way; she thinks that going to Florida will potentially expose her family to the machinations of a felon. Interestingly however, she has no qualms about deceiving her son, Bailey.

In the story, we are told that Bailey doesn't like the idea of traveling with pets; the grandmother manages to bring Pitty Sing along anyway. She hides the feline in a basket and places it under her enormous, black valise. Interestingly, she rationalizes her deception readily and still thinks of herself as a lady. To the grandmother, a lady is someone who dresses the part and entertains certain preconceived notions about life. Her definition of "good" is largely superficial.

As the story continues, we begin to realize how self-deceived, self-centered, and hypocritical the grandmother really is. She consistently lectures her family about doing the right thing. However, she readily tells her grandchildren a story with racist undertones and later concocts a flashy story to goad Bailey into making a detour. Her earlier subterfuge about Pitty Sing tempts us to doubt her elaborate story about a secret panel at the plantation house. By the time she faces death before the Misfit's gun, we are challenged to rethink our own perception of good and evil.

Although the grandmother purports to be spiritually adept, she fails to recognize true evil when she sees it. Perhaps another interpretation would be that she refuses to recognize it because she harbors a predominantly sanitized conception of good and evil. She attempts to flatter the Misfit and to play on his sympathies for a "lady." However, the Misfit is impervious to her feminine wiles. He questions the reality of God and refuses to live anything other than a hedonistic lifestyle. When the grandmother dies, she does so with poignant last words: "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" Her words indicate her final epiphany about the universal humanity in all of us.

The Misfit kills the grandmother presumably to avoid being exposed to law enforcement. Superficial assumptions of goodness have no place in his life; he's primarily focused on survival and self-preservation. The Misfit exemplifies unmitigated evil, while the grandmother epitomizes sterile religiosity. So, how we relate good versus evil in the story largely depends on how we define "good" and "evil" in regard to the characters. Will we define the grandmother as "good" because of the way she portrays herself? Or will we define her as "evil" because she is, in many ways, as self-absorbed as the Misfit?

On the other hand, is the Misfit "evil" because he chooses to kill the grandmother and her family in cold blood? In other words, are there degrees of "evil" that O'Connor inspires us to see through the characters in her story?

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team