In Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find,"   explain the story's religious symbols.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Four important aspects of Flannery O’Connor’s life influenced all of her writing: her father’s death from lupus; her suffering from lupus as well; growing up in the south; and her Catholic upbringing.  Her stories are entrenched in religion and divinity. 

In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” her main character in a moment of crisis wakes up to her faith. The grandmother’s hypocrisy becomes evident when the reader discovers that she has hidden her cat to take on the trip despite the wishes of her son. 

When she discusses recognizing a good man with Red Sammy Butts, the grandmother does not recognize that she lies and tricks her son. She continually lies and manipulates her family. The grandmother does not understand that she should be included in the quotation by Red Sammy Butt’s wife comments:

It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you can trust,” she said.  “And I don’t count nobody out of that, not nobody,” she repeated, looking at Red Sammy.  

Still, the grandmother does not affiliate herself with those that cannot be trusted.

In the story, the grandmother really does not mention religion until she faces the Misfit.  When The Misfit and his companions stop because of the accident, the grandmother foolishly tells The Misfit that she recognizes him. This fatal error causes the death of the entire family. 

What are the religious aspects of the story?


Prayer—The grandmother introduces the idea of prayer to The Misfit.  Hoping to stay alive, she tries to appeal to his religious beliefs. The Misfit doubts the importance of prayer since he really does not believe in Jesus. She brings up prayer is to induce The Misfit to spare her life. She does not understand that this becomes a sore point for The Misfit who has probably spent more time contemplating God and religion than she has.

If you would pray," the old lady said, "Jesus would help you."

"That's right," The Misfit said.

"Well then, why don't you pray?" she asked trembling with delight suddenly.

"I don't want no hep," he said. "I'm doing all right by myself."


The Misfit’s background---The Misfit’s father was a member of a Baptist church.  He also has been a gospel singer. His father told him that he was different from his siblings: He indicated that The Misfit would get into mischief in his life. The Misfit has spent time contemplating his religious beliefs and has come to doubt Jesus.  He uses this doubt to determine that there is no right and wrong in the world and no point to life. 

When he commits his terrible deeds, he feels no responsibility for his actions.  He has lost his conscience. Despite him saying that he does not want any help, there are times that The Misfit seems unhappy with his life and would like to stop his meanness.


Grace—What is “grace”? Grace is God favoring a person with his love and forgiveness.  No one deserves Grace.  God gives his unmeritied favor even if a person does not deserve it.

The grandmother receives “a moment of grace” right before The Misfit kills her.  Finally she understands what is going to happen.  She calls The Misfit one of her children. At the moment of grace, the grandmother recognizes him as another human being capable of being saved by God. 

After murdering the grandmother, the implication achieved is that the criminal receives his moment of Grace when he shows a bit of regret about the murder: It’s no real pleasure.          

Read the study guide:
A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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