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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor
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What are some similarities between the Misfit and the grandmother in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

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Both the Misfit and the grandmother have questionable moral compasses. For the grandmother, the thing that matters most is that one be a "good man" or act like a "lady." For example, her daughter-in-law is not even named in the story; she is described as "a young woman in slacks,"...

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Both the Misfit and the grandmother have questionable moral compasses. For the grandmother, the thing that matters most is that one be a "good man" or act like a "lady." For example, her daughter-in-law is not even named in the story; she is described as "a young woman in slacks," and, later, she "still had on slacks," as though the grandmother finds this choice of apparel inappropriate and distasteful in a woman because it isn't ladylike. The grandmother herself wears a sailor hat and "navy blue dress" for a long car ride because, "In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady." These are her priorities. However, she is a terrible racist, using slurs and making assumptions about black people that are dismissive and condescending. She is also terribly selfish, pressuring her son to go where she wants to go, sneaking her cat into the car, and even lying to cover up her own mistake when she realizes she has directed them awry. She also thinks Red Sammy is a "good man" because he purports to share her values, though he is dismissive and rude to his own wife in front of strangers.

The Misfit may not have done anything wrong at first—he claims to have been imprisoned for the murder of his father when his father had really died of influenza. However, he claims that he soon learned that "You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it." He begins to do evil and illegal things simply because he had already been punished and was trying to make the punishment and crime balance out. He says that there is nothing to do "but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can—by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him." Most people, I think, would choose to enjoy what life they have left by visiting family, living in peace, going out into nature, having children, or the like, and they are not brought any pleasure by the idea of harming others.

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Although only the Misfit is the only one given the name, both the grandmother and he could be called misfits. The grandmother, who represents the Old South, doesn't fit in well with the new, casual, and equalitarian 1950s world. She wants to cling to the past and her status as a lady, but the value of being a lady is fast fading in her society. She also definitely doesn't fit in with her family: she annoys her son, Bailey, and his wife and children. It's clear from the rudeness with which they all treat her that they would just as soon wish that she didn't come on vacation with them.

The Misfit, as his name suggests, is, like the grandmother, a social misfit. In his case, he is a criminal and a murderer, so definitely living outside the boundaries of the ordinary social order.

Both the Misfit and the grandmother, though they don't realize it, also share an empty space they are trying to fill. This makes them restless. The missing part of both their lives is God. It is only at the very end of the story, after everything else has been taken from her, that the grandmother has a moment of grace and is able to see the Misfit through God's eyes as a child she can love and forgive. And for the briefest instance before he shoots and kills her, the Misfit is touched by that love.

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One of the most striking similarities between the Misfit and the grandmother is their hypocrisy. The Misfit is clearly a criminal, yet declares that he calls himself “The Misfit” because he “can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment” (21). The Misfit deflects blame from himself and refuses to bear the consequences of his actions.

On the other hand, the grandmother continuously claims to be a “lady” though she is evidently racist, and essentially entirely to blame for the murder of her family. The grandmother manipulated her son into driving by a house the she wanted to see before realizing that it was in another state. Furthermore, she begs for her life, but never asks The Misfit to spare her family. In fact, the grandmother doesn’t even recognize that The Misfit has taken her son’s shirt after he kills him.

Finally, on the issue of faith as is pertinent to Flanner O’Connor’s works, The Misfit outright rejects religion, but also admits to the grandmother that “Nome, I ain’t a good man” (17).  Conversely, the grandmother pleads to him that “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady” (17). Returning to the theme of hypocrisy, this is another great example that follows the grandmother’s previous agreement with Red Sammy that “A good man is hard to find” (8). According to Revelations 3:16, the Bible says, “So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” That verse, in a religious context, means that God prefers that you either accept or reject him fully. While The Misfit directly rejects religion and faith, the grandmother claims to be a lady and have morals because of her religion, yet she only relies on religion when her life is on the line. The Misfit says, after killing her, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (23). Ultimately, The Misfit’s statement helps to summarize the grandmother’s hypocrisy, but also exposes her lukewarm religion used only in an attempt to save her life rather than live by it throughout her life.

Works Cited

O'Connor, Flannery. "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955. 1-23. Print.

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