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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

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What are the two main epiphanies in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

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The first epiphany comes just as the grandmother utters her final words. Prior to this moment, she has proven a woman of much professed religion and great hypocrisy in the way she lives her life. For example, early in the trip, as they pass an African American child, the grandmother reacts with great prejudice:

"Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!" she said and pointed to a Negro child standing in the door of a shack. "Wouldn't that make a picture, now?" she asked and they all turned and looked at the little Negro out of the back window. He waved.

Unbelievably, comments and thoughts such as this one do not conflict in the grandmother's head. She cannot see the gross ways she is misusing religion until the very end. When the Misfit approaches her wearing her now dead son's shirt, she suddenly realizes the humanity that links them. It is when she reaches out to touch him, showing likely the only forgiveness and acceptance he is likely to receive, that he shoots her. The grandmother's epiphany breaks her free from her superficial claims of religion. It is only through facing her own death that she has the clarity of true grace.

Her epiphany sparks an epiphany in the Misfit. Before her murder, the Misfit tells the grandmother that:

it's nothing for you 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. No pleasure but meanness.

Yet after the grandmother's gesture, his epiphany emerges as his final words make clear: "It's no real pleasure in life." If performing acts of violence don't bring him pleasure, perhaps the door is left open for the Misfit to change.

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The two epiphanies come at the end of the story. First, the grandmother listens to the Misfit; he has become emotional, and his voice is about to crack.

[Her] head cleared for an instant. She saw the man's face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" She reached out and touched him on the shoulder.

In this moment, she finally sees him as another human being—not a criminal or some godless miscreant or even just a stranger—rather, she recognizes his humanity and the fact that he is, and has been, in pain. The fact that her "head cleared" seems to indicate her sudden ability to see him, this other human being, outside of all the values and prejudices that would typically separate them in her mind.

The Misfit's epiphany comes as a result of the grandmother's own actions. He said before that there is "no pleasure but meanness" and that the only way to "enjoy the few minutes you got" is "by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him." However, after he shoots the grandmother so brutally, his "eyes [appear] red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking." Now he says that there is "no real pleasure in life." He has potentially just done the meanest thing he has ever done—he just killed a woman who just literally and figuratively reached out to him as a fellow human being, as one who recognizes his value and worth as a person—yet he seems to take no pleasure in it. He has realized, perhaps, that meanness does not give him pleasure—or potentially even that there is nothing in which he can take pleasure in.

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The story's main epiphany occurs when the Grandmother has her first unselfish thought in the story, causing her to make a real human connection. At this moment, she says to the Misfit:

"Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!"

This emotional reaction to the Misfit's story stands in stark contrast to her attitudes throughout the rest of the story. She has shown herself to be self centered, elitist, and racist. Her stubbornness and belligerence have actually landed her family in their current predicament. This moment of religious conversion, however, also leads to her immediate death, when she touches the Misfit and gets shot three times through the chest.

The story's second epiphany could be said to come from the Misfit himself. After shooting the Grandmother, he concludes that there is "no real pleasure in life." This stands in contrast to his earlier mentality, that the only pleasure to be had was "meanness."

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