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

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What is a good thesis statement for discussing "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

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When formulating any thesis statement, or literary argument, it is important to make sure that you create a statement that is debatable. Observations and facts are not debatable, so the first step is to look at possible arguments you can create around the ideas contained in Flannery O'Connor's short story. Here are two examples of statements that are not debatable (and therefore, not thesis statements):

  • The grandmother in O'Connor's short story might seem like a Christian, but she is actually a dishonest hypocrite.
  • The grandmother's selfishness shows that she does not possess Christian values.

O'Connor discusses a variety of complex topics through the vehicle of the family car journey. Some examples include what it means to be a Christian, inter-generational family dynamics, and morality and its impact on society. Your first step is to select one of these topics and create a debatable statement that will function in your essay as your argument, or thesis statement.

Let's start with the notions of being a Christian. That is the focus of your thesis statement; now, you need a subject, which is a literary idea that you will link to your focus. The characterization of the grandmother would be a great subject to explore in your essay. Now, to create a thesis statement, bring these two ideas, your subject and your focus, together with a strong verb. Here are two examples of argumentative thesis statements:

  • O'Connor's characterization of the grandmother reveals her own complex attitude toward what it means to be a Christian.
  • The characterization of the grandmother as a judgmental hypocrite contains a broader message about the hypocrisy of the Christian faith in general.

Good luck!

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I would suggest, rather than looking for a particular thesis statement, that it would be more useful to think about "A Good Man is Hard to Find" thematically. A thesis statement is ultimately a statement of an argument, so you cannot really write one unless you already have a larger argument or perspective that you are trying to advance. Analysis comes first, and the thesis emerges afterwards.

There are several perspectives which I can think of as far as it relates to "A Good Man is Hard to Find." For one thing, there's very much, both from the grandmother's perspective as well as from the larger society that we see, a focus on appearances, as far as what "a good man" actually entails. There's a tendency within this story to define these "good men" largely in terms of possessing respectability and social class.

The other, and probably the most important (given O'Connor's own devout Catholic background), is to look at the story through a Christian lens, both as far as it applies to the aforementioned appearances-focused culture and also with the appearance of the Misfit at the end. Ultimately, I'd suggest that the appearance of the Misfit and his scene with the grandmother represents the crux around which the story revolves. I'd suggest reading this scene very carefully. What is O'Connor trying to say in...

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these pages, and how does it relate to the rest of the story as it was written?

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You might go with the following:

In Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," the grandmother's conception of morality has a great deal more to do with whether or not one agrees with her than it does with actual goodness.

In order to prove this, you could discuss her interactions with Red Sammy. When the grandmother's family stops to eat, she and Red Sammy bond over their shared laments that "'These days you don't know who to trust'" and that "'People are certainly not nice like they used to be.'" Although Red Sammy is dirty, keeps a monkey chained to a tree, and treats his wife poorly, the grandmother feels a connection with him. He is not a good man, even though the grandmother says he is; it's simply that his values and hers are the same.

The grandmother herself discusses "better times" when "'People did right [...],'" though she lies freely to her son and his family in order to get what she wants. She is embarrassed by the sassy behavior of her grandchildren, but she uses the n-word and talks about the Old South and plantation life as though it were a better time. She is not a good woman; her values are old-fashioned at best, racist and elitist at worst. She is precisely the kind of person responsible for the Misfit's terrible fate.

Therefore, when the family has an accident and the Misfit and his friends stop, the grandmother's behavior toward him actually has the opposite effect than the one she hopes it will because his values do not match hers. She tries to assure him, saying, "'I just know you're a good man [...]. You're not a bit common.'" However, he tells her that he isn't a good man, that he went to prison for killing his father, a crime he didn't actually commit. He eventually realized that it doesn't matter what crime one commits; "'sooner or later you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it.'" As a result, he thinks that one might as well do bad, if one is going to be punished whether one does bad or not: "'No pleasure but meanness,'" he says. The Misfit sees the disconnect between the grandmother's values and his own. He's been mistreated and condemned, his life ruined, probably by elitist individuals like herself, and now she's trying to manipulate him by making it seem as though they have some values in common.

In the end, he recognizes what she never could, that she was not a good woman, at least, not until the very end of her life when she tried to reach out to him in a legitimate and loving way. He says, "'She would of been a good woman [...] if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.'" In other words, it was only the threat of death that compelled her to see the real connection between the Misfit and herself, the connection between two human beings—not a connection between social equals because, ultimately, one's social status isn't a factor in calculating one's goodness.

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Suggest a possible thesis and outline for a literary element used in the story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor.

"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor has become a classic American Horror story.  It is surprising since O'Connor came from a southern home and was reported to be a rather genteel lady.  It is only a reminder that '"still waters run deep."

If a thesis is needed concerning a literary element of the story, the  element of foreshadowing would be the choice of this educator. 

Everything about the story leads to the terrifying incident of the encounter with The Misfit.  

A possible thesis might say: The literary element of foreshadowing  deceptively leads to the reader's meeting with "The Misfit."

The foreshadowing might be indicated by characters; however, it is the grandmother who offers the  most clues in the story.  

Foreshadowing elements:

  • The newspaper article that describes The Misfit and his escape from the prison.  He like the family are going to Florida.
  • The hiding of the cat which causes the wreck which leads to the "encounter."
  • The grandmother dressed up in case anyone saw her dead in the streets.
  • The grandmother points out a graveyard which was once a family burying site. 
  • Red Sammy Butts tells the family that you do not know who you can trust.
  • The pass a town named Toombsboro...a pun for  the word Tomb...
  • It is the grandmother's idea to go off the highway to find the planation that she had once visited. 
  • The grandmother stops the car containing the criminals.
  • The grandmother recognizes The Misfit.

All of these incidences led to the death of the entire family. 

I. Introduction

    A. Attention Getter--Some interesting quotation that indicates the importance of the foreshadowing to the story.

    B. Define foreshadowing

    C. Give the thesis--Throughout the story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," foreshadowing provides clues which predict the demise of the grandmother and her family.

II. First supporting point

The newspaper article which leads to the grandmother's recognition of The Misfit....




III. Second supporting

There are several references to death throughout the story.




IV. Third supporting point




V. Conclusion

Refer back to the importance of foreshadowing in the story.  Be sure to use different words.  Then, find a critique or a great quotation from the story that leaves the reader with something to think about after reading the essay. 

Here is a possible example:

The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she knew.  His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was.  He moved away from the car and began to come down the embankment...

The grandmother shrieked.  She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. "You're The Misfit!"

Without her recognizing The Misfit, the family might have had a chance to survive.  This is one time the old lady should have kept her mouth shut.

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