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 the ironic significance of the title of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

The ironic significance of the title of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is found in the fact that early in the story, the grandmother laments that "a good man is hard to find." Later, in her greatest moment of need, she needs a "good man" to spare her life, and she finds out that good men are indeed tough to find.

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When the family stops at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches, Red Sammy and the grandmother have a conversation about how difficult times have gotten. Red Sammy tells her, "A good man is hard to find," and he and the grandmother discuss "better times," which were, of course, only better for some. Both Red Sammy and the grandmother place themselves solidly in the "good" category and look with scorn upon a world where everything (and everyone else) is "getting terrible."

The grandmother bases her own sense of "goodness" on her race, her outer appearance, and her sense of religion. She is careful to wear her "white cotton gloves" on this little excursion so that people will know that she is a lady, yet she also makes derogatory comments about a black child she spies from her car window. The grandmother believes she is a good person, yet all of her actions indicate otherwise.

In her moment of crisis, the grandmother suddenly is confronted with the Misfit, who makes no pretense about the fact that he is innately bad. In fact, he rationalizes that there is "no pleasure but meanness."

The grandmother begs for the Misfit to pray. She begs for her life. She tries to convince the Misfit that he's got "good blood" and is capable of turning his life around.

Ironically, in the grandmother's moment of dire need, she realizes that "a good man [really] is hard to find" when the Misfit rejects her and murders her.

Perhaps a good woman is hard to find, too.

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The title, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," is truer than ever as the family meets up with anything but good men. What are the chances that the Grandmother's family would meet up with the Misfit that she read about in the newspaper at the onset of the story in trying to persuade the family not to travel to Florida but to Tennessee? Even more ironic is that the family meets the criminals by taking a road to a plantation that the Grandmother steers them towards. However, Grandmother recalls, too late, that the house is not in Georgia. Thus, they have no business driving on the road where the accident occurs and, ultimately, the entire family's demise.

Even more surreal is that the Grandmother finds herself in woods where neither clouds nor sun exist. It is as if the family is surrounded by evil, much like on a stage set. Ironically, the evil does surround them as the family members are shot one-by-one.

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There is some ironic humor--or, perhaps, black humor--in the fact that a good man is, indeed, hard to find; but, a bad man is very easily encountered. With her purse-full of platitudes the grandmother has a rather patent faith that does not clarify itself spiritually until she encounters the bad man who acts as an agent of grace for her.

The fact is, then, that the grandmother has an epiphany when she meets the Misfit and recognizes her kinship to him as a sinner and is, thus, saved. So, until she encounters the Misfit, all the good men who are difficult to find serve her not for her salvation. Indeed, after she dies, the Misfit notes,

"She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody to shoot her every minute."

He, then, is the agent of grace for the grandmother, not any "good man." 

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The irony of the title is shown in the way that the grandmother uses the phrase "a good man" in the story. She uses it twice: firstly in her description of Red Sam and secondly when she meets the Misfit. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the grandmother defines a "good man" rather curiously. For example, with Red Sam, she calls him a "good man" after he explains how he let himself be cheated out of gasoline by two men. Being "good" in this context seems to indicate being gullible and also nostalgic for the past, both of which are two aspects that the grandmother herself can strongly relate to.

Secondly, she calls the Misfit a "good man" because she desperately tries to appeal to the fact that because he does not have bad blood he would not shoot a lady like herself, no matter what else is happening that might suggest otherwise:

"I just know you're a good man," she said desperately. "You're not a bit common!"

This is erroneous for at least two reasons: firstly, she bases this claim on her mistaken belief that the Misfit comes from a good background, and secondly, she is judging the Misfit by her own moral code. Both of these assumptions prove to be mistaken. What is ironic therefore about the title is that "good" is shown to not relate to "moral" or "kind," as the reader would normally define the word. Instead, "good," as the grandmother uses it, is a word that relates to her own moral code, which is of course very different from the moral code of those around her. It is the way that she judges others by her moral code that results in the tragic denouement of this short story.

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