What are the two different definitions of "good" in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, the narrative of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" brings into question the notion of goodness. On the one hand, there is the "goodness" that the grandmother feels she and Red Sammy possess and the superficial goodness of the Misfit; then there is the veritable goodness of Jesus and the grandmother as she finds redemption.

  • Superficial goodness

The grandmother has notions of goodness based upon social superiority and race.  On the day that the family leaves for Florida, grandmother wears a dotted swiss navy dress complete with hat and sachet.

In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.

As she and her family travel, the grandmother points out the plantation graveyard shortly after pointing out "a cute little pickanniny" suggesting her social superiority, a state of "goodness" above others.  Then, at Sammy's Famous Barbecue, the grandmother discusses with Sammy how people are not "nice like they used to be."  Sammy, who has let some "fellers charge the gas" concurs, adding that people used to be able to leave doors unlocked at night. In addition, when the Misfit is polite, addressing the grandmother as "ma'am" and reddening when Bailey is abrupt with his mother, she mistakes him for "a good man," again judging by superficial standards:

"I know you're a good man.  You don't look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!"

The grandmother's suggestion that Red Sammy and the Misfit is a good man indicates the insufficiency of the superficial goodness that she mistakes for the true quality.

  • Veritable goodness

Part of the Misfit's personality disorder stems from his perception that "Jesus thrown everything off balance" by his gratuitous self-sacrifice for others that affords even the Misfit the potential for redemption. And, yet, there is a subtle suggestion at the end of the story that the Misfit may have the possibility of true goodness when he tells Bobby Lee "It's no real pleasure in life."

More true goodness emerges from the grandmother's epiphany that the Misfit and she are both sinners,

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

It is at this moment of epiphany that the grandmother exhibits true charity, true goodness and she receives grace as she looks with honesty at the face of death.






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

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question