What would be a good one sentence summary of O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A sentence that best summarizes Flannery O'Connor's short story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," would depend upon the part of the story that most resonates with you, the reader.

Certainly we could address the unusual family situation that exists between Bailey, his family and his mother. Something could be said with regard to the grandmother who is extremely irritating and able to create havoc. (It is a wonder she is not thrown out of the car and left behind.) She is relentless in her comments, opinions, etc. The darkest part of the story surrounds the family's fateful encounter with the Misfit. And once again, had the grandmother not mentioned that she knew he was an escaped convict, perhaps the family might have walked away from what becomes certain death.

For me, I believe that the story's end is the result of everything the grandmother has done that can be construed as presumptuous, bigoted, and snobbish. It is noted that the grandmother has an epiphany (an awakening) at the story's close when she understands...

...that discriminatory views such as hers are related to monstrous behavior like the Misfit's.

It is under these circumstances, having told the Misfit to pray and be changed, that the grandmother ultimately knows that nothing can save her. She sees that the two of them are connected in the way they see the world—but not through any sense of goodness. She says to the Misfit...

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

The grandmother reaches out to touch him, as if to comfort him, and recoiling violently, he shoots her three times, killing her.

The author is known for stories that often include God and/or religion. It is noted in one source that O'Connor wrote about characters who live in worlds of their own making—of pettiness and self-centeredness, and...

...often overlook opportunities for understanding and connection...

With all of this said, I might be able to summarize the story in several ways, depending upon the part of the story that grabs me more strongly than all the others. The story impacts me most in the brutality that befalls the family primarily because of the grandmother's actions—at the hands of the sociopath, the Misfit.

In O'Connor's short story, a dysfunctional family is destroyed not just because of mishaps that the grandmother is responsible for, but also because the old woman is thoughtless and self-centered; all of them are killed because they meet a murderer who also is unable to see beyond his own perceptions and choices.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like most of O'Connor's stories, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" has at its center the theme of grace. And, while the grandmother and Red Sammy commiserate on how "a good man is hard to find," the irony of the story is that the grandmother is unable to receive grace without having met the evil Misfit. For, her redemption is effected only through an encounter with violence and evil that makes her aware of her own sinfulness:

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

The grandmother's epiphany that arises from her encounter with the Misfit recalls a line from Edward Albee's play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in which George says to Nick, "My God! It takes a lout like me to show you what you really are!"  Perhaps, this is the sentence to summarize Flannery O'Connor's story. 

At any rate, grace and redemption come to a selfish grandmother at the expense of her family and from a dialogue with Malevolence personified.


dsawyer6929 | Student

I believe the title of the story is the author's encoded one sentence summary.

Here's my reasoning:

There is one mention of the phrase 'a good man' in the story. 
The old woman uses it to describe Red Sam but that was just misdirection.

Going thru character by character, I ruled out the Grandmother, June Star and Red Sammy Butts wife because they are not men. The 3 criminals; The Misfit, Bobby Lee or Hiram, no, they're men but not good

The Misfit's father is a man and the Misfit says he was good but we know he is buried in the Mount Hopewell Baptist churchyard, so he is not hard to find.

The remaining male characters are Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden, Bailey, John Wesley and Red Sammy Butts.  I do not see any of these fitting the bill, they may be males, even good, but they do not fit the bill of being 'hard to find'.

That seems to be all of the characters mentioned in the story, except one.

One who is good and a man and does fit the bill of being hard to find; specifically, hard to find in the story.  Whatever faith the Misfit had was shattered, long ago, but he still struggles with it.

The old woman's faith is steadfast, until she is faced with her and her and family's murder, then her faith is shattered too. 

When people become religious, they will say that person 'found Jesus'. I think, that is what the story's title is referring to, substitute the word Jesus, for the phrase 'A Good Man' and you'll get the title, 'Jesus is hard to Find', which seems to fit the story quite well.

On a warm sunny day, when all is right with the world, faith is easy.
When a cell door locks behind you and the walls and ceiling close in; when a cold blooded killer murders your family and prepares to kill you, faith is hard; Jesus is hard to find.


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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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