In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," why does The Misfit kill the grandmother last?
It seems possible to me that the Misfit kills the grandmother last because she is actually giving him an opportunity to explain his life to someone. No one seems to have been interested in his professions of innocence up till now, and the interaction with her provides him with the chance to really give voice to the injustice done to him—injustice that, according to him, caused him to become the criminal he is now. He claims that no one could ever show him the proof of the crimes of which he was initially, wrongfully, accused. He says,
"That's why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you'll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you'll have something to prove you ain't been treated right. I call myself The Misfit . . . because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment."
Even though the grandmother's interest in the Misfit is self-serving—she's trying to save her own life—it seems to become more genuine as the conversation progresses, and she needs to have this conversation in order to come to an understanding of the errors in her own perspective, to develop her characterization. When she hears the Misfit start to become emotional, 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 seems to have experienced an epiphany. She realizes that there are more similarities between herself and this "criminal" than she ever imagined, that, had he experienced more love in his life from "good" people like her, he might not have turned out this way, and that the distinctions she seems to have drawn so clearly between good people and bad people are not so rigid as she thought. She has to remain alive long enough to come to this understanding.
I frequently get asked this question when I teach this short story. So far, my students and I have come up with two reasons:
1. The Misfit kills the grandmother last to make her death more painful (at least to the reader). The grandmother has to endure listening to the other five members of her family get shot in closer range (even though, in her selfish attitude, she doesn't seem to care much). O'Connor may have done that to evoke pity for the grandmother.
2. The other reason the Misfit may have killed the grandmother last is for suspense and plot purposes. The Misfit exchanges a lot of information with the grandmother. If the grandmother were killed first, this wouldn't have happened. The grandmother is also a more prominent figure in the story, so it wouldn't have made sense for the Misfit to have the conversation with, say, Bailey or one of the children. Also, leaving the grandmother alive until the very end gives the reader the hope that the Misfit may redeem himself--he can be "redeemed" if he just takes the grandmother up on her offer of being "a good man". It gets to the point where the reader may almost believe that the Mist fit won't kill her, but then he suddenly shoots her in her head. Most of my students come in the next day with strong reactions to that ending--probably what O'Connor was looking for.