"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" Characters
The main characters in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" are the grandmother, the Misfit, Bailey, and Red Sammy Butts.
- The grandmother is a selfish and superficial woman who convinces her family to take a detour that ultimately leads to their deaths. Prior to dying, she seems to experience a religious epiphany.
- The Misfit is an escaped convict. Despite his murderous deeds, he displays a strong philosophical sensibility during his conversation with the grandmother.
- Bailey is the grandmother's son and the father of the family.
- Red Sammy Butts is the owner of the barbecue restaurant. He and the grandmother lament society's changing values.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1392
An unlikely protagonist, the grandmother is an unlikable old woman who romanticizes a social order that no longer exists. When she encounters the Misfit, she is finally forced to confront her unrealistic illusions about the ways in which the world should work and come to terms with her personal shortcomings. Defying the stereotype of a grandmother as one who is loving, caring, and wise, the grandmother in the story is narrow-minded, judgmental, and selfish. Her sense of self-importance is greatly inflated, and she is not above using fear and deception to manipulate her own family into acquiescing to her wishes. The family seems to be accustomed to the grandmother’s selfish and underhanded behavior, and June Star remarks that although her grandmother doesn’t want to go to Florida, she wouldn’t miss the trip “for a million bucks” because she’s “afraid she’d miss something.”
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The grandmother places great value on appearances. This is demonstrated through her own painstaking efforts to dress the part of a proper lady and through her insistence that she “can just look at [the Misfit] and tell” that he has “good blood.” Though she sees herself as a godly woman, she finds that she cannot utter a meaningful prayer when faced with the inherent evil of the Misfit’s conduct. This suggests that her religious conviction—like her care for her outward appearance—is superficial and performative. Despite the Misfit’s obvious immorality and criminality, the grandmother is initially unable to comprehend the fact that he does not share her values, and her unsuccessful attempts to appeal to the Misfit’s belief in Christianity or the importance of social class ultimately shatters her rigid worldview. In her final moments, she experiences a flash of clarity and true compassion; finally turning her critical eye inward, she recognizes the Misfit’s flaws as deeply connected to her own. Ironically, this dramatic and positive shift in her character results in her death, yet she dies with a smile, finally achieving the grace that has eluded her for her entire life.
A coarse and cold-blooded murderer, the Misfit serves as a character foil for the grandmother. While the grandmother places great importance on how others perceive her, the Misfit rejects social norms and common decency altogether. Claiming that he has been punished severely for his crimes while others haven’t been punished at all, the Misfit boldly declares that he doesn’t agree with the warped view of justice he sees in their society. This perceived injustice has shaped his philosophy regarding life and his own actions, and it is because of these apparent inequalities that the Misfit has become comfortable with his life of crime, taking pleasure in the cruelty he instigates.
The grandmother incorrectly assumes that he Misfit doesn’t know about God and Jesus, but he surprises her by not only recalling his time spent as a gospel singer but also engaging in a rather deep conversation about Christ’s miracles. Unlike the grandmother, who seems to have only a superficial understanding of Christianity, the Misfit appears to have contemplated it deeply, though he’s arrived at the conclusion that he doesn’t need faith in his life. Indeed, his own convictions, chaotic and confusing as they may seem, appear to be more deeply rooted than the grandmother’s, as she is quick to renounce her beliefs—admitting that perhaps Jesus didn’t raise the dead—when she thinks it might save her life. Though he eventually kills the grandmother, seemingly disturbed by her transformative revelation, the Misfit’s own outlook on life appears to have changed as well. In the final lines of the story, his earlier philosophy that there is “no pleasure but meanness” is replaced with a new claim: there is “no real pleasure in life” at all. This shift indicates that his interaction with the grandmother has changed his views, leaving open the possibility that he, too, might be capable of achieving grace.
Bailey is the son of the grandmother and the father of John Wesley, June Star, and the baby. His existence seems to be plagued with conflict; he is positioned between his mother, who seeks to control his family, and the rest of his family, who ridicule the disagreeable old woman. Often appearing resentful and frustrated, Bailey seems to try and disengage from his obnoxious family members as much as possible, reading the paper early in the story as a means of escape and later trying to ignore the pleas of his children to take the detour their grandmother has suggested. Bailey seems incapable of being an effective leader to his family; when his children begin screaming and kicking the back of his driver’s seat, Bailey caves to their whims despite his own better judgement. His immaturity is highlighted when he is being led off to certain death; notably, it is his mother whom Bailey calls out to—not his wife or children.
The fact that Bailey’s wife is never directly named is an indication of her insignificance in this family. She is a wife and a mother and appears fairly consumed with taking care of the baby, who is also never named. Without a real voice or name in this story, she is a flat character, and when the Misfit asks her to take her daughter and baby to join her husband and son in the woods, she passively agrees, even though she has heard two distinct pistol shots and surely knows what’s coming. Bailey’s wife seems to have no real sense of self-identity or self-direction, and her fate is ultimately decided for her.
Bailey’s eight-year-old son John Wesley is a rather precocious child with loud opinions. He scoffs at his grandmother’s mannerisms and beliefs and boldly says that he would slap the Misfit if he ever ran into him. Like his grandmother, he appears to be extremely judgmental, remarking that his home state of Georgia isn’t worth looking at and that Tennessee is just a dumping ground for hillbillies. In his final moments, John Wesley is seen taking his father’s hand as he is led to his death, demonstrating that despite his outward bravado, he still has a childish faith in his father’s ability to protect him.
Bailey’s daughter June Star has a general lack of respect for adults and feels free to vocalize her frequent criticisms. Not everyone finds her as adorable as she believes herself to be. When Red Sammy’s wife reaches out to her affectionately at the restaurant, June Star tells the woman rudely and matter-of-factly that she would never live in such a “broken-down” place. The woman has to stretch her mouth into a forced polite smile in response. June Star is selfish and uncaring; she whines when she doesn’t get her way and, like her brother, is disappointed that nobody is killed in the car accident. This young girl has a highly inflated sense of importance that, in some ways, reflects the values and behavior of her grandmother, who is equally judgmental and selfish—though perhaps better at concealing it.
Red Sammy Butts
Red Sammy owns the establishment where the family stops to dine. When talking with the grandmother, he agrees with her assessment of the world (that it is going downhill), and she therefore determines that he is a good man. Red Sammy reflects that “a good man is hard to find” due to the moral decay of society. No one can know who to trust anymore, he muses. Although he seems to identify with the grandmother’s nostalgia, it is also important to remember that Red Sammy is running a business and ultimately wants to make customers happy. The reader must therefore consider the possibility that Red Sam simply plays into the grandmother’s obvious sense of self-importance in order to profit from their interaction.
Bobby Lee and Hiram
These are the Misfit’s henchmen, and they carry out his bidding as directed. Bobby Lee and Hiram are tasked with executing the entire family, even the baby, with the exception of the grandmother, whom the Misfit personally kills. They are flat characters with no real character arc and exist simply to support the plans of the Misfit.