A Good Man Is Hard to Find Analysis

  • Flannery O'Connor is a Southern Gothic writer and her stories often evoke a regional sensibility while also remaining more broadly relatable.
  • The title of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is incorporated into the discussion between the grandmother and Red Sammy. This phrase introduces the theme of good vs. evil and foreshadows of the eventual meeting between the Misfit and the grandmother.
  • As a devout Catholic, O'Connor often explores overtly religious themes. The violence that pervades her work is often catalytic for both characters and readers, prompting them to recognize the Christian grace that surrounds them.

Analysis

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Last Updated on November 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 770

The characterization in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” highlights an uneasy truth about human nature, presenting readers with two types of people: those who know they are flawed and those who are oblivious to their own shortcomings.

In the characterization of the Misfit, we are presented with a...

(The entire section contains 770 words.)

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The characterization in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” highlights an uneasy truth about human nature, presenting readers with two types of people: those who know they are flawed and those who are oblivious to their own shortcomings.

In the characterization of the Misfit, we are presented with a person who recognizes his faults. Though he cannot even recall his original crime, he is confident that he has inflicted some injustice upon society, citing as evidence the “papers” that were presented against him. When the grandmother attempts to persuade the Misfit of his inner goodness, he politely stands firm in his own self-assessment, telling her, “Nome, I ain’t a good man . . . but I ain’t the worst in the world neither.” The Misfit understands that his actions do not reflect Christian principles, and though he does believe that Jesus has the power to change his life, he rejects faith, comfortable in the evil he creates and exists in. This is a compelling characterization—a serial killer who is more honest in his self-assessments than the elderly woman who attempts to save herself by “saving” him.

The juxtaposition between the grandmother’s superficiality and the Misfit’s brutal honesty reflect the ultimate chasm between the woman she believes herself to be and the woman she really is. The grandmother has spent her entire life living by a certain social code that rewards outer appearances; as a result, she has failed to truly examine her own beliefs and actions, never applying the Christian principles she claims to believe in to her assessment of the world around her. The grandmother believes herself to be a “good” person, yet she does not do good things—not even toward her own family. The grandmother’s racist comments and general disdain for the poor do not align with the teachings of Christ, who commands believers to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). While the Misfit appears eager to look inward and honestly represent his moral shortcomings, the grandmother remains oblivious for most of the plot to the evil that resides within herself.

It is the grandmother who leads the family directly to their deaths through her deceit and lack of self-control. She is the one who proposes the idea that Bailey take them all to see an old plantation, telling stories to get the children on her side. She sits in the car with a cat whom she has concealed, knowing Bailey would have forbidden its presence. Her cat ultimately jumps onto Bailey while he’s driving, causing the accident that strands the family. The grandmother is the one who flags down the Misfit’s car, believing that anyone traveling along this path will be bound to help them. This belief is seemingly at odds with her own earlier assessment of the world, which she believes to be broken with few good people left. Finally, it is the grandmother’s own words which seal the fate of the family when she declares the identity of the Misfit. Ironically, in trying to exert total control over her family, the grandmother finds herself in a situation that is wholly outside her control, and in her encounter with the Misfit, she must learn to submit to a will other than her own.

The dark events of the story suggest that the grandmother’s belief in a broken world—as articulated to Red Sammy—is not inaccurate; her mistake, however, lies in believing that she is an exception to this brokenness. Ultimately, the grandmother is symbolic of the segment of American society that seeks to bolster their own sense of dignity and self-worth by dehumanizing others. The grandmother’s general obliviousness and indifference to the lives and perspectives of others represents serves as a critique of those whose words—and professed religious beliefs—fail to align with their actions.

Notably, it is the Misfit, a man who embraces his own evil nature, who forces the grandmother to recognize her sins. The Misfit rejects all of the salvation that the grandmother offers, yet ironically, it is not the example of a “good man” but this glimpse into a moral void that compels the grandmother to find true grace. The Misfit, unconcerned with spiritual growth, shoots the grandmother despite her epiphany because, in the end, he simply isn’t concerned with change. Unlike the grandmother, he is a character who remains true to his word and his beliefs, though his worldview is one most would consider evil. The Misfit, self-assured in his beliefs and concerned only with his own survival, is the one who ultimately emerges victorious.

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