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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

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What is the irony in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"?

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There are many examples of situational and dramatic irony in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." Perhaps the most significant irony comes at the end of the story, when the grandmother actually becomes more compassionate and empathetic, nearer to being a "good woman" than she has been all along. When her life is threatened by the Misfit, it actually prompts her to become the "good woman" she has long thought she is.

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A chief irony in the story is summed up in the words of the Misfit about the grandmother:

She would of been a good woman … if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.

The Misfit speaks to the fact that the grandmother only becomes an kind person at the moment of her death, when she is desperate to try to save her life. Up until that point, she had placed her faith in false forms of security, chiefly her social status as a lady and her money.

Throughout the story, the grandmother has taken her position as a Southern lady very seriously. She dressed carefully for the family road trip, wearing a lace trimmed frock and a hat that signaled her status. She considered herself superior to those she deemed lower class, such as a young Black child they passed on the road.

At the end, when the grandmother realizes the Misfit and his gang are taking her family into the woods to kill them, and that her own life is in danger, she appeals to the Misfit, calling him a "good man" and saying he wouldn't shoot her because she is a lady. She also tries to bargain with him by offering him money. The Misfit doesn't care about her social status and reminds her he can take her money once she is dead.

Ironically, it is only when the status symbols are stripped away that the grandmother becomes authentic and reaches out to the Misfit in a genuine, loving way, suddenly seeing him as like her own son. Ironically, too, it is as this moment of grace that she is killed.

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One of the biggest ironies in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” comes near the end of the story, when the grandmother reaches out to the Misfit only to be shot and killed by him.

Here, we have a cantankerous old woman, someone who never has a good word to say about anyone, suddenly attempting to make a connection with another human being. And yet the old lady is rebuffed in the most brutal way imaginable as the Misfit shoots her dead.

This is ironic indeed as it's not what we would expect to happen. Like the grandmother herself, most of us would perhaps like to think that the Misfit is capable of changing his ways, of putting behind him his life of violent crime and walking along a different path.

But in actual fact, some people are incapable of doing this; they are just plain evil, and that's all there is to it. Unfortunately for the grandmother, the Misfit happens to be one such person.

Although much is made of the grandmother's apparent lack of sincerity in her telling the Misfit that he's one of her own children, the likelihood is that this psychotic criminal would've killed her anyway, even if she'd been a modern-day saint.

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Irony is created when there's a discrepancy between what we expect and what is actually true. There are many examples of irony in the story. For example, it is ironic that the family would run into the Misfit given how large the state of Georgia is. We would not actually expect them to cross paths with this dangerous man, and so this is an example of situational irony. It is also ironic that readers would develop feelings of sympathy for the grandmother, a woman who is fairly self-righteous despite her own rampant racism and sexism. Likewise, it is ironic that the reader would develop empathy for the Misfit, a man who is an escaped convict and murderer. These are also examples of situational irony.

Dramatic irony, when the reader knows more than a character does, is created by our developing understanding that the grandmother is not actually a good person, despite her claims about "good men" and her idealization of the past. Dramatic irony is perhaps the most significant irony in the story, due in part to readers' understanding of the grandmother's real condition. She believes that she is a good woman, but the irony is that she didn't really act like a "good woman" until the final moments of her life. The Misfit says, "She would of been a good woman … if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." The grandmother only seemed to develop a more empathetic and compassionate view of people when her own life was in danger. She is not who she has long thought herself to be, and our—as well as the Misfit's—realization of this constitutes dramatic irony. It is also ironic that having her life threatened would actually make her more compassionate and loving rather than embittered and resentful.

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Flannery O’Connor utilizes irony throughout her classic short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” in various ways.

Situational irony occurs when the grandmother tries to persuade Bailey against traveling to Florida in an attempt to avoid the Misfit—but she ends up directing her family into the murderer's path by convincing Bailey to take a back road to see an old house she remembers.

The grandmother's perception of others and judgmental nature are also ironic. The grandmother inaccurately judges individuals based on their appearances and superficial behaviors while lacking true insight into morality and ethics. She calls Red Sammy a "good man" simply because he gave two strangers free gas, which does not necessarily make him a good man. Ironically, she also refers to Misfit as a good man because of his calm demeanor and favorable appearance. Despite her assurance that she can judge a good man from a bad person, the grandmother fails to recognize that the Misfit is a sociopath and ruthless killer.

It is also ironic that the grandmother feels empowered to judge others by her narrow definition without exercising or examining her own morals. For example, the grandmother uses racial slurs, hides her cat from Bailey (who would not approve of its presence), and also conceals the fact that she misremembered the location of the estate where Bailey was driving. It is also ironic that the second the grandmother experiences an epiphany and attempts to show compassion for the Misfit, she is rewarded with a bullet in the chest.

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What is the ironic significance of the title of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

When the family stops at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches, Red Sammy and the grandmother have a conversation about how difficult times have gotten. Red Sammy tells her, "A good man is hard to find," and he and the grandmother discuss "better times," which were, of course, only better for some. Both Red Sammy and the grandmother place themselves solidly in the "good" category and look with scorn upon a world where everything (and everyone else) is "getting terrible."

The grandmother bases her own sense of "goodness" on her race, her outer appearance, and her sense of religion. She is careful to wear her "white cotton gloves" on this little excursion so that people will know that she is a lady, yet she also makes derogatory comments about a black child she spies from her car window. The grandmother believes she is a good person, yet all of her actions indicate otherwise.

In her moment of crisis, the grandmother suddenly is confronted with the Misfit, who makes no pretense about the fact that he is innately bad. In fact, he rationalizes that there is "no pleasure but meanness."

The grandmother begs for the Misfit to pray. She begs for her life. She tries to convince the Misfit that he's got "good blood" and is capable of turning his life around.

Ironically, in the grandmother's moment of dire need, she realizes that "a good man [really] is hard to find" when the Misfit rejects her and murders her.

Perhaps a good woman is hard to find, too.

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What is the ironic significance of the title of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

The title, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," is truer than ever as the family meets up with anything but good men. What are the chances that the Grandmother's family would meet up with the Misfit that she read about in the newspaper at the onset of the story in trying to persuade the family not to travel to Florida but to Tennessee? Even more ironic is that the family meets the criminals by taking a road to a plantation that the Grandmother steers them towards. However, Grandmother recalls, too late, that the house is not in Georgia. Thus, they have no business driving on the road where the accident occurs and, ultimately, the entire family's demise.

Even more surreal is that the Grandmother finds herself in woods where neither clouds nor sun exist. It is as if the family is surrounded by evil, much like on a stage set. Ironically, the evil does surround them as the family members are shot one-by-one.

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What is the ironic significance of the title of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

There is some ironic humor--or, perhaps, black humor--in the fact that a good man is, indeed, hard to find; but, a bad man is very easily encountered. With her purse-full of platitudes the grandmother has a rather patent faith that does not clarify itself spiritually until she encounters the bad man who acts as an agent of grace for her.

The fact is, then, that the grandmother has an epiphany when she meets the Misfit and recognizes her kinship to him as a sinner and is, thus, saved. So, until she encounters the Misfit, all the good men who are difficult to find serve her not for her salvation. Indeed, after she dies, the Misfit notes,

"She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody to shoot her every minute."

He, then, is the agent of grace for the grandmother, not any "good man." 

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What is the ironic significance of the title of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

The irony of the title is shown in the way that the grandmother uses the phrase "a good man" in the story. She uses it twice: firstly in her description of Red Sam and secondly when she meets the Misfit. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the grandmother defines a "good man" rather curiously. For example, with Red Sam, she calls him a "good man" after he explains how he let himself be cheated out of gasoline by two men. Being "good" in this context seems to indicate being gullible and also nostalgic for the past, both of which are two aspects that the grandmother herself can strongly relate to.

Secondly, she calls the Misfit a "good man" because she desperately tries to appeal to the fact that because he does not have bad blood he would not shoot a lady like herself, no matter what else is happening that might suggest otherwise:

"I just know you're a good man," she said desperately. "You're not a bit common!"

This is erroneous for at least two reasons: firstly, she bases this claim on her mistaken belief that the Misfit comes from a good background, and secondly, she is judging the Misfit by her own moral code. Both of these assumptions prove to be mistaken. What is ironic therefore about the title is that "good" is shown to not relate to "moral" or "kind," as the reader would normally define the word. Instead, "good," as the grandmother uses it, is a word that relates to her own moral code, which is of course very different from the moral code of those around her. It is the way that she judges others by her moral code that results in the tragic denouement of this short story.

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What is the irony in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

In O'Conner's celebrated short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," situational irony occurs when the grandmother tries to avoid traveling to Florida because she fears the Misfit but ends up directing her family right into his path. Situational irony also occurs when the Grandmother attempts to escape the threatening situation but dooms her entire family when she identifies the Misfit to his face. The Misfit proceeds to have the members of her family murdered in the nearby forest by his cronies while she pleads for her life.

Dramatic irony occurs when the grandmother perceives herself a certain way but the reader recognizes her true nature. The grandmother views herself as a morally superior Christian woman who is religious, compassionate, and selfless. Ironically, the audience recognizes that the grandmother is a self-righteous, prejudiced individual, who is selfish and deceitful. The Grandmother demonstrates her prejudice and self-righteousness by judging others based on their appearances, background, and circumstances.

Situational irony occurs when the Misfit influences the Grandmother's remarkable transformation and revelation moments before killing her. Before the grandmother is shot, she comments, "Why you're one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!" The Misfit's presence influences the grandmother to see herself as a sinner and experience a brief moment of maternal compassion and concern for him. It is ironic that a serial killer enlightens the grandmother, enabling her to find redemption.

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What are some examples of irony that relates to the theme in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

One of the themes of this excellent short story is the way that the grandmother is presented at the beginning of the tale as being profoundly disconnected with everybody else around her through her selfishness and prejudice. However, through the tragic course of events that occur during the novel, she ends up experiencing an epiphany that challenges those views where she is able to see herself for who she really is. Note how she expresses this epiphany through a feeling of connection with the Misfit at the end of the story:

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.

It is ironic that the grandmother only received this understanding of grace at the end of the story, and that it takes the murder of her son's family for her to experience it. It seems that the violence she encounters in the Misfit and his crew was necessary to make her experience the grace of God, which is such an important theme in this story. As the Misfit says, she could have been a good woman if she'd have had "somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." Irony then occurs in the story through the precise nature of the Grandmother's epiphany and what it takes for that epiphany to occur.

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