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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

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What is the conflict and tension in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

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The conflict in “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” is between the grandmother’s convenient perception of Christian grace and the demanding way in which grace actually operates. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Flannery O'Connor's fiction, grace never comes sweetly or easily; neither can it be brought about only by rituals, such as singing Gospel songs and attending Sunday mass regularly. Grace is often terrifying and tests you beyond your imagination.

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The main conflict in this story is of the character vs. society variety. The grandmother, who is obviously an older woman, seems to clash with pretty much everyone younger than she is. The grandmother's values and beliefs are outdated, passé, and old-fashioned, and so she experiences tension with her son—Bailey—and his (frankly, horrible) children, as well as with the Misfit. She looks back at the past, and she doesn't see an era rife with prejudice; rather, she sees it as a time when people respected their elders and their so-called betters—when things were just simpler. (Of course, she does not recognize that they were simpler for her—as a white, affluent person—but not necessarily for people who weren't white or as well-off.) She makes a number of racist comments out of ignorance, which are racist and hurtful nonetheless. She also seems to respect people of a certain class, and people who share her idea of behavior that is "ladylike" and "gentlemanly." When she first meets the Misfit, she cannot see that people like him have been harmed by her values and prejudices, and so she conflicts with him as well.

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In Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find," there are several conflicts that occur. There is a conflict between the grandmother and her son, Bailey. Tension between the two results from the grandmother moving back in with him because she is aging. Whenever she makes a suggestion, he ignores it or is against it. The rest of the family also seems to be against the grandmother.

Another conflict that occurs in the story is between the grandmother and the Misfit. Once he is talking to the family and his men are taking them off into the woods to kill them, the grandmother tries to convince him that he is a "good man." This conflict (man vs. man) of the grandmother trying to convince the Misfit that he is good and not to kill them causes the tension in the story. In the end, the Misfit kills the grandmother, which shows that he is not a good man as she tried to suggest. 

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What is one of the conflicts in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," and how is this conflict resolved?

One of the central conflicts in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find (1953)” is between the grandmother’s convenient perception of Christian grace and the demanding way in which grace actually operates. In Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, grace never comes sweetly or easily; neither can it be brought about only by rituals, such as singing Gospel songs and attending Sunday mass regularly. Grace is often terrifying and tests you beyond your imagination. “I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace,” O’Connor said of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” She was also of the opinion that “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

O’Connor’s worldview of suffering as a trigger for grace was no doubt influenced by her own devout Catholic faith and her physical difficulties. Confined to her home since the age of 27 by degenerative Lupus, forced to take heavy steroids, and suffering excruciating joint pain, she must have known something about pain as an agent for transformation. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” derives its narrative power from the juxtaposition of O’Connor’s version of grace against the sentimental, convenient piety of the grandmother.

Nowhere is this clearer than in this eerie exchange between the grandmother and the psychopath known as “The Misfit:”

"Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead," The Misfit continued, "and He shouldn't have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can—by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness," he said and his voice had become almost a snarl. "Maybe He didn't raise the dead," the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her.”

When the grandmother tells the Misfit that maybe Jesus didn’t raise the dead, she is abandoning her faith to argue the misfit out of killing her. Thus, her faith does not hold under duress or pressure. At this point, half of her family is dead, and the rest have been taken to the woods to be brutally shot. Yet, the grandmother's focus is on saving herself by trying to convince the misfit that he is a "good man" and not of "common blood."

The grandmother's use of these phrases is important because it underlines the irony of her predicament. She has always believed herself to be a good Christian lady and thought of the world as divided between good folks and bad folks. Yet her goodness is of a superfluous kind, which has little room in the story's moral universe. Although she chants “Jesus, Jesus,” and exhorts the Misfit to “Pray, pray,” her words ring spiritually hollow. Earlier, it is she who has led her family to their peril by her selfishness and lack of discretion. For instance, when she recognizes the Misfit, she reveals this to him instantly, sealing her family’s fate.

The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. "You're The Misfit!" she said. "I recognized you at once!" "Yes'm," the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in spite of himself to be known, "but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn't of reckernized me."

In the story’s moral framework, the grandmother’s thoughtlessness and lack of concern for others are flaws as fatal as any. If this seems harsh by present-day standards, we are missing the point of much of Christian iconography. In this iconography, Jesus himself suffered terribly for humanity, making faith a heavy cross to carry.

It’s not easy to be good or open to grace, as the Misfit himself says. If you follow Jesus, you shouldn’t be deterred by suffering, since there is salvation at the end of it. And if you don’t and this life is all there is, why play by morals at all? “Nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can—by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he says. Walking the path of goodness and grace is never a breezy choice, the Misfit implies, something the grandmother doesn’t realize till the very end when the conflict between the two versions of grace finally ends.

The resolution occurs in the form of the grandmother's wake-up call, which arrives seconds before the Misfit shoots her. With her entire family killed and death breathing close, the grandmother finally loses her self-centered worldview, her ego, and begins to see the Misfit as her own child. Despite this transforming grace, the grandmother still meets a violent end, but then, the point of grace is not that it saves you from physical violence or suffering—the point of grace is that it changes you.

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What is one of the conflicts in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," and how is this conflict resolved?

1. The main conflict in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" exists within the hypocritical grandmother, who fancies herself a Christian woman. It is only when she comes into contact with the Misfit that she realizes her own sinfulness.

2. The conflict is resolved near the end of the story. The author writers that the grandmother's "head cleared for an instant." At that moment, the grandmother recognizes that she, too, is with sin, uttering her truest words to the Misfit, "Why, you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" 

Author Flannery O'Connor writes that her narratives are about "The action of grace in territory held largely by the devil." Certainly, then, in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," the grandmother leads her family into such territory held by the devil since it is she who insists selfishly that her son Bailey detour so that they can visit an old plantation outside of Toomsbsboro, exciting the children enough that they plead and scream and kick the back of Bailey's seat until he gives in and turns down a dirt road. After this, the accident occurs as the cat, whom the grandmother has hidden in a valise and brought along against Bailey's wishes, jumps onto Bailey's shoulder when the grandmother starts and he loses control of the car.

Once they are stranded after their car accident, the Misfit and others soon arrive, and the grandmother mistakenly admits that she knows who he is. But she tries to insist that she knows he is a good person, in the hope that he will not harm her and her family. Finally, after her family has all been taken off and killed, the grandmother has an epiphany because she sees in the face of the Misfit her own sins:

...the grandmother's head cleared for an instant....and she murmured, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!"

One critic writes that these are the "truest words she has ever uttered." Certainly, this is the grandmother's moment of saving grace that comes from the violence done to her. Significantly, she is shot the religious number of three times, and she collapses with her legs folded beneath in a symbolic cross, and her sins absolved. Indicative of this resolution are the words of the Misfit, who observes,

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

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In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," what are the conflicts of the story?

An external conflict in the story is between the Misfit and his gang and the Grandmother and her family. When the family's car ends up in a ditch on a back road that the Grandmother mistakenly thought led to an old plantation, the Misfit feels there's no choice but to execute the family, so he does. This is, to put it mildly, not what the family had planned for as they headed out on their family vacation. The Grandmother is left to face off against the Misfit and try to plead for her life.

But a far more important conflict is the internal one the Grandmother wages. She has spent her life relying on her family, her class (being a "lady"), and her money to protect her. But in a very few moments all that is stripped away: her family is taken to the woods and shot, and she quickly realizes that her being a lady means nothing to the Misfit. She recognizes too that money has no power to buy him off. Stripped of everything, the Grandmother is shown helpless and vulnerable before death, and for the first time truly must rely on God's grace.

The Misfit too faces a deep and wrenching internal conflict: is the story of Jesus true? Is he really the son of God? If so, the Misfit is living the wrong way. If not, nothing really matters. When the Grandmother touches his shoulder for a moment and genuinely sees him as just like her son, the suggestion is that the Grandmother may also have, for an instant, touched his soul. 

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In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," what are the conflicts of the story?

There are certainly plenty that you can look for in this somewhat disturbing short story, but I will talk about the one that is introduced in the opening of the tale and refers to the conflict between the grandmother and her son, Bailey:

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy.

As we read on in the story it becomes evident that the grandmother is an incredibly annoying character who is determined to get her own way, using manipulation, deceit and trickery to do it without any shame. Thus she takes her cat secretly in the car with her, even though it results in an accident. She manages to get Bailey to go off the main road on a spurious trip to visit an old house. Of course, although in this conflict the grandmother always wins, it is ironic that each "triumph" she gains leads them ever closer to their deaths. For example, note that in the first paragraph, she uses the presence of the Misfit as an argument why they should not go to Florida, even though when she is successful and they go to Tennessee they go straight into his path.

So, certainly one of the major conflicts you will want to discuss in this short story is the external conflict between the grandmother and her son, Bailey. In being determined to get her own way she causes him significant annoyance and trouble, and also leads them all to their deaths.

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What is the conflict presented at the beginning of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The conflict at the beginning of the story is that the grandmother does not want to go to Florida.

At the beginning of the story, the grandmother is trying to convince her son that they should not leave because there is a dangerous criminal called The Misfit on the loose.  She really just does not want to go to Florida.

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. 

The grandmother tells her son that she wants to go to Tennessee, but he does not listen.  They go to Florida anyway, and she brings her cat.  However, they go on the back roads. 

She said she thought it was going to be a good day for driving, neither too hot nor too cold, and she cautioned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour and that the patrolmen hid themselves behind billboards and small clumps of trees and sped out after you before you had a chance to slow down. She pointed out interesting details of the scenery…

Of course, as they are in the country, driving slow, the grandmother’s cat escapes and they crash the car.  This gives them the opportunity for a new conflict.  They run into a group of criminals, including the escaped convict The Misfit that the grandmother warned them about.

Family vacations are never easy.  Ironically, the grandmother used The Misfit as a reason not to go on the trip, but she was the reason that they ran into The Misfit and his crew in the first place!  The family is killed because of her actions, while the grandmother and the Misfit have an interesting chat about faith, after which she reveals that she knows him because she is his mother—and then he murders her. This story shows that you never can tell about people.  The conversation, and the revelation, clearly have an effect on him.  There is more to the story that we do not know.

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What is the conflict of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The main conflict in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" involves understanding the meaning of life. This is not apparent until near the end of the story. All along, the family--and the grandmother--put their trust in the material world. They don't appear to think at all about the spiritual plane, but to enjoy the good things of the earth, such as the chance to take a car trip and eat a meal at Big Sam's. The grandmother puts her faith in her status as a lady and in her money. She is particularly careful to present herself as a lady, including wearing a hat.

But in the end, nothing in the material world can save the family or the grandmother. She is the last one left after the Misfit and his gang come across the family on a deserted road. They take the rest of the family into the woods and shoot them. The grandmother tries to bargain for her life with her money and her status as a lady. None of that matters to the Misfit. He does, however, engage her in a conversation about Jesus. He tells the grandmother that if he could somehow know what Jesus said was true, he would live in a different way. In the meantime, he has decided life is meaningless. The meaning of life is important to him, and her death comes about from the fact he finds it meaningless.

The grandmother has a moment of grace or spiritual truth in which she sees the Misfit as her own son--she perceives him through God's eyes. She expresses this truth to him just before he kills her, touching him emotionally for an instant.

The story argues that in extreme moments, such as the grandmother faced, God's grace can break into our lives--and that is what is important. There is a spiritual plane that can touch ordinary, irritating people like the Grandmother and even hardened killers like the Misfit.

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What is the conflict of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

In Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find," several different conflicts, both internal and external, are observable.

At the start of the story, internal conflict is already in effect: the grandmother does not want to go to Florida, but her son Bailey and his children insist. Her tone and her words both communicate her dissatisfaction with this plan, but she goes along with it anyway.

Relatively mild external conflict is apparent between the grandmother and her son's family as they travel in the car towards Florida. Disagreements with the children, who are ill-mannered, and bickering appear to characterize the grandmother's relationship with most everyone she encounters. The minor conflicts are irritating but not significant, which makes the eventual conflict between the Misfit and the family that much more distressing.

Toward the end of the story, the Misfit appears and the conflict between the individual characters in the story intensifies. Suddenly, the minor conflicts and family squabbles fade away in importance as the family members lose their lives to the Misfit, for no fault of their own.

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What is the conflict of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

I would say that the conflict in this story is character versus society. The grandmother possesses extremely outdated ideas about what society ought to be like, and she tends to embrace an older, more traditional—that is, more racist, classist—view of the world. She talks about the good old days, when people used to behave better than they do now and when the world was a better place, but she fails to recognize that the world wasn't better for everyone, just for a privileged few, like her. Her beliefs tend to lead her into conflict with her son, Bailey; his nameless wife; their horrible children, John Wesley and June Star; and, eventually and fatefully, with the Misfit. She thinks that she knows best, though her stubborn desire to bring her cat, against her son's wishes, leads to the family's car accident and her tactless and thoughtless identification of the Misfit leads to the death of her entire family.

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