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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

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Why is the mother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" not given a name?

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The "mother" in the story is unnamed, a non-entity as you put it, because her identity is unimportant. Like the grandmother, who is likewise unnamed, the mother is a representation of her generation. When the grandmother objects to the family's choice to go to Florida on vacation, the narrator says:

Bailey didn't look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children's mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar.

The "mother" is really just a mother and has no real identity outside of that role (although the detail that she is wearing "slacks" as opposed to a skirt seems to be something which with the grandmother takes issue -- as proper "ladies" of the grandmother's generation wear skirts). Even the comparisons the narrator uses paint a picture of the mother as somewhat less than human. Her face is "as broad and innocent as a cabbage" and her green handkerchief is tied around her head, making "two points on the top like rabbit's ears." These similes, in which she is compared to a cabbage and a rabbit, are unflattering, as though the mother has no real substance to her at all.

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The mother, Bailey's wife, has clearly stepped aside to allow Bailey's mother to be in charge. This may be a self-preserving move, given the controlling nature of her mother-in-law. It is likely that any attempts to assert herself would be hotly contested by the grandmother, especially since she lives with the family and since Bailey is her "only boy." The dynamic in the household doesn't leave any room for "the mother" to do more than tend to the children and go along with the decisions that are made by her husband and mother-in-law. Even her children have more spirit than she seems to; perhaps O'Connor is observing a generational void that the mother represents. She is not part of the old guard that the grandmother belongs to, nor is she part of the upcoming generation that her children belong to, which is more outspoken.

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It isn't just the mother who is nameless, but the grandmother as well. The only female to have a name is the female child, June Star.

Not naming the mother symbolizes that she is, as you point out, a non-entity. We see this in her behaviors as well as her lack of a name. She is a fairly passive woman who does all of the wifely and motherly duties she is supposed to do on this long drive, like feeding the baby. However, once the Misfit enters the picture she may as well not be there. Although her husband and her son Bailey are shot she hardly protests. Then when her own time comes to be taken out and "join her husband," she just steps out of the car without any protest, her arm sort of falling passively behind her. She walks out into the woods with no fight. So, her lack of real identity, as a result of her submissiveness and timidity, matches up with her not being given a name.

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