dotted outline of a black cat sitting within a basket in front of an older woman wearing a sundress

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," why is the grandmother's early mention of the Misfit significant?

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The grandmother's early mention of the Misfit in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is significant for several reasons. It serves to foreshadow the family's tragic encounter with him, and it highlights the grandmother's manipulative and selfish character. She uses the Misfit as a scare tactic to alter the family's vacation plans to suit her own desires. Moreover, her comments about the Misfit ironically show that, if her advice were followed, it would have saved the family's lives. Lastly, her initial and later interactions with the Misfit underscore her hypocrisy and lead to her final realization of their similarities.

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The grandmother's mention of the Misfit serves as foreshadowing and irony and adds to the characterization of the grandmother. The grandmother is a manipulative and rather selfish woman who does not have a good relationship with her son, her daughter-in-law, or her grandchildren. The grandmother's purpose for discussing the Misfit reveals her self-centeredness. Although she insists on accompanying her son's family on their vacation, she tries to change their destination. She wants to visit people she knows in Tennessee, so she brings up the Misfit as a reason to persuade her son not to go to Florida. She is being dishonest and manipulative.

The discussion of the Misfit so early in the story, as well as at the gas station, serves to foreshadow the tragedy at the end of the story when the family has a car accident. The Misfit happens to see the accident and takes advantage of the family's misfortune to gain a different vehicle and clothing. The grandmother hints that the Misfit is a frightful criminal. The reference is vague, but "what he did to those people" must be particularly gruesome if the grandmother does not even want to mention it aloud.

There is a significant amount of irony surrounding the grandmother's comments about the Misfit. It's ironic that her selfish advice, if her son had heeded it, would have resulted in the lives of six people being spared. She also says she "couldn't answer to [her] conscience" if she took her family into a part of the country where that criminal was loose. Unfortunately, the grandmother's conscience is not highly tuned. She is dishonest about her warning, she sneaks a cat into the car when she knows her son would forbid it, and she ends up telling lies about the home she wants to drive by. If she was a person who had a functioning conscience herself, the family wouldn't have been on the deserted road and the cat wouldn't have caused the car accident. The Misfit, of course, turns out to be lacking in conscience as well, but his crimes are significantly more wanton. Yet O'Connor draws a significant parallel between the grandmother and the Misfit, and having the grandmother mention the Misfit early in the story helps create that ironic correlation between two characters that should be very different from each other--but really aren't. 

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It is significant that the grandmother brings up the Misfit at the beginning of the story because it foreshadows the events that occur later in the story when the family has an accident and the Misfit and his cohorts stop and kill them.  She says, "'I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it.  I couldn't answer to my conscience if I did.'"  Ironically, this is just about the only time in the story that the grandmother is actually right about anything; it really would have been best for the family to avoid Florida.  We also get to see what the grandmother's response to a person like the Misfit is when she's not actually faced with the person.  In the end, we see the grandmother kind of buttering up the Misfit, insisting that he's a "good man," but this is such a contrast with her earlier description of him that we can see that she's only being nice to him to save her own skin.  Her first references to him allow us to properly understand both her later behavior as well as to recognize the significance of her eventual epiphany that he is not really so different from her after all.

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What is the conflict between the grandmother and the Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

As a Roman Catholic, Flannery O'Connor was often concerned with the cardinal sins, especially that of pride in her stories.  In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," the grandmother prides herself upon being a lady and a moral one at that.  Hints of the conflict between her and the Misfit appear early in the story when the grandmother takes such care in her dress for the road trip.  She contemplates what a person would perceive if the family has an accident on the way.  With dramatic irony O'Connor writes,

In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she is a lady.

If she is killed in an accident, it will little matter what she looks like, yet she is worried about physical appearance and what class people will put her in based upon this appearance.  Later in the story, the grandmother tells her grandchildren that she should have married a Mr. Teagarden since he was a "gentleman," and had died a wealthy man.  Again the grandmother's emphasis upon class and money is stated with death, a context which causes these shallow values to appear foolish.

In the climax of "A Good Man is Hard to Find," the grandmother foolishly does not admit that she is mistaken about the road they travel on to see a house; she also causes the accident because she has smuggled her cat into the car.  After the Misfit and his friends arrive, she does not exert much effort toward saving her family other than trying to convince the Misfit that he is a decent person:  "I know  you're a good man," she tells him.  However, the Misfit disagrees and responds to her recitations about Jesus by telling her that he cannot believe scripture; he can only believe if he has witnessed saving grace.  And, ironically, it is in witnessing this grace in the grandmother as she reaches out to him, declaring, "You're one of my children" that the Misfit shows the potential for salvation after witnessing this Christian reach to him even though he does shoot her: 

It's no real pleasure in life, [killing]

he says which indicates that there is the potential for him to change. 

The conflict within the grandmother is that she does not realize her sin of pride, but in her dying moment she has an epiphany in which she realizes that she is no better than the Misfit:"Why you're one of my babies!  You're one of my own children!"  In a moment of saving grace, the grandmother reaches out to the criminal, humbling herself.

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What is the conflict between the grandmother and the Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

Well, to put it simply, The Misfit is a mass murderer intent on killing the grandmother and her family, and understandably, she doesn't want him to.  It makes sense.  That is the overarching conflict between the two.  But, if you want to look at their actual dialogue, there are a couple underlying themes that they seem to have opposing viewpoints on, that causes a bit of friction.  This dialogue appears very near the end of the story, if you want to find the passages yourself.  The first disagreement comes when the grandmother insists of The Misfit that he is a good man.  The Misfit disagrees:  "Nome, I ain't a good man," he states, and they go back and forth on that for a while. The next conflict comes when she starts lecturing him about praying and turning to Jesus.  He disagrees that he needs to pray, because "I don't want no help...I'm doing all right by myself."  And later, he insists that Jesus "shown everything off balance."  She insists that if he turns to Jesus he could go clean and live an honest life, but he argues, saying that he has no way of knowing if Jesus was real, and if he actually raised the dead, so how can he possibly follow Jesus?  He wishes he had been there, so he could know.  But he can't, so instead, his motto in life is "No pleasure but meanness."  The grandmother's last words still cling to her hope in Jesus as she states in a symbolic representation of God, "Why, you're one of my babies!  You're one of my own children!"  That pushes him over the edge.  He then shoots her.

So, the main conflict is a difference in beliefs over a couple key issues, the first being that the grandmother believes he is a good man, and The Misfit disagreeing, then in the grandmother insisting he turns to Jesus and pray, and him refusing and expressing doubts on the issue.  I hope that helps a bit; it's a tricky story, so good luck.

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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," what does the final scene between the Misfit and the grandmother reveal about spirituality or religion?

The last scene between the grandmother and the Misfit show that spirituality and religion need to either be everything to a person, or else they are nothing. When the Misfit and the grandmother are talking about Jesus raising the dead (from the Christian Bible), the Misfit says:

"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"

This stark difference between the Misfit and Jesus demonstrates to the grandmother the true purpose of religion. It is only about whether someone is living for his/herself or for living for Jesus. The Misfit claims that if Jesus did raise the dead, then the only way to live is following Jesus' example, which is the opposite of murder. The grandmother experiences a moment of doubt, wondering if Jesus did indeed raise the dead.

The violence and terror of the moment strip away any other option other than being selfish or selfless. The Misfit claims that these two options are actually always the only two options.

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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," what does the final scene between the Misfit and the grandmother reveal about spirituality or religion?

Key to an understanding of the final scene of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is the Misfit's remark about the grandmother:

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

For, O'Connor's story is one of her anti-parables in which the face of death is enlightening and grace is devastating to the one receiving it. The violence of the Misfit startles the grandmother out of her pretensions of social superiority and forces her to recognize that she, like the Misfit, is a sinner.  She, then, makes this religious connection with the Misfit, and, in so doing, becomes the recipient of grace.

In Mystery and Manners, O'Connor declared that her "subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil." The Misfit is, ironically then, the agent of grace for the grandmother. For, the violence of the evil Misfit, the brutal deaths of her family, is what shakes the grandmother from her complacency to enter into faith.

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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," how does the grandmother's violent encounter with the Misfit lead her to Christ?

The grandmother is very self-absorbed and preoccupied with herself.  It's her decision to go on vacation, and where they go, and that they drive to the house she wants to see.  It's essentially her fault they are in the fix they are in, and she is the one who recognizes the Misfit.  Had she not said she knew who he was, they may have gotten off without being shot in the head and left in the woods.

It is only when the grandmother is faced with her own mortality and the death of her entire family that she has a thought which is unselfish.  Her talk with the Misfit begins as a selfish attempt to save her life and the lives of her family, but then ends up with the revelation that the Misfit is "one of her own children"--meaning that he is like all other people.  He was not destined to be the evil man people think him to be...events in his life could have lead him anywhere...just like events have led the grandmother and her family to the same isolated road where the Misfit and his crew happen to be. 

The Misfit responds with the sentiment that if the grandmother had been in such a serious situation (a gun to her head) all her life that she might have been a better, more tolerable person.

So, it is her desperate attempt to save her own life that leads her to redemption--however brief it is, it is significant to her character development.

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In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," what do we learn about the possibility of change in the conversation between the Misfit and the grandmother?

The defining theme of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is grace, which is the agent that changes the grandmother and possibly the Misfit as well.

The grandmother is a snobbish woman who obsesses over appearing to look like a lady and putting on airs. She is obsessed with social concerns and the material world, and she appears to think of no one but herself. However, her encounter with the Misfit is both tragic and redeeming.

At first glance, one might assume the grandmother would view herself as finer than the criminal Misfit, who speaks with a less sophisticated vocabulary. However, she comes to identify with his existential pain and feels compassion for him. When she says "you're one of my babies," she is admitting the shared humanity between them. They are both sinners, and there is no room for judgment.

The grandmother is shot dead by the Misfit when she attempts to touch him, but even he seems changed by their encounter. He admits to feeling no pleasure from "meanness" and sadism any longer. There is a chance he might redeem himself yet.

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In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," what do we learn about the possibility of change in the conversation between the Misfit and the grandmother?

One of the key themes of this story is the way in which it presents us with two characters who are defined by their many faults and sins. Both the grandmother and the Misfit, to varying degrees, represent humanity in all of its sinfulness. However, if we analyse the conversation that the grandmother has with the Misfit towards the end of this story, we see that grace, an incredibly important concept for Flannery O'Connor, is shown to operate in both of these characters, presenting them with a possibility of change.

Note how the grandmother reponds to the Misfit's desire to ascertain what Jesus did and didn't do. She experiences a moment of grace in an epiphany when she acknowledges a shared common humanity:

His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother's head cleared for an instant. 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.

Of course, the Misfit isn't her literal child, but this recognition of a shared humanity actually represents the grandmother's sanest moment in the entrie short story. She has been granted clarity and compassion before she dies. Note, too, how the Misfit has been changed by this encounter. At the end of the story, having previously claimed that the only pleasure in life was in "meanness," he now declares that violence and meanness is "no pleasure in life." Change is possible even in the most unrepentant of characters, this final conversation seems to suggest.

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In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," how does the grandmother, a seemingly religious person, factor in this?

The grandmother in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" likes to think of herself as a well-bred "lady" and a religious person, but readers are able to determine early in the story that she is manipulative, passive-aggressive, and a racist. Though the family would like to go to Florida on their vacation, she insists that it would be safer to go to east Tennessee, where she wants to go. She also smuggles her cat into the car, knowing that her son would object if he knew she brought it.

When the family encounters The Misfit, the grandmother repeats "pray, pray" to her daughter-in-law and granddaughter when he begins to detail atrocities her has witnessed. Only when she recognizes that her life in danger does she adopt a religious attitude. She encourages The Misfit to pray and begins to preach to him, telling him that Jesus will forgive him for his sins. As her children and grandchildren are shot one by one, she screams "Jesus" in a way that sounds more like cursing, the narrator observes, than praying. She quickly abandons her stance as a Christian and offers The Misfit all her money to spare her life. She agrees with him that "maybe He didn’t raise the dead" because she is even willing to abandon her faith and denounce her savior if it prevents The Misfit and his accomplice from killing her.

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