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

Start Free Trial

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

Quick answer:

The main conflict in this story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor is an external conflict between the grandmother and a society which she harshly judges. Another way to view conflict is in terms of plot development. In this way, the grandmother's choice to take the family down the wrong road ultimately leads to the climax.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

You could answer this question regarding conflict in two ways. You could examine this question in terms of the characterization of the protagonist, the grandmother. She is the central character in the story and the one who arguably undergoes change in the end. Her conflict is external, between herself and a society which she judges harshly. Viewing herself as a "good" person and a woman of faith, the grandmother places an emphasis on appearing to be a "lady" through her clothing. She makes racist comments about young Black children from her car, viewing them as some sort of spectacle of entertainment. She also tries to convince the Misfit that he doesn't really want to kill her, because she believes he is a "good man." She comments that she "can just look at [him] and tell." Because the grandmother places a heavy emphasis on appearances, she finds herself ultimately staring evil in the face and comes to understand in the last moments of her life that she and the Misfit are more alike than she's ever imagined.

You could also examine the conflict in terms of plot development, locating the moment in the plot which directly leads to the climax. I would say this moment occurs when the grandmother convinces the family to take the wrong road, leading to their accident and then to the Misfit finding them. Because of her faulty memory, the family is discovered and ultimately killed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The central conflict is between the grandmother and society.  She feels that people, in general, are no longer as good as they are used to be, and she bemoans this fact throughout the entire story.  Her relationship with her son, Bailey, and his family is clearly not up to snuff for her: Bailey ignores her, at best, the two older children are very disrespectful to her, and the name of his wife is never even mentioned.  She is unhappy with the way she is treated by the whole family.  

On vacation, when the family stops at Red Sammy Butts's Barbecue, the grandmother takes the opportunity to commiserate with Red Sammy, a man who shares her opinion that "a good man is hard to find" and that it is difficult to trust anybody nowadays.  No one else seems to want to engage in this kind of conversation with either of them. The irony, here, is that both the grandmother and Red Sammy are pretty terrible in their own ways: for example, she's a racist and he is very rude to his wife.

Next, the grandmother has conflict with her son again as they continue down the road, and her mistake ends up leading to the car accident that puts them in the path of the Misfit.  As the Misfit's cohorts kill her family, one by one, she tries to convince him that he is a good man, that she and he are of the same ilk.  He recognizes, however, that she is a part of the same strata of society that locked him up for a crime he didn't commit, ruining his life and causing him to become jaded and cruel.  Ultimately, it is the grandmother's antagonism with society (in the form, first, of her son, and then with the Misfit) that leads to her death as well as her pre-death realization that she and the Misfit actually are linked, in the sense that all human beings are connected, a realization she could not have had—as the Misfit points out—without a gun pointed at her head.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main conflict is the inner conflict of the grandmother, who mistakenly perceives herself as a good woman and superior to others.  For instance, she feels it incumbent upon herself to instruct her grandchildren to be "more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else" while she then remarks upon what a "cute little pickaninny" is standing outside the door of a shack that Bailey, her son, drives past. In another example, the grandmother tells the children a story of her youth, in which she

would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentleman and had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a few years ago....

Clearly, she feels herself deserving of such a man.  In the filling station/dance hall, she talks with the proprietor, commiserating that "a good man is hard to find," implying that she is, of course, a good person herself.

However, the grandmother does admit to herself some that she is not honest.  When she wants to see the plantation house, she fabricates a story about it:

She said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were, "and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through but it was never found..."

Of course, her selfishness puts the family in the predicament that they find themselves after the grandmother's cat causes Bailey to lose control of the car and the Misfit and his friends appear on the scene. And, it is only at the point of a gun that the grandmother relinquishes her hypocrisy and perceives herself as a sinner, too.

"Why, you're one of my babies! You're one of my own children"

she exclaims as the Misfit stands over her, wearing her son's Bailey's shirt. Finally, as she finds redemption, the grandmother realizes that she has not led a good life and she is not superior to others and her inner conflict is resolved.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the religious themes from "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

As far as this particular story is concerned, I think it centers around themes of sin and grace. These are two of the central themes of Christian teachings: that the world is in some way fallen but that salvation is possible through God's grace (enacted in Christ's sacrifice on the cross), and in this fashion, humanity's fallen nature can be redeemed. O'Connor's story, and that of the grandmother in particular, express both of these core elements in Christian teaching.

First, as other contributors have noted, the grandmother herself is, for all her pretensions towards religiosity and respectability, vain, judgmental, prideful, and racist. When viewed within the language of Christian theology, these unpleasant attributes point towards her own fallen nature. However, as the story ends, facing death at the hands of the Misfit, she has a momentary epiphany, recognizing the essential humanity of the Misfit himself. In the process, she experiences a moment of grace. Within Christian teaching, grace and sin are intertwined with one another, and this is a vision reflected in the grandmother herself.

In addition, you can probably discuss the moral nihilism of the Misfit himself, which is itself shaped within a distinctly religious framework: for the Misfit, the continued viability of morality in and of itself comes down to the question of whether Christianity is or is not true. Either Christianity is true (in which case morality is real and ought to be followed) or Christianity is false (in which case everything collapses). This moral nihilism is thus founded within a context of Christian moral realism, and in this respect, it also has a religious dynamic should not be underestimated or ignored.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the religious themes from "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

The story seems to convey the ideas that it is perfectly reasonable to question religion and that blind acceptance doesn't make a person a good one. The Misfit feels that Jesus "'thown everything off balance'" by accepting such a monumental punishment when Jesus had done nothing wrong. Now, in his own life, the Misfit has been forced to endure a massive punishment for a crime he did not commit, and he feels that it is Jesus's fault. He's been accused of murdering his father, and though "'they had the papers'" on him, he knows that his father died of the influenza. God doesn't inspire him because he blames God for his problems. The Misfit is obviously a frightening criminal, but he does demonstrate a kind of logic: that his punishment hasn't fit his crimes, and so he commits more crimes in order to make them balance. Despite his psychopathy, we likely find ourselves sympathizing with him in a way that we do not with the grandmother (who seems reprehensible in her own special way).

The grandmother seems to be a woman who would claim that she has religion, and yet she's a terrible racist who constantly judges other people and looks down on people like the Misfit when it is elitists like her who are responsible for his history. She's not a good person, despite her insistence that she is able to identify good people, and her religious belief has done nothing to make her feel more compassion or empathy for others. She may claim to be religious, but she hasn't thought through or internalized what Jesus would really want her to do.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the religious themes from "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" illustrates the Christian concept that anyone can be the recipient of God's grace at any time.

The difficult, childish, racist, classist, foolish, and self-centered Grandmother is one of the last people one would expect to be touched by God's divine love. Further, the circumstances under which she experiences it are grotesque and extreme.

The Grandmother is facing the Misfit, the man responsible for the murder of the rest of her family. He is about to kill her. She is desperately trying to reach him in the hope he might spare her life. He is a person she should hate and fear, as he has taken her loved ones from her and now threatens her life. Yet in the moment before he blows her away, she truly sees him as one of her own children. She sees him as God sees him, as a beloved child. Therefore, she dies in a state of grace and love; she has loved her enemy.

O'Connor is making the point that God's grace is available to all people at all times, even in the most dire or unexpected circumstances. When all the externals are stripped away and the Grandmother can no longer rely on her family, her money, or her status as a "lady," God's love is able to penetrate her heart. This expresses another Christian theme: that we are most open to the divine presence when we are most vulnerable.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the religious themes from "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

The Christian ideal of God's grace is a central theme in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find."  Despite being the worst, most unlikable characters in the entire story, the grandmother and the Misfit are shown to be recipients of God's grace, receiving his forgiveness and mercy despite their unworthiness.  In many ways, it is fitting that O'Connor choose the most unlikely characters to find grace at the end of the novel, because the grandmother and the Misfit are the least deserving.  Constantly complaining and picking on the other family members, the grandmother sours the entire family outing.  The Misfit is a homicidal maniac, but both experience experience God's grace before the end of the story.

When the grandmother declares "Why you're one of my babies!  You're one of my own children" to the Misfit at the very end, she does so because she finally makes the connection between the two of them, that they are all sinners in need of forgiveness.  In this moment of epiphany, the grandmother finds grace and understanding. The Misfit has his own moment of truth as well, realizing that there was no more pleasure to be found in murder; he may also find redemption.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the irony in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

There are three major situational ironies in "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Situational ironies occur when events in a story work out differently than characters or readers might anticipate.

In the first situational irony, the Grandmother discovers that all the defenses she has surrounded herself with to set herself apart are meaningless when she finally does meet an existential threat to her existence. For example, she makes a great deal of fuss over dressing in the hat and frock of a "lady," thinking this will gain her respect and protection. However, when she tries to appeal to the Misfit on the basis of herself as a lady and he as coming from "good" people, this has no resonance with the Misfit.

Money, which also gives her a sense of protection, is another item she offers the Misfit. The idea that he should exchange her money for her life is laughable from the outset: the Misfit knows he can take her money as soon as she is dead, and he treats her proposal with the appropriate dismissal.

A second major irony emerges from the first. It is only when all her worldly defenses are stripped away that the Grandmother can experience true salvation through the grace of God. The Grandmother is able for a split second to perceive the Misfit as her son and as a beloved child of God and so dies in a state of grace and salvation. The third irony is that the petty, manipulative, difficult Grandmother is the last person we would have imagined having this kind of epiphany or realization—and yet she does, showing that God's grace is available to anyone.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the irony in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The central irony in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" (1953) is Bailey's mother's realization before the Misfit.

Though Bailey's mother views herself as an upstanding, virtuous Christian woman, her actions throughout the story reveal her to be selfish, foolish, and racist. In the story's climactic denouement, the murderous Misfit judges Bailey's mother; this is a reversal of typical trial scenes for here, the murderer holds power and judges the ostensibly virtuous grandmother. As Bailey's mother begs for her life, the narrator tells us,

 "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!'"

First, her head "clears," or, in other words, Bailey's mother's thinking becomes unclouded and sensible. Second, in labeling the Misfit as one of her children, she collapses the distance between herself and the Misfit and recognizes their equal moral standing.

The Misfit, however, shoots her before asserting, "She would of been a good woman...if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." This line conflicts with the story's title, for the prior focus on a "good man" has now shifted to a "good woman." With this, O'Connor uses irony to trick the reader into analyzing not the ostensibly sinful Misfit, but instead the apparently principled grandmother.

I hope this helped, and for more information, please check out the eNotes guide for this remarkable and poignant story!

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the irony in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

O'Connor establishes the foundation of the irony very early in the story when she gives us the reason for the grandmother getting dressed up for the car ride:

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

At several points in the story, the grandmother judges people as good or bad based on her very quick assessment of how they look and behave.  For example, the first time we see the phrase "A good man is hard to find," the speaker is Red Sam at the roadside barbecue restaurant where the family is having lunch.  Just before that, however, Red Sam has described his willingness to allow some strangers to charge gas, and he asks himself the question, "Now, why did I do that?"  The grandmother's immediate response is "Because you're a good man."  She makes this assessment on the the barest of information about Red Sam, not on the basis of any meaningful knowledge about his character.

After the car crash and the Misfit and his cohorts make their appearance, and the grandmother recognizes the Misfit, his politeness, which is genuine but also calculated to put the family at ease, draws out the grandmother's assessment of the Misfit:

"Listen," the grandmother almost screamed, "I know you're a good man.  You don't look a bit like you have common blood.  I know you must come from nice people!"

Although it's quite possible that, in her desperation, she is trying to curry favor with the Misfit, the observation is also consistent with her judgment of people based on their physical appearance and outward behavior.

The great irony at this point is that the grandmother has completely mis-read the nature of the Misfit who, as we learn a short while later, is an absolute sociopath with a dash of the psychopath thrown in to the mix.

Another ironic twist occurs at the end of the story when, after talking to the Misfit about salvation and finally understanding how troubled and confused he is, the grandmother, who has been relentlessly superficial up to this point, has an epiphany and actually feels sympathy for the Misfit:

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.

This act of compassion, however, is rewarded with three bullets to the chest.  This is, perhaps, the greatest irony in the story: just when the grandmother becomes truly compassionate, finally moving past her self-absorption, she signs her own death warrant because the Misfit is not interested in compassion and understanding--his goal is survival, and the grandmother is a threat to that survival.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the key themes that Flannery O'Connor explores in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

Key themes O'Connor explores in this story are grace and redemption. Despite a comic opening as an all-American 1950s family vacation saga, events in this tale soon turn grim. When the family car lands in a ditch on a deserted road, The Misfit, a killer on the loose, emerges with his gang. They begin killing the family members, finally leaving only the Grandmother. The Grandmother has been a flawed, annoying character since the start of the story, manipulative, racist, difficult to get along with, and more than anyone else, responsible for the family's dire predicament. Yet even this flawed woman is open to God's grace. She receives it at the point of death, when the Misfit comes out of the woods, wearing her son's shirt. Probably because he is wearing the shirt, she is able to see him as a human being, just like her son, and for a moment they connect:

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.

The Misfit shoots her, but at the point of death, the Grandmother experiences a moment of grace and redemption. By seeing the killer as her child, she has offered him love, a completely unconditional love that transcends what he deserves. In Christian terms, this ability to feel love for a person you should hate, even if only for a instant, is called grace, something understood to be from God. It redeems us in Christain theology, turning us from sinners to people of God. 

Does this moment touch the Misfit? He recoils from it as if it affected him, as if bitten by snake. But we are left uncertain about him.

O'Connor, a Catholic writer and religious person, communicates through this story that God's redeeming grace is available to anyone, even in the worst of circumstances. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the main points of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

As with many of Flannery O'Connor's short stories, the author intermingles a realistic portrayal of people living in the southeastern part of the United States with larger questions of good and evil.

The story begins with a husband, wife, children, and their grandmother going on trip by car from Georgia to Florida. At one point in the journey, the grandmother recalls an old plantation with a secret panel, behind which a cache of the family's silver was hidden. The grandmother's story spurs the children's curiosity and so they compel their father to turn around and try to find the old house. The fact that the plantation is near Toombsboro may foreshadow that this place will soon become a scene of death for them all.

While they look for the house, they have a car accident when the grandmother's cat leaps out of its basket and lands on the father, who is driving. As the dazed family gathers outside of the car, they encounter three men, one of whom is a notorious escaped criminal named The Misfit. The grandmother recognizes the man and immediately blurts out, "You're The Misfit!"

Unfortunately, now that the criminal has been recognized, he decides to kill the entire family. He has his two comrades kill the family, while The Misfit himself kills the grandmother.

One of the main issues raised by the story is what constitutes goodness. The grandmother seems to have the notion that a person's goodness can be determined by the way they appear. If they seem to be good, then they must have some goodness in them. As soon as the grandmother realizes that The Misfit intends them harm, she tries to convince him that he is a good man. She feels sure he comes from "nice people" and she is sure he is "a good man at heart" just by looking at him. The grandmother continues to insist to The Misfit that he is a good man, but finally he declares to her that he "ain't a good man". After The Misfit kills the grandmother, he declares that she would have "been a good woman...if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." Thus, the story ends with this enigmatic statement which leaves the reader continuing to ask, "How do I know if the people I encounter are 'good' or not?"

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

One theme deals with violence, but the violence serves a purpose. In this story, the violence is used to finally get the Grandmother to see how hateful her prejudice toward others is (another theme). It's only when the Grandmother's family has been killed that she's able to make any kind of connection with someone else and accept God's grace.

Another theme so aptly shown by the Grandmother is prejudice and intolerance toward others. She believes people of good character are bred by "good families", and she's self-righteous enough to believe she, of course, comes from a good family. This attitude gets her whole family killed as well as herself. She has spent her life concerned with only what she wanted, never thinking of what others needed. This all changes when the Misfit sticks the gun in her face.

For a more complete explanation of themes, go to the site below.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" reflect her understanding of life?

Flannery O’Connor’s understanding of life is reflected especially clearly in her short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” In that story, an entire family is killed by an escaped convict, The Misfit, and his two henchmen. The Misfit can be seen as a symbol of the death that awaits all of us. In O’Connor’s view, each one of us will eventually confront The Misfit, and The Misfit will “win” such a confrontation in the sense that each one of us will die physically.  What matters to O’Connor, however, is not that each of us dies but, rather, how we live our lives and meet our inevitable deaths. Thus, the fact that the entire family dies at the end of this story is merely an exaggerated, symbolic depiction of what happens to everyone. The deaths of the family are not as tragic, when seem from O’Connor’s Christian point of view, as they might seem from a merely secular perspective.

Indeed, a good case can be made that the confrontation with death – with The Misfit – actually benefits the family in some respects.  This is clearly true in the case of Bailey and his mother, and it is especially true in the case of the grandmother in particular. Bailey and the mother re-connect emotionally, in touching ways, right before Bailey is taken off to be killed and immediately after his death. They are much closer, and show much more love for one another, right before Bailey’s death than at any earlier point in the story. Meanwhile, although the grandmother is indeed shot dead by The Misfit when she reaches out to him in pity, compassion, and love (partly because she now sees him as a kind of son), the fact that she dies does not invalidate the worth of her final gesture. In the last split second of her life, the grandmother finally and actually lives the Christian values to which she has only nominally been committed earlier. Her earlier commitment had been shallow; her final commitment is deep.  Without quite realizing what she is doing, she gives The Misfit the kind of proof of genuine, godly love that he so plaintively desires.

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” then, demonstrates O’Connor’s belief that life is lived most richly when it is lived in the presence of death and when it is glimpsed from an eternal perspective.  What matters is not that we all eventually die.  What matters, instead, is that we live well while we do live. For O’Connor, living “well” meant living as the Christian god wants his creatures to live – full of genuine love for him and therefore full of genuine love for one another. At the very end of the story, it is the grandmother who, although physically dead, seems to symbolize full spiritual life:

. . . the grandmother . . . half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky. [emphasis added]

In contrast, the Misfit seems troubled and defeated:

The Misfit's eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking.

The grandmother has finally lived, if only very briefly, a rich, meaningful, and loving life. She has finally lived her faith, and that is all that really matters to O’Connor. The Misfit, by contrast, has not yet begun to live in any kind of truly meaningful sense.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How is Flannery O'Connor's view of the world shown through "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

What is interesting about Flannery O'Connor is that a major part of her identity consisted of her religious belief. As a Christian, she writes a lot about grace. The way that her fiction, and this story is of course no exception, features so much brute violence is meant to highlight the way in which the spirit exists in a temporal world. As comedy devolves into extraordinary scenes of violence our impressions of this world as being just a temporary arena before our afterlife are reinforced. In particular, O'Connor's Christian beliefs causes her to write a lot about the theme of grace.

What is interesting about this story is the way in which the two central characters--the grandmother and the Misfit--are both shown to be very unpleasant characters. The grandmother is shown to be an incredibly selfish and bigoted individual, as she manipulates her son and her family to get her own way. The Misfit of course is presented as a cold, heartless killer. However, as they confront each other grace is shown to settle on them both, suggesting that even characters as sinful as these two have the potential to be changed and saved by God. The grandmother is given a kind of epiphany just before dying, where she states:

Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!

The grandmother recognises the common bond of humanity that exists between her and the Misfit, and represents a moment of clarity when she sees herself and the Misfit for who they really are. She is granted this grace before she is killed. The Misfit's response at the end of the story to killing and murder has changed. Before, he said there was "no pleasure but meanness," but now, when Bobby Lee says that this killing was fun, the Misfit replies, "It's no real pleasure in life." The capacity to change because of the grace of God is present even in somebody like the Misfit.

Flannery O'Connor's religious beliefs therefore can be seen to influence her stories to a great extent, and this story is no exception. Its focus on grace and the violence inherent in life make this clear.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How is "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor related to the idea of good versus evil?

O'Connor's no-holds-barred story inspires us to question how good and evil are defined. Perhaps, in that sense, how we relate good versus evil in the story will depend on how we judge or interpret the characters' actions.

In the story, the grandmother sets herself up in her family's eyes (and ours) as a paragon of virtue. So, we must decide whether we will accept this exemplary image she flaunts before us or whether we will reject it. We are told that she refuses to go to Florida because the Misfit (a criminal) happens to be heading that way; she thinks that going to Florida will potentially expose her family to the machinations of a felon. Interestingly however, she has no qualms about deceiving her son, Bailey.

In the story, we are told that Bailey doesn't like the idea of traveling with pets; the grandmother manages to bring Pitty Sing along anyway. She hides the feline in a basket and places it under her enormous, black valise. Interestingly, she rationalizes her deception readily and still thinks of herself as a lady. To the grandmother, a lady is someone who dresses the part and entertains certain preconceived notions about life. Her definition of "good" is largely superficial.

As the story continues, we begin to realize how self-deceived, self-centered, and hypocritical the grandmother really is. She consistently lectures her family about doing the right thing. However, she readily tells her grandchildren a story with racist undertones and later concocts a flashy story to goad Bailey into making a detour. Her earlier subterfuge about Pitty Sing tempts us to doubt her elaborate story about a secret panel at the plantation house. By the time she faces death before the Misfit's gun, we are challenged to rethink our own perception of good and evil.

Although the grandmother purports to be spiritually adept, she fails to recognize true evil when she sees it. Perhaps another interpretation would be that she refuses to recognize it because she harbors a predominantly sanitized conception of good and evil. She attempts to flatter the Misfit and to play on his sympathies for a "lady." However, the Misfit is impervious to her feminine wiles. He questions the reality of God and refuses to live anything other than a hedonistic lifestyle. When the grandmother dies, she does so with poignant last words: "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" Her words indicate her final epiphany about the universal humanity in all of us.

The Misfit kills the grandmother presumably to avoid being exposed to law enforcement. Superficial assumptions of goodness have no place in his life; he's primarily focused on survival and self-preservation. The Misfit exemplifies unmitigated evil, while the grandmother epitomizes sterile religiosity. So, how we relate good versus evil in the story largely depends on how we define "good" and "evil" in regard to the characters. Will we define the grandmother as "good" because of the way she portrays herself? Or will we define her as "evil" because she is, in many ways, as self-absorbed as the Misfit?

On the other hand, is the Misfit "evil" because he chooses to kill the grandmother and her family in cold blood? In other words, are there degrees of "evil" that O'Connor inspires us to see through the characters in her story?

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the narration and plot arrangement serve the theme of "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" by Flannery O'Connor?

One of the most important themes of this story has to do with the problems that arise when a person continues to hold on to antiquated ideas and prejudices. The narration is third-person limited omniscient (for the vast majority), focusing on the thoughts and feelings of the grandmother, an older woman who is very much attached to old-fashioned ideas about what it means to be a "lady" or to be a "good man." As a result, we learn things like her belief that she should dress prettily for the road trip so that "in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady."

No one in her family seems to respect her or her ideas—she clashes with her son and her grandchildren throughout the story. One of the first things she says to the Misfit once she identifies him is, "'You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?'" And she goes on to say that she knows he's "'a good man. You don't look a bit like you have common blood.'" He eventually says, "'Nome, I ain't a good man.'" At least, by the grandmother's standards he's not. If he weren't threatening her, she probably would think he is common, and it was probably people like her who put him away for a crime he didn't commit. She's only telling him he's "good" so that he won't shoot her.

After he shoots her, he tells his friends that "'She would of been a good woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.'" Her idea of what makes a "good" person is outdated: it isn't about having good manners or being more than "common"; it's about being compassionate and kind (as she is in the moment just before she dies). Being a "lady" in the old-fashioned sense isn't really important anymore. Being the type of person who recognizes the humanity of all people, no matter how different from you they might seem, is what makes someone a "good" person. In the end, when the grandmother suddenly sees the Misfit as "'one of [her] babies,'" she has this moment of clarity, this epiphany where she sees what she and the Misfit have in common rather than how they differ, and this is the "goodness" that she develops only as a result of having a gun pointed at her.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on