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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," what is the Misfit's favorite saying and its meaning?

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We never directly learn that the Misfit has a favorite saying, but he says twice the one we most associate with him, with variation. It's the last sentence of the story and sums up the Misfit's weary viewpoint:

“It’s no real pleasure in life.”

Earlier, he had told the Grandmother that since he wasn't there as an eyewitness and couldn't believe in Jesus, he took:

"No pleasure but meanness"

"No pleasure but meanness" has the cadence of a saying—the type of words you say over and over to yourself to justify what you are doing. The fact that the Misfit makes a variation on this saying as the last line the story suggests he has undergone some sort of change. He has taken no pleasure in killing the Grandmother. He has, at least temporarily, moved from pleasure in being mean to being emptied of the ability to feel pleasure.

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The Misfit says that "Jesus threw everything off balance" and that he shouldn't have done it.

By connecting his life with Jesus dying for everyone's sins on the cross, he is trying to relate his story with that of Jesus. Jesus committed no crime in the eyes of most Christians and at least no crime that you could prove and similarly, the Misfit does not understand why a crime was put on him. He says, the difference is "they could prove I had committed one because they had papers on me." He likens his being put (he feels) unjustly in prison with Jesus' being put unjustly to death.

To the Misfit's mind, because Jesus committed no crime and was put to death this altered the balance of things. The Misfit believes you should be punished in relation to the suffering you have endured. "I call myself The Misfit," he said, "because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment." Therefore, he sees nothing in life to prevent him from doing wrong if he is going to be punished no matter what he does.

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What is the Misfit's favorite saying in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

The Misfit does not have a phrase in this story that he repeats again and again. Therefore to answer your question it is important to identify what the most important thing is that the Misfit says as he talks to the grandmother. For me, it is the following saying:

"No pleasure but meanness," he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.

This is significant because it describes to us the way in which the Misfit lives his life. He finds no pleasure at all but in commiting evil acts, and this is what defines him as a "Misfit." Yet what makes this quote from the Misfit so important is the way that, having just said this, he then goes on to contradict himself shortly after killing the grandmother. When Bobby Lee says "Some fun!" to describe the killing of the family, he is told to shut up, as "It's no real pleasure in life." This is significant because it reveals that, having declared his position as finding only pleasure in evil, the conversation with the grandmother has made him realise that there is in fact no pleasure in such deeds. Even a character such as the Misfit demonstrates that he can be an unlikely recipient of grace.

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In the story "A Good Man is Hard to Find," The Misfit is such an important and strange character, he's bound to "mean something." What is it?

In Flannery O'Connor's shocking short story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," I believe the Misfit is symbolic, based upon the theme that seemed to drive much of O'Connor's literature.

Religion is perhaps the most important element of O'Connor's writing. The author believed that someone generally needed to be hit on the head with a two-by-four before he or she would notice that God was trying to speak with him or her.

In this case, it is the Grandmother who is not listening.

The Grandmother is extremely annoying. One might feel she drives the Misfit to kill her, except that he kills the rest of the family as well. She has no true sense of a meaningful, honest relationship with God.

The violence at the hands of the Misfit is what really wakes the Grandmother up to her own lack of faith. Even though her family has already been murdered, it is not until her own life is threatened that the Grandmother has a religious "epiphany" (awakening).

Symbolically, the Misfit may represent all that is hurtful, harmful or even evil in this world. In light of how O'Connor sees human beings and their faith in God—or lack thereof, it would seem that the Misfit represents the adversity and true suffering that comes knocking on one's door: often times, perhaps as O'Connor sees it, the only time someone finally has time for God—when things get really bad...even at the moment just before death.

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