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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

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So you’re going to teach Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic short story has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenges, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” will give them unique insight into characterization, dialogue, and important themes surrounding morality and nostalgia, as well as Southern gothic literature as a genre. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance 

  • Publication Date: 1953
  • Recommended Grade Level: 10-12
  • Approximate Word Count: 6,500
  • Author: Flannery O’Connor
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Genre: Southern Gothic 
  • Literary Period: Modern
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self
  • Narration: Third-Person Limited
  • Setting: Atlanta and Toombsboro, Georgia, 1950s
  • Dominant Literary Devices: Prose, Dialogue
  • Mood: Wry, Cynical, Tense, Claustrophobic

Texts that Go Well with “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

“A Rose for Emily” (1930) by William Faulkner is another iconic example of Southern gothic literature. “A Rose for Emily” tells the life story of a spinster who came of age in the Reconstruction Era South. Having had her freedoms limited by her father and his adherence to upper-class social norms, Emily takes control of her destiny in one of the few ways she can: by killing her paramour when he tries to leave.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe stands as an antecedent to Southern gothic literature. It utilizes the tropes of gothic literature—decaying mansions, gloomy settings, eccentric characters, and doppelgängers—to tell the story of twins who meet their demise within their derelict family home. Both stories rely heavily on their settings and offer students a chance to explore how mood is established.

“The Fly” (1922) by Katherine Mansfield is another short story that considers the constraints of human morality and altruism. Two friends who have lost their sons in World War I meet to discuss their lives. Confused by the complexity of his grief, one of the businessmen admires, tortures, and kills a fly that has landed in his inkwell. Just as “A Good Man is Hard to Find” juxtaposes shocking violence with ambiguous religious epiphany, “The Fly” depicts a seemingly senseless act stemming from the emotions surrounding grief and loss. 

The Little Friend (2002) by Donna Tartt reads like a contemporary version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Harriet—twelve, difficult, and precocious—is determined to solve the mystery of her older brother’s murder. As she investigates she uncovers mysteries within herself, her family, and her community. Like O’Connor's work, Tartt’s novel explores Southern history, culture, and family lifestyles.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” (1966) is a short story by Joyce Carol Oates about a young girl named Connie who is targeted by a menacing man named Arnold Friend. Both “Where Are You Going” and “A Good Man” feature grotesque—or unsettling and incongruous—male villains who elicit apparent epiphanies and repentances of selfishness from flawed protagonists. Both stories also feature religious underpinnings and explore themes surrounding redemption and familial relationships.

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History of the Text