Publication History and Reception: Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” was originally published in 1953 in The Avon Book of Modern Writing. O’Connor republished the story in a complete collection, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, in 1955. In 1960, the story was anthologized again in The House of Fiction. Though the story was popular with literary critics, many readers found it polarizing and were unsure of whether it should be read as a story of condemnation or redemption. Though O’Connor was a devout Catholic, her work was often criticized for combining Christian motifs and violence. Nevertheless, both the story and O’Connor’s popularity grew over the course of the twentieth century. She received the National Book Award posthumously in 1972 for her Collected Stories, and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” was adapted into the 1992 film Black Hearts Bleed Red. Today, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is frequently anthologized and taught in English classrooms across the country, and it is regarded as a quintessential example of Southern gothic literature.
A Goliath of Southern Gothic Literature: The horror engendered by “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is indicative of O’Connor’s writing as a whole as well as Southern gothic literature as a genre. Southern gothic literature sprung from the roots of gothic literature in Europe and the social and economic strife in the South following the Civil War; it uses suspenseful plots; grotesque characters; and gloomy, neglected settings to consider how racial, economic, and gender conflicts shape the American experience. Southern history and nostalgia are common motifs in Southern gothic writing, as is a sense of defeated pride echoing from the failure of the confederacy during the Civil War. Specifically, the subgenre emphasizes the distinction between idealized notions of the antebellum South and the realities of slavery and oppression that continue to influence American culture.
- The grandmother’s attitude toward Georgia and Tennessee reflects the nostalgia for Southern history that is prevalent in—and often critiqued by—Southern gothic literature. Such attitudes are evident in her idealized notions of the scenery, the poor black boy who would “make a picture,” and the plantation she remembers visiting in her youth. The grandmother’s attitudes contrast with those of her grandchildren, who describe Tennessee as a “hillbilly dumping ground” and Georgia as “lousy.”
- As they travel through the rural South, the family encounters impoverished communities, plantation graveyards, and a restaurant that June Star describes as a “broken down place.” These places reflect the lack of social and economic development in the South following the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War.
- Though typically associated with the Southern Gothic tradition, O’Connor herself identified her works more with the grotesque. She often depicted horrific, violent events and contrasted them with moments of grace or Christian redemption. The tension between these two elements is most prevalent in the climactic conversation between the Misfit and the grandmother, in which the Misfit’s murders exist alongside a discussion of Jesus Christ and the grandmother’s perception of the Misfit as one of her own children.