In the short story ” A Good Man is Hard to Find” the author, Flannery O’Connor uses the characters in the story to capture the reader’s attention. Most every person has had or has a ‘Grandmother’ in their life, a Bailey, and young children or grandchildren. As one reads the story, they can relate and empathize with the characters which makes it a bit easier to read as well as engaging.
O’Connor did a fabulous job with describing each character, and any reader can find someone or something in the story they can relate to and apply to their everyday life.
The grandmother is the main character and the protagonist of the story. As the story progresses, readers learn more about this character from direct conversations with the son, Bailey, her grandchildren, and the Misfit, who is a criminal and killer. Through much of the dialogue which occurs between the characters, one realizes the Grandmother was raised with a traditional background and a modest upbringing; however, she often changes her attitude, opinions, and word choice to impress the people around her.
The Grandmother certainly sees herself as quite a traditional, dignified, and upstanding person, who judges everyone but never accepts blame for her own mistakes. Thus, the story reflects how through conflict a person can find the good in others and even within themselves. It is easy to feel a little sympathy for the Grandmother during the story, but it does not take long to determine this is not exactly the author’s intent. Clearly, the author uses elements such as tone, dialogue, and the character’s influence to portray that the grandmother is the appropriate one to receive the title of the Misfit. The Grandmother portrays negative characteristics such as hypocrisy, manipulation, and selfishness.
Towards the beginning of the story, the author reveals the Grandmother believes she is morally better than most people and holds strong religious beliefs. She perceives herself to be a lady and dignified person of society, but on the other hand, she enjoys passing judgment on other people and often comments about the lack of goodness in the world. In the story, the Grandmother is determined to impose herself on her son, Baily, and his family by interjecting herself between the children, acting as a tour guide during the trip, and giving directions on how to drive from the back seat. She passes judgment toward her son and daughter in law for not allowing the children to “see different parts of the world and be broad” (562). Also, she is critical and judgmental of her grandchildren when she comments “In my time, children were more respectful,”(563). She clearly implies that her grandchildren are not respectful because of prejudice regarding the places they pass through.
The Grandmother is quick to judge and criticize other people and her own family but is not able to see her own faults. It is clear she is a master manipulator, a person with a double standard, critical, and self-centered. For example, the Grandmother never admits the mistake she made about the location of the plantation and never accepts responsibility for her own mistakes. The hypocrisy shown through her actions and words demonstrate and that she is not as self-righteous as she thinks. It is clear to the reader that the Grandmother is subtle in her words and actions, but never directly confronts other characters in the story. The Grandmother is superficial and places much value on her appearance. She also believes that she is a lady of high standing and has strong religious values.
The only time she brings up Jesus is after the first attempt to save her own life. To get the Misfit’s attention, she cries out loud “Jesus, Jesus” in hopes that he might spare her life (571). The Grandmother is in complete shock and cannot comprehend how something so terrible could happen to such a fine, moral lady as herself. Also, she only talks about religion at her death even though she considers herself to be a fine Christian lady. After appealing to the Misfit’s goodness, she begins to offer him all her money for her salvation instead.
These actions and words reflect the major flaw in her character. The grandmother has always placed too much value on money and material things, instead of love and compassion. After pleading for her life and screaming for Jesus, the Misfit kills the Grandmother and justifies the murder by saying that her true qualities are shown at her death. The Misfit allows her to search for resurrection within herself and become what she was capable of being all along, a kind and loving person. In everyday life, most people know someone like the Grandmother and the Misfit. Most people that experience great tragedy or placed under pressure; they often react differently and the way they should have behaved all along.
At the very beginning of the story, it is evident that the Grandmother does not want to take the trip to Florida because she had rather go to Tennessee and visit relatives. When a situation arises that go against her will, the Grandmother uses manipulation to change things to go her way. Clearly, the Grandmother was taking every chance she could to change Bailey’s mind. The Grandmother quotes “Just as you read it. I would not take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I could not answer my conscience if I did”(561). Notice that the Grandmother never says anything directly to Bailey or the kids about her wanting to go to Tennessee instead of Florida, but tries to intimidate the family by scaring them with a news report about an escaped convict on the loose heading toward Florida. When she does not get the reaction she wants, she moves on to her next idea and says the children have already been to Florida(562).
The Grandmother tries to imply the trip was for the children, but in reality, it was all about her. Another example of manipulation used by the author takes place in the vehicle where the Grandmother remembers an old house she had visited in the past. She remembers the old plantation very distinctly and wants to stop by and visit. Suddenly, she realizes Bailey will not agree to stop, so she decides to come up with a make-believe story to tell the children, so they will convince Bailey to drive to the plantation. She tells the children” There was a secret panel in the house, and all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through, but it was never found”(565). The children begged and convinced their parents to let them stop by, and the parents finally agree. The Grandmother lying to the children in order to get her way makes her a liar and manipulative.
The Grandmother consistently expresses selfish traits throughout the story and is always concerned about herself as well as how others perceive her. Before the trip, she talks about her conscious yet sees nothing wrong with her deception when she smuggles the cat into the car. She knows that Bailey does not want to bring any animals due to the length of the trip and spacing issues. Instead of causing problems or having a discussion about the cat with Bailey, the Grandmother intentionally sneaks the cat in the car and hides it in a basket without telling him (562).This incident is an example used to demonstrates that she has no compassion for the cat’s comfort, only her selfish attitude and personal desire to take the cat on the family trip.
Through most of the story, the action begins typically with something the Grandmother has said or done. At the beginning of the story, she indicates that she does not want to go to Florida. The Grandmother would much rather go to East Tennessee and tried anything she could to change Bailey’s mind (562). As the story progresses, and the family begins their trip to Florida, the Grandmother talked the entire time. She also told stories of her youth to her grandchildren and lectured them about being more respectful to their parents and native state. Although the grandmother is the protagonist, it is her fault the trip ended in such a devastating way. Unknowingly, she led her entire family to their fate. She is responsible for the deaths because she brought the cat on the trip for herself. If she had not been selfish and hid the cat in the car, the accident would not have happened, and the family would have has a stronger chance to survive the vacation.
When the family encounters the Misfit, the Grandmother immediately tries to convince the criminal to spare her life. Mainly, she is selfish in the way she does not plead for the Misfit to spare her family’s life. Her first words are “You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?” (571). In the grandmother’s final hours, she attempts to bribe and even flatter the Misfit in a desperate attempt to save her life. The Grandmother believes that a lady is defined by her appearance and looking respectable.
Earlier in the story, the grandmother commented on the lack of good people in the world, and she diverted to doing whatever was necessary to save her own life without worrying about her family members. Any initial sympathy felt for the grandmother quickly goes away as the author allows the reader to judge the grandmother through her words and actions, which she is not capable of doing for herself. The author expresses her selfishness and hypocrisy through the entire story, and ultimately, when faced with a serial killer, her thoughts are not for her children or grandchildren, but entirely for herself.
When the Grandmother connects with the Misfit at the end of the story signifies how similar the two are despite being so outwardly different. The title of “Misfit” which he had given himself was not exclusively his as the Grandmother proved to be an even greater misfit. Through her judgemental actions, comments, and conversations with family members and the misfit, the Grandmother consistently shows she is hypocritical, manipulative, and selfish in many ways. The Grandmother seemed to be ready for death, and the author reveals this was not the death she wanted in the end. One of the most important aspects of the story is the actual meaning of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The title leads the reader to think it is written about a woman trying to find a good man to fall in love with; however, the story has an entirely different meaning. Through the Grandmother’s perspective not only good men were gone but also a good life.
- Conner, Flannery O. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. 12th ed. Kelly J. Mays. W.W. Norton ; Company: New York, London Publishers, 2016 pgs. 561-572.