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A Good Man is Hard to Find (short story)

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a short story written by Flannery O'Connor. O'Connor was a southern Catholic and often incorporated her religious thinking into her stories. The story appears in the collection of short stories of the same name, A Good Man Is Hard to Find. It is generally considered one of the greatest short stories of the twentieth century. The interpretive work of scholars often focuses on the controversial final scene.

Plot summary

The story begins with a family argument about where to go on vacation. Everyone except the grandmother wishes to go to Florida. She suggests they go to east Tennessee instead. In a failed attempt to persuade the family to abandon their plans, she says The Misfit, who escaped from the Federal Penitentiary, is on the loose somewhere on the way to Florida, foreshadowing events to come. On their way south through Georgia, they stop for lunch at Red Sammy's and have a conversation which centers on nostalgia of the Old South. After leaving for their journey grandmother tells the family about a house and plantation she visited when she was young and coaxes the family into visiting there.

Unfortunately, on the way they have a car accident involving a smuggled cat the grandmother brings without the consent of her son, Bailey. The grandmother accidentally knocks open the basket in which she had hidden the cat and the cat lands on top of Bailey's shoulders. Bailey's sudden, frightened reaction results in an accident in which the car flips over. Once the car comes to a rest, the family gets out. The grandmother complains of internal injuries to try and keep Bailey from lashing out at her. At this point a car appears in the distance and stops upon seeing the wreckage. Three men, Hiram, The Misfit, and Bobby Lee, exit the car, all carrying guns. The grandmother recognizes one of them as The Misfit and announces her realization, in effect dooming her and her entire family as the Misfit now must kill them all to cover his tracks.

The grandmother pleads for her life before The Misfit, claiming he is clearly not of common birth and asserting several times he is a "good man." She tries to appeal to any belief in Christ The Misfit might hold. While she tries to reason with The Misfit, her family (first the two males, then the two females and the baby) is taken into the woods by Bobby Lee and Hiram, where they are shot. When grandmother tries to touch The Misfit after saying he is also "one of my babies", The Misfit recoils and shoots her three times. At the close of the story, he claims that "She would of been a good woman... if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."


The Grandmother: A selfish old woman who is murdered at the end of the story for touching The Misfit. Her announcement of the newspaper article about the Misfit foreshadows the family's meeting with the Misfit later in the story.The Misfit: A cold-hearted killer who isn't religious and doesn't want to be, citing his disbelief in the powers of Jesus as a main reason for his non-Christian outlook. He kills without feeling, as seen by his taking of the father's parrot shirt after the father is killed.Bailey: Father of June Star and John Wesley, and son of the Grandmother. He wears the parrot shirt The Misfit takes and is one of the first to be taken into the woods and killed. He is impatient and is attacked by the family cat, causing the wreck that brings them to the Misfit.John Wesley: An impudent boy who degrades the family. He is supposedly named after the founder of Methodism.June Star: A selfish little girl who is rude to her grandmother and is one of the last people to die.The Mother: Unnamed and almost never mentioned, she has only one line of dialogue. She represents the new Southern lady, in contrast to the old, forgotten Southern woman, as represented by the Grandmother.


There are varying opinions of the underlying meaning in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Most of this discrepancy centers on the grandmother's act of touching The Misfit: was she just trying to save herself yet again, or was it an act of charity and grace?

The opinion that the grandmother's final act was one of grace and charity implies that "A Good Man is Hard to Find" was written to show a transformation in the Grandmother as the story progresses. In the beginning, she was more concerned about looking like a good Christian than being a good Christian. This is shown by her selfish desire to go to Tennessee instead of Florida and, more important, by her attempts to save her own life, even as her family continued to die around her. In the end, she realizes she has not led a good life and reaches out to touch her killer, The Misfit, in a final act of grace and charity. Even though she fails, her attempt is not lost on The Misfit, who remarks that under the threat of violence, she was a good woman.

A second popular opinion on the issue is that the grandmother's final act was not an act of charity and that she is yet again trying to save herself from being murdered. Some say that Flannery O'Connor uses the excuse as the grandmother's final "moment of grace" to save the story from the bloodshed and violence. It is also pointed out that by the time the grandmother touches The Misfit, proclaiming he is her son, he is wearing Bailey's shirt. Other opinions include that it is contradictory of her character or that she was simply again trying to save herself and that her selfishness is never overcome throughout the story


A film adaptation of the short story "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," titled "Black Hearts Bleed Red", was made in 1992 by New York filmmaker Jeri Cain Rossi. The film stars noted New York artist Joe Coleman.

An original 45-minute modern chamber opera based on "A Good Man is Hard to Find" was completed in 2003 by David Volk, a University of Georgia music doctoral student, as part of his dissertation requirements in composition. The chamber opera was performed at the Seney-Stovall Chapel in Athens with grant funding from the University's Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE). Later that same year, the work was performed at Piedmont College in Demorest, GA, and in Milledgeville, GA, at "Flannery O'Connor: the Visionary and the Venacular," an interdisciplinary conference sponsored by Georgia College and State University (and home of the Flannery O'Connor Library). In 2007, the work was performed at the University of Virginia's College at Wise where Dr. Volk teaches as Assistant Professor of Music.

The American folk musician Sufjan Stevens adapted the story into a song going by the same title. It appears on his 2004 album Seven Swans. The song is written in the first person from the point of view of The Misfit.


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