“A good man is hard to find” by Flannery O’Connor is a prime example of southern gothic style fiction that O’Connor was known for. Throughout this story, images of the south play a large role. For example, we hear the grandmother talking about the good old days of plantations in the south and she even comments on how a scene of a Negro child standing in the doorway of a shack was cute and would “make a picture”. The use of this typical southern stereotype represents how distorted the grandmother’s look on life is. In fact, every member of the family is a bit grotesque. The children have their blatant lack of respect and manners; the father who while dressed cheerfully, is actually intense and seems angry most of the time. The mother lacks character and seems to just be pushed around by the rest of her family. This story may seem to be of the tragedy that strikes a typical southern family but is actually a critique of character and ultimately asks what makes a good man.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” has two main themes, selfishness, and grace. Basically, the grandmother’s determination to do something that she wants to results in the death of not only her but also her entire family. O’Connor chooses not to name the main character in this story, but instead simply calls her the grandmother despite the fact that almost every other character has a name. Despite not having an official name, the grandmother’s character reveals early on that she is obsessed with appearances, believes in an old Southern way of life and values the attributes that make her a lady. O’Connor describes the grandmother’s “navy blue straw sailor hat”, her dress is trimmed with lace and a sachet of flowers being pinned on her neckline, all to ensure that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady”. When analyzing the grandmother’s behavior, we quickly find that she is a selfish woman who tries to manipulate her family to meet her goals. She critiques the children’s behavior from the start of the story and continues throughout. She also brings her cat, Pitty Sing, along with on the trip after Bailey directly forbade sharing a motel room with it.
The pride and selfishness of the grandmother along with the failing memory that comes with a certain age, is ultimately what leads the family to their demise. After waking from one of many short naps in the car, the grandmother suddenly remembers an old plantation house she had visited when she was younger. Even though she knew her son Bailey would not be too keen on the idea of trying to find some old house, “the more she talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin arbors were still standing”. She makes up a story about a secret panel in the house to get the children riled up. Bailey tries to stick to his guns, but the children begin to misbehave even more. He ultimately decides to appease the grandmother and his children, replying “All right…but get this: this is the only time we’re going to stop for anything like this. This is the one and only time”.
In reality, the grandmother is confused. She has no actual idea where they are, and its not until they are lost down this little dirt road that “looked as if no one had traveled on it in months” that the grandmother realizes the plantation house does not exist in Georgia but in Tennessee. Instead of admitting her mistake and angering her son farther, the grandmother decides not to mention this fact, but instead startles herself so much that she upsets the cat, causing an uproar and the distraction of Bailey which ends with the entire family being thrown around and “the car turned over once and landed right-side-up in a gulch off the side of the road”. This selfish waste of time that the grandmother leads her family on ultimately leads to their meeting with the Misfit.
The family is now faced with the misfit and his goons who have come to “assist” them after their accident. The grandmother recognizes the Misfit and is quick to point out that she knows who he is. The Misfit replies “Yes’m…but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t recognized me”. Immediately, she begins bargaining for her life “you wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?” she asks and goes on to tell him how he must be a good man and must have come from nice people. The Misfit shares bits and pieces of his story and come to find out that he has suffered injustice and has broken out of prison to right what was wrong. We can tell he is not all there mentally as he cannot even recall the crime he has committed, but they had proof that a crime was committed, and the punishment has perhaps driven him to be this way.
The grandmother listened to the Misfit but did not truly hear what he had to say. She instead continued to try to convince him that he was a good man and all he needed to do was pray. All her talk of a good man and prayer shows that the grandmother believes that a good man is a man that prays. She asks him repeatedly to pray, to change his ways, indirectly saving the lives of her and her family. Her rambling on did not fall on completely deaf ears, when the misfit expressed his confusion, stating he wished he had been there when Jesus raised the dead so he would know for sure and then he would not be what he is today. The grandmother’s head cleared at this realization. She tells him, “Why you’re one of my babies, your one of my own children”, she was finally seeing the Misfit for what he truly is, a man in need of direction, mercy and grace. Not unlike herself or the rest of her family. With this final line, the grandmother accepts the fact that her fate is like that of the rest of her family. She reaches out to touch the Misfit, but he flinches away and shoots her three times in the chest.
“She would have been a good woman…if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” the Misfit says at the end of the story. This shows that if the grandmother would have stopped judging people and started accepting them the way she had the misfit in the face of death, she would have been a much better woman. Still, it was a good thing for her to have found her own grace by understanding the true meaning of it right before she died.