“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is a short story written by Flannery O’ Connor in which she uses symbolism to make the story more meaningful. The main character is an unnamed grandmother who considers herself morally superior to others simply because she is a “lady,” and she generously and frequently passes judgment on others. She is hypocritical, dishonest, and selfish. As the story progresses the grandmother moves from spiritual blindness to grace. The premise of the story is based on the ideal of good versus evil as is depicted throughout the story through the use of symbolism as well as irony. The story is about a family who is going on a trip to Florida who turn down a dirt road, which quickly turns their trip into a series of misfortunate events that leads to their demise.
At the beginning of the story, the grandmother is very selfish and unpleasant. As the family prepares to go on vacation in Florida, she tries to convince them to go to east Tennessee instead, because she has relatives there. She had heard that there was a psychopathic killer who called himself Misfit heading toward Florida. She tried to use this information to persuade her son Bailey to change his mind about going to Florida. Because she is selfish, she disregards the wishes of others around her. She is vane, old and set in her ways which makes her quite unpleasant. She thinks highly of herself and is impressed by wealth and social status as is evident by the way she dresses for the trip. “The grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet” (O’Conner 138). She wears her best clothes and a hat and is convinced that this will without a doubt prove that she is none other than a refined lady if she dies during the trip. The grandmother’s view of people is based solely on the external.
The grandmother is racist and opinionated. She believes that black people, especially children are supposed to be poor. “Oh, look at cute little pickaninny1” she said…”Wouldn’t he make a picture now?” “He didn’t have any britches on, “June Star said. “He probably didn’t have any,” the grandmother explained. “Little niggers in the country don’t have things like we do” (O’Conner 139). She appears to be stuck in the days of the South – slavery days. She believes herself to belong to the upper class and that blacks are inferior to her. Such views and beliefs are evidence of her judgmental nature as well. The Grandmother has just been lecturing her grandchildren concerning “respect”: respect for “native states,” for “parents,” and for “everything else.” Then she immediately reveals her essential self by calling the boy a “cute little pickaninny” (Walls)
The family stops for lunch at Red Sammy’s, a barbecue eatery. The grandmother converses with Red Sammy whose views are somewhat like hers and appears to try to convince herself that she is a good person, a lady and a Christian despite the fact that she is narrow-mined and opinionated. Her selfish, vain, arrogant and judgmental ways make her very unpleasant. After leaving the roadhouse, her pigheadness about going to Tennessee comes to the surface once again. She manipulates her son and convinces him to make a detour to an old plantation she once visited as a girl. She embellishes her story and makes it more appealing to the kids by mentioning that the house has a secret panel. She also adds that the visit to the house would be educational for them as well. As they begin this tour to the old plantation, the cat Pitty Sing leaps onto Bailey and he loses control of the car on the dirt road. Once again this is evident of the kind of person she is. She selfishly sneaked the cat out and in turn caused the accident. To avoid being confronted about what she had done, she faked an injury- more manipulation and deceit. The grandmother shows no remorse about endangering her family – selfishness. After the accident, the family came in contact with the Misfit, a serial killer. The grandmother recognizes who he is further endangering the lives of her family. She never begs Misfit to spare the lives of her family, only her own.
Near the end of the story, the grandmother tried to manipulate the Misfit by trying to convince him that he was a good man. She also tried to appeal to his belief in Jesus as a way of sparing her own life. “If you would pray…Jesus would help you” (O’Conner 150).Toward the end of her life as desperation begin to take over, it appeared that she might have begin to debt Jesus. She states, “Maybe he didn’t raise the dead” (O’Conner 152). To do so, would be symbolic of the kind of person she was and the lifestyle she lived. In one final attempt of desperation she tries to save her life by proclaiming the Misfit to be one of her own frantically declaring “You’re one of my own children”. Flannery O’Connor’s interpretation of her short story ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’ as one of redemption and grace is not borne out by the story. She portrays the grandmother’s touch of the Misfit and her declaration that he is one of her children as a Christ-like gesture, transferring grace from a good woman to a bad man, leading eventually, outside the frame of the story, to his salvation. It is more consistent with her depicted character to view the grandmother’s gesture and remark as the ultimate selfish act, designed to save her own life at any cost. She and the Misfit are fundamentally the same (Bandy). She becomes more in touch with her reality. She also realizes that she is not a good person and abandons the idea that she is above others and comes to term with the fact that she is only a mere human. It is then that she becomes a devout Christian. The irony being that she has become the “good man.