A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Literary Critical Analysis Essay

Introduction, short summary of “a good man is hard to find”, “a good man is hard to find” theme analysis, “a good man is hard to find” character analysis: the grandmother, works cited.

The short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” stands as the American Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor’s most disturbing work of fiction. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is the title work of O’Connor’s debut collection of short stories which appeared in 1955, and the piece remains her signature short story (Kinney 1).

The action of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” depicts a family vacation gone terribly awry. On a road trip to Florida a family from Atlanta encounter a homicidal escaped convict whom the media dubs The Misfit. The Misfit and his henchmen execute the entire family and steal their clothes, car and cat. O’Connor tells the story from the point of view of the grandmother.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” centers upon two themes: selfishness, and individualism. Essentially the grandmother’s insistence on achieving her own selfish ends results in the death of her entire family, as well as the loss of her own life. This essay analyzes the story’s thematic message in regards to selfishness, individualism and its effect on the family as well as the larger community, as represented by The Misfit.

O’Connor identifies the main character – the grandmother – only by role, while all of the other character she provides with names. Despite having no name the grandmother’s character reveals itself early and profoundly; she is obsessed with appearances, connected to a vague Southern past, and concerned with propriety and the value of being a lady.

O’Connor describes her “navy blue straw sailor hat,” her “collars and cuffs [that] were white organdy trimmed with lace” and “purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet” that the grandmother pins at her neckline to ensure that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor 2).

Behavior wise the grandmother is a selfish woman who deliberately manipulates her family to suit her own purposes unapologetically and with impunity.

She intentionally misinforms her son Bailey about her cat, Pitty Sing, which she smuggles into the car underneath her “big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus,” even though Bailey has expressly forbid the cat to share the motel room with them (O’Connor 1). Pitty Sing later brings about the deaths of the whole family following the car accident and ensuing encounter with The Misfit.

The grandmother’s pride and inflated sense of self importance, not to mention her failing memory, bring about the family’s downfall. Upon waking up from a nap in the car, the grandmother claims to remember a plantation house from her youth. Even though she knows that her son Bailey “would not be willing to lose any time looking at an 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” (O’Connor 5).

Her son’s reluctance, in her mind, remains a simple obstacle to overcome in her desire to get things done her way. Even though Bailey’s “jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe” in response to her goading, the grandmother does not relent (O’Connor 5).

Instead, she lies, and enlists the shrill support of her grandchildren: “There was a secret:-panel in this house,” she said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were, “and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through but it was never found” (O’Connor 5). Having stirred the children’s imagination, the grandmother lies again – “It’s not far from here, I know,” the grandmother said. “It wouldn’t take over twenty minutes” (O’Connor 5). The fact is she doesn’t know.

She has no idea where they are. It is not until they are hopelessly lost on the dirt road that “looked as if no one had traveled on it in months” that the grandmother’s “horrible thought” reminds her that the plantation house in question does not exist in the state of Georgia, but in Tennessee, though she is too full of pride to admit this to her son (O’Connor 6) And the wild goose chase that she leads her family on, again, for selfish purposes, leads them to their doomful meeting with The Misfit.

Similarly, the strident individualism that propels the grandmother’s fateful actions manifests itself squarely in the character of The Misfit. The Misfit, like the grandmother, focuses exclusively on himself and employs the other people around him as pawns meant to achieve his own selfish needs and wants (Hooten 198).

The objectification of others – in the case of the grandmother this means the objectification of her own family – results in an overall loss of cohesiveness, wherein “community holds no value” (Hooten 198). Set adrift, peripatetic and aimlessly moving from one empty community to another, “The Misfit exemplifies this void [as] the lost individual who relates to the community through constantly shifting roles” (Hooten 198). Like the grandmother, he takes what he needs in order to get what he wants, and then moves on.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” also treats individualism through the lens of identity. We see clearly that The Misfit shares Bailey’s ire at the senseless grandmother’s shriek “You’re The Misfit!” she said. “I recognized you at once!” “Yes’m,” the man said…”But it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t of reckernized me.” Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shocked even the children.

The old lady began to cry and The Misfit reddened” (O’Connor 8). When The Misfit’s fellow criminal Bobby Lee returns from the woods with Bailey’s yellow shirt full of parrots, a moment happens wherein The Misfit, by donning the dead man’s attire, acquires his identity for a moment (Gresham 18). He, like Bailey, views the grandmother’s idiotic obsession with decorum as “selfish, superficial, and condescending,” yet unlike Bailey, he remains free to take action to condemn her (Kinney 1).

The short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” represents Flannery O’Connor’s concern that selfishness and rampant individualism casts people apart and promotes the disenfranchisement of characters such as The Misfit, who invariably end up as “self-focused wanderers without community who use others as means to their own ends” (Hooten 197).

Very little difference exists between the character of the grandmother and the character of The Misfit, aside from their social viability. Both remain selfish and extreme individualists, who will lie, steal, manipulate and murder to affect their own ends. In Flannery O’Connor’s hands, this selfishness and individualism collides at a disaster point and initiates the deaths of five innocent people. Worse, the instigator of their murder is one of their own.

Gresham, Stephen. “Things Darkly Buried: In Praise of A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Shenandoah 60.1-2 (2010): 17-18. Web.

Hooten, Jessica. “Individualism in O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The Explicator 66.4 (2008): 197-198. Web.

Kinney, Arthur F. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Overview.” Reference Guide to Short Fiction . Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. 1-2. Print.

O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing: Custom Edition. Eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2011. 1-12. Print.

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Literary Theory and Criticism

Home › Literature › Analysis of Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Analysis of Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on May 25, 2021

Frequently anthologized, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” exemplifies Flannery O’Connor’s southern religious grounding. The story depicts the impact of Christ on the lives of two seemingly disparate characters. One is a grandmother joining her son’s family on a trip to Florida. Accompanied by a silent daughter-in-law, a baby, two unpleasant children, and her smuggled cat, she wheedles the son into making a detour to see a plantation that she remembers from an earlier time.

Moments of recognition and connection multiply as the seemingly foreordained meeting of the grandmother and the killer she has read about in the paper takes place. She upsets the basket in which she has hidden her cat; the cat lands on her son’s neck, causing an accident. Soon three men appear on the dirt road, and the grandmother recognizes one of them as the notorious killer the Misfit.

a good man is hard to find analytical essay

Flannery O’Connor/National Catholic Register

O’Connor weaves the notion of punishment and Christian love into the conversation between the Misfit and the grandmother while the grandmother’s family is being murdered. Referring to the similarity that he shares with Christ, the Misfit declares that “Jesus thrown everything off balance” (27), but he admits that unlike Christ, he must have committed a crime because there were papers to prove it. When the grandmother touches his shoulder because she sees him as one of her own children, she demonstrates a Christian love that causes him to shoot her.

This story typifies O’Connor’s mingling of comedy, goodness, banality, and violence in her vision of a world that, however imperfect, most readers inevitably recognize as part of their own. O’Connor views the world as a place where benevolence and good intentions conflict with perversity and evil, and her protagonists frequently learn too late that their lives can crumble in an instant when confronted by the very real powers of darkness.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Kessler, Edward. Flannery O’Connor and the Language of Apocalypse. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. Orvell, Miles. Flannery O’Connor: An Introduction. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991

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Analysis of Flannery O'Connor's Story, 'A Good Man Is Hard to Find'

Good Versus Evil in a Road Trip Gone Awry

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"A Good Man Is Hard to Find," first published in 1953, is among the most famous stories by Georgia writer Flannery O'Connor . O'Connor was a staunch Catholic, and like most of her stories, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" wrestles with questions of good and evil and the possibility of divine grace.

A grandmother is traveling with her family (her son Bailey, his wife, and their three children) from Atlanta to Florida for a vacation. The grandmother, who would prefer to go to East Tennessee, informs the family that a violent criminal known as The Misfit is loose in Florida, but they do not change their plans. The grandmother secretly brings her cat in the car.

They stop for lunch at Red Sammy's Famous Barbecue, and the grandmother and Red Sammy commiserate that the world is changing and "a good man is hard to find."

After lunch, the family begins driving again and the grandmother realizes they are near an old plantation she once visited. Wanting to see it again, she tells the children that the house has a secret panel and they clamor to go. Bailey reluctantly agrees. As they drive down a rough dirt road, the grandmother suddenly realizes that the house she is remembering is in Tennessee, not Georgia.

Shocked and embarrassed by the realization, she accidentally kicks over her belongings, releasing the cat, which jumps onto Bailey's head and causes an accident.

A car slowly approaches them, and The Misfit and two young men get out. The grandmother recognizes him and says so. The two young men take Bailey and his son into the woods, and shots are heard . Then they take the mother, the daughter, and the baby into the woods. More shots are heard. Throughout, the grandmother pleads for her life, telling The Misfit she knows he's a good man and entreating him to pray.

He engages her in a discussion about goodness, Jesus, and crime and punishment. She touches his shoulder, saying, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" but The Misfit recoils and shoots her.

Defining 'Goodness'

The grandmother's definition of what it means to be "good" is symbolized by her very proper and coordinated traveling outfit. O'Connor writes:

In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.

The grandmother is clearly concerned with appearances above all else. In this hypothetical accident, she worries not about her death or the deaths of her family members, but about strangers' opinions of her. She also demonstrates no concern for the state of her soul at the time of her imagined death, but we think that's because she's operating under the assumption that her soul is already as pristine as her "navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim."

She continues to cling to superficial definitions of goodness as she pleads with The Misfit. She entreats him not to shoot "a lady," as if not murdering someone is just a question of etiquette. And she reassures him that she can tell he's "not a bit common," as if lineage is somehow correlated with morality.

Even The Misfit himself knows enough to recognize that he "ain't a good man," even if he "ain't the worst in the world neither."

After the accident, the grandmother's beliefs begin to fall apart just like her hat, "still pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a jaunty angle and the violet spray hanging off the side." In this scene, her superficial values are revealed as ridiculous and flimsy.

O'Connor tells us that as Bailey is led into the woods, the grandmother:

reached up to adjust her hat brim as if she were going to the woods with him, but it came off in her hand. She stood staring at it, and after a second, she let it fall on the ground.

The things she has thought were important are failing her , falling uselessly around her, and she now has to scramble to find something to replace them.

A Moment of Grace?

What she finds is the idea of prayer, but it's almost as if she's forgotten (or never knew) how to pray. O'Connor writes:

Finally, she found herself saying, 'Jesus, Jesus,' meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing.

All her life, she has imagined that she is a good person, but like a curse, her definition of goodness crosses the line into evil because it is based on superficial, worldly values.

The Misfit may openly reject Jesus, saying, "I'm doing all right by myself," but his frustration with his own lack of faith ("It ain't right I wasn't there") suggests that he's given Jesus a lot more thought than the grandmother has.

When faced with death, the grandmother mostly lies, flatters, and begs. But at the very end, she reaches out to touch The Misfit and utters those rather cryptic lines, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!"

Critics disagree on the meaning of those lines, but they could possibly indicate that the grandmother finally recognizes the connectedness among human beings. She may finally understand what The Misfit already knows—that there is no such thing as "a good man," but that there is good in all of us and also evil in all of us, including in her.

This may be the grandmother's moment of grace—her chance at divine redemption. O'Connor tells us that "her head cleared for an instant," suggesting that we should read this moment as the truest moment in the story. The Misfit's reaction also suggests that the grandmother may have hit upon divine truth. As someone who openly rejects Jesus, he recoils from her words and her touch. Finally, even though her physical body is twisted and bloody, the grandmother dies with "her face smiling up at the cloudless sky" as if something good has happened or as if she has understood something important.

A Gun to Her Head

At the beginning of the story, The Misfit starts out as an abstraction for the grandmother. She doesn't really believe they'll encounter him; she's just using the newspaper accounts to try to get her way. She also doesn't really believe that they'll get into an accident or that she'll die; she just wants to think of herself as the kind of person whom other people would instantly recognize as a lady, no matter what.

It is only when the grandmother comes face to face with death that she begins to change her values. (O'Connor's larger point here, as it is in most of her stories, is that most people treat their inevitable deaths as an abstraction that will never really happen and, therefore, don't give enough consideration to the afterlife.)

Possibly the most famous line in all of O'Connor's work is The Misfit's observation, "She would have been a good woman […] if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." On the one hand, this is an indictment of the grandmother, who always thought of herself as a "good" person. But on the other hand, it serves as final confirmation that she was, for that one brief epiphany at the end, good.

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a good man is hard to find analytical essay

A Good Man is Hard to Find

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Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Flannery O’Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find . Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

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Historical Context of A Good Man is Hard to Find

Other books related to a good man is hard to find.

  • Full Title: A Good Man is Hard to Find
  • When Written: 1955
  • Where Written: Milledgeville, GA
  • When Published: 1955
  • Literary Period: Southern Gothic
  • Genre: Southern Gothic Short Story
  • Setting: Twentieth Century Rural South
  • Climax: The Grandmother reaches out and touches The Misfit, exclaiming, “You’re one of my own children,” and he shoots her three times.
  • Antagonist: The Misfit
  • Point of View: Third-person, mostly following the Grandmother

Extra Credit for A Good Man is Hard to Find

Fifteen Minutes of Fame. At the age of five, a photographer came to take photographs of one of O’Connor’s chickens, which she had taught to walk backwards. Film footage of this later made national newsreels.

Not Well Received. At ten years old, O’Connor began to write a series of sketches of her family members. Later in life, she described the collection, “My Relatives,” as “not well received.” Many of her family members were apparently displeased with how they were portrayed.

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Analysis: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is a story in the Southern Gothic tradition, a genre that Flannery O’Connor used in most of her writing. This genre is characterized by grotesque characters and settings, disturbing or highly unusual events, and often dark humor. It is also always deeply rooted in the post-Civil War American South and grew out of the contradictions of Southern society.

For example, traditionally the South is thought of as an idyllic, green landscape where the people have Old World manners and beliefs. Christianity is also deeply engrained in Southern society. What matters most are appearance and propriety. However, the South was built on a legacy of slavery, genocide, patriarchy, and violence. These dark, disturbing aspects of society are often repressed by the people living there. Flannery O’Connor, a native of Georgia, grew up experiencing this contradictory culture and thus explores these contradictions and hypocrisies through her use of the Southern Gothic style . However, she roots her stories in true, believable characters, thus preventing her writing from becoming comical or fully Gothic in the traditional sense.

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Essay Prompts, Summary, & Analysis

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Essay Prompts, Summary, & Analysis

Flannery O’Connor is one of the most famous American short story writers of the 20 th century. Her impactful writing pieces with memorable characters and multiple dimensions of meaning are often anthologized. If you are looking for A Good Man Is Hard to Find essay prompts, here is a detailed guide to help you out.

  • 🔰 Short Summary
  • 🔝 Top Essay Questions
  • 📝 Essay Prompts
  • 🎭 Character Analysis
  • 🔍 Literary Analysis

🔗 References

🔰 a good man is hard to find short summary.

If you want A Good Man Is Hard to Find summary condensed to one sentence, it will be as follows: a family of six travels to Florida, gets into a car crash on their way, and gets killed by an escaped convict, The Misfit.

However, if you need more careful and insightful literary analysis , things are not as simple as that. A more attentive reader would summarize the short story as follows – we’ve presented it as a diagram for your convenience.

The picture contains A Good Man Is Hard to Find short summary.

🔝 A Good Man Is Hard to Find Essay Questions

Here are some research questions you can examine in a critical essay or research paper:

  • How are love and marriage negotiated in the story?
  • What are the main plot contradictions?
  • What is the secular meaning of the story?
  • How is individualism explored in the piece?
  • What are the traces of Protestantism in the short story?
  • How does A Good Man Is Hard to Find fit the concept of Catholic fiction?
  • Why does the story belong to the Southern gothic style ?
  • How does O’Connor approach forgiveness and religiosity in the story?
  • What is the role of the landscape in the story?
  • How does O’Connor question southern ladyhood in the story?
  • What are the traces of John Milton’s style in the short story?
  • How does O’Connor approach the degradation of values in her story?
  • What are the anagogical Biblical allusions in the short story?
  • How does O’Connor use grotesque to talk about the idyllic agrarian South?
  • What are the Civil War references in the story?

📝 A Good Man Is Hard to Find Essay Prompts

If assigned an essay about A Good Man Is Hard to Find , you may face the challenge of formulating an interesting, research-worthy topic. Indeed, there has been so much written and said about this short story that you may be clueless about a new angle. Here are a couple of essay prompts and thesis ideas our pros have prepared for your inspiration.

  • Means, meaning, and mediated space in A Good Man Is Hard to Find . Flannery O’Connor talked about the failures of the Southern gothic genre to depict Southernness and addressed those problems in the short story. The means of what, in your opinion, were the characters of The Grandmother and The Misfit? What meaning did the author associate with their encounter? What unique spatial rhetoric did O’Connor apply to juxtapose the Southern ideal and the modern American capitalist image?
  • Violence as a path to transformation. O’Connor used violence as a means of epiphany and transformation trajectory for its characters. How do her characters go through that path from the moment of a car crash?
  • The genesis of O’Connor’s story . Where did O’Connor source inspiration for her short stories, specifically A Good Man Is Hard to Find ? How does Bailey’s reading of the Atlanta Journal at the beginning of the story hint at its genesis and the materials on which it was based?
  • The ambiguity of goodness in O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find. What are the moral codes by which the story’s characters live? How do they differ? What does O’Connor associate with the “good man” concept voiced by different characters?
  • The Role of The Misfit in the story . What role does The Misfit play in Grandmother’s moral transformation? Does The Misfit help her recognize her sinful life? Trace the main character’s evolution and insights during her dialogue with the criminal.
  • Discussion of faith in the story. O’Connor dedicated an anthology of short stories to original sins and talked about Catholicism in her writings. How is the Catholic faith explored in A Good Man Is Hard to Find ? from which angle does the author approach the concept of Catholic mercy?
  • The role of foreshadowing in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. How is the foreshadowing technique used in the story? Which elements are used to predict the unfortunate outcome for The Grandmother’s family?
  • Plot analysis of A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Revisit the plot and identify the roles of every character in it. How does the story’s plot develop, and what are its major turning points?
  • Communication in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Characters in the story get (or don’t get) what they want in communicating with each other. How does O’Connor approach politeness in her story, and what means and ends does politeness serve in characters’ interactions?
  • The depiction of selfishness in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Selfishness is an outstanding feature of The Grandmother. In what contexts does she reveal her selfish nature? To what consequences does it lead?
  • Character analysis of The Grandmother in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. What are the main characters of O’Connor’s short story? How do they interact, and what purposes do they serve in the story’s plot?
  • O’Connor’s use of symbols and metaphors in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. The story is rich in symbols and metaphors as O’Connor’s favorite literary devices. What are the most prominent of them and what is the purpose of their use?
  • Dreams and reality in A Good Man Is Hard to Find . The Misfit’s character mysteriously confuses reality and dreams, unable to tell what is real and unreal in his life. What purpose does this element serve in the story? What is O’Connor’s literary goal behind the reality-dream fusion?
  • Literary devices in O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find. What literary devices does O’Connor use in the story? What function do they perform in it?
  • The characters’ moral codes in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. What are the different moral codes the story’s characters follow? How do they justify those codes?

🎭 A Good Man Is Hard to Find Character Analysis

Though the story is about a family of six and contains many other characters, the core roles are assigned to two characters – The Grandmother and The Misfit.

The picture lists the two main characters in A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

Here is the detailed character analysis to help you understand these personas better.

The Grandmother

The Grandmother is the story’s main character.

She is highly judgmental, selfish, and self-directed, wishing that everyone follows her whims and obeys. She lives with her son’s family and tries to get things her way, though facing disrespect and neglect from most family members.

Her numerous references to her youth, courting with young gentlemen before marriage, and her sophisticated dress for the trip hint at her superficial, indolent lifestyle and non-impressive intellectual ability.

The Grandmother also acts as an aristocrat and racist, behaving as if she is superior to everyone around her. She likes to talk about the good old times – probably because she used to enjoy popularity as a young lady and led an active social life devoid of spirituality and meaning.

A meeting with The Misfit brings her face to face with a lack of grace and religion in her own life. By begging him to pray and seek salvation, The Grandmother also seems to talk to herself and realize that she also needs to gain the divine grace, at least at the end of her life. However, even at this heartbreaking climax of the story, she acts selfishly and doesn’t think about her family, begging for remorse only for herself and finally getting killed.

The Misfit is the story’s antagonist – the one who kills The Grandmother and her family upon their encounter on a deserted Southern road. His enigmatic character is a sharp contradiction to the ordinary, even trivial characters of The Grandmother’s family.

The Misfit is well-bred and morally reasonable, but he is a cruel criminal, killing everyone, from an infant to an old lady. He talks positively about his family but simultaneously confesses to killing his father. He is a philosopher relentlessly engaged in soul-searching and pondering over the existence of God.

Upon more careful consideration, one can see that The Grandmother and The Misfit met to encourage the religious search for grace and divine meaning in each other. A desperate man with a complex of puzzling contradictions and a superficial, selfish woman both needed a life-changing encounter, and they received that chance. Following O’Connor’s logic, they both abandoned the chance for divine grace, but the transcendent event revealed the mystery of human encounters with the divine.

Minor Characters

The minor characters include the disinterested family members of The Grandmother – her frustrated and detached son Bailey, a speechless daughter-in-law, and rude little children getting things their way with screams and misbehavior. Other characters are Red Sammy Butts – a café owner fond of complaining and remembering old times, and his distrustful wife. The story also mentions two Misfit accomplices – Hiram and Bobby Lee.

🎵 A Good Man Is Hard to Find Themes

Here are the main themes O’Connor examined in her literary piece.

The picture lists A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: religion, death, and grace.

The Catholic religion theme is one of the main topics in the short story. O’Connor juxtaposes real religiosity with the shallow Catholic accessories that The Grandmother uses to go for a believer. Only an encounter with death makes her realize the sinful nature of her existence and seek salvation for herself.

Mentions of death have been woven into the story’s fabric since its beginning. The Grandmother talks about The Misfit as a murderer and insists on taking Pitty Sing with them, afraid of his death alone at home. The Grandmother dresses up to show everyone that she is a lady, even if her corpse is to be found after a car crash. Thus, death is the family’s companion throughout the story, coming in its ugly, tangible form upon encountering The Misfit. Death becomes the moment of The Grandmother’s revelation and enlightenment, as only the fear of death makes her sincere to herself.

In religious terms, divine grace is the moment of epiphany during which the believer comes face to face with their genuine nature and can achieve peace of mind and spiritual salvation. The Grandmother’s and The Misfit’s spiritual blindness are examined in the story as barriers to salvation and their inability to unite with God.

🗺️ A Good Man Is Hard to Find Setting

A Good Man Is Hard to Find was written in the best tradition of Southern gothic literature, which is evident from the typical description of the story’s setting. It was popular among Southern gothic writers to use the scenery of the American South as facilitating devices in their plots. Here, the reader also comes across such images like:

  • Lonely plantations
  • Aging and lonely Southerners (the figure of Red Sammy Butts and his small road café)
  • Dusty downtown
  • References to slavery past (a black child The Grandmother referred to as a “little nigger”)

Besides, the story complies with other conventions of the genre by featuring shallow, morally degrading characters that are “not quite right” in universal human terms. The main characters – The Grandmother and The Misfit – both have troubles with morality, though each in their own way.

🔍 A Good Man Is Hard to Find Literary Analysis

O’Connor also used many literary and stylistic means to enrich her short story with multiple levels of meaning. Here is the detailed literary analysis to guide your interpretation work.

Symbolism in A Good Man Is Hard to Find

The story is filled with many symbols , such as The Grandmother’s hat (the woman’s hypocrisy and self-centeredness), The Misfit’s automobile (a “black, battered hearse-like” vehicle signaling that only death awaits those who meet it).

There are also many symbolic references to animals in the story. The daughter-in-law’s headkerchief is compared to a rabbit’s ears, The Misfit presents himself as a “different breed of dog” from his siblings, and Bailey’s voice becomes “a snarl” when he blames his mother. Thus, O’Connor likened all characters to animals, unable to analyze their actions and living simple lives directed at survival.

Imagery in a Good Man Is Hard to Find

Besides the numerous symbols in A Good Man Is Hard to Find discussed above, the short story contains many allusions to people and cultural artifacts. For instance, the young boy’s name is John Wesley – an allusion to one of the first Anglican Church ministers in the USA. The cat’s name is an allusion to a comic opera, Mikado , featuring a character concerned about fitting the crime to the punishment (just like The Misfit). Gone with the Wind and The Tennessee Waltz both serve as metaphors for The Grandmother’s longing for her hilarious past, which becomes the source of her family’s problems.

Irony in a Good Man Is Hard to Find

Irony is used many times in the story to show how skillfully The Grandmother deceives the whole family and leads them to demise while being Bailey’s mom – a woman promising never to put her family at risk. In fact, all family troubles occur because of The Grandmother’s selfish whims and an absence of care for the rest of her family and their interests.

Another illustrative example of irony is The Grandmother’s repeated appeals to The Misfit as “a good man.” She tries to convince him not to kill her because she’s a lady, which is highly ironic, as she led the whole family to this tragedy and has never been a good person.

Foreshadowing in a Good Man Is Hard to Find

O’Connor used many elements of foreshadowing in the story.

The Misfit is mentioned in the first lines, dooming the family to an encounter with him. The family sees a graveyard and tombstones on their way – literal death artifacts. The Misfit’s automobile looks like a hearse, promising death to everyone.

Besides, the woods in which The Grandmother’s encounter with The Misfit foreshadowed the family’s death. O’Connor described them as “a dark open mouth” that would soon absorb everyone’s lives.

Tone in a Good Man Is Hard to Find

O’Connor used different tones to achieve the intended effect of the story’s reading. In some places, the narrative sounds humoristic, while in others, it is full of detachment and focuses only on recording events and family members’ actions.

The story is also full of irony, which gets bitter when the family encounters The Misfit. In most fragments, the author used a serious tone – especially after the family met with the criminals and the elevating tension of family members’ killings.

With these tips and suggestions, you’re sure to complete an essay about A Good Man Is Hard to Find without any trouble. Look through our prompts, follow the writing advice, and your professor will be impressed by the depth and insight of your literary analysis of O’Connor’s story.

❓ A Good Man Is Hard to Find FAQ

What is the main theme of a good man is hard to find.

The story’s main theme is the spiritual blindness of its main characters and their religious and moral transformation in the encounter between The Grandmother and The Misfit. They both lack spirituality and refuse each other’s help, losing the chance for salvation.

What is the message in A Good Man Is Hard to Find?

The author’s central message is the power of human compassion and God’s grace in the transformation of shallow, non-religious creatures. The Misfit and The Grandmother receive a chance to understand genuine goodness during their life-changing encounter.

What is the moral of A Good Man Is Hard to Find?

O’Connor was an ardent Catholic, so her short stories mostly focused on religious vices and virtues. Her moral lesson in this story is the evil nature of selfishness and the person’s inability to attain divine grace from the position of selfishness and self-centeredness.

What is The Grandmother really like in A Good Man Is Hard to Find?

Though there is much irony in The Grandmother’s depiction, she still makes an impression of a selfish, egoistic person in the story. She talks the family into leaving their route for the sake of her whim; she never tries to save her family, and she is elitist and racist in her judgment.

  • A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
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Home — Guides — A Good Man is Hard to Find — A Literary Analysis of the Narrative of A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O'Connor

Literary Devices

  • Introduction
  • Plot summary
  • All Characters
  • The Grandmother
  • John Wesley
  • Good vs Evil
  • All Literary Devices

Point of View

  • All Infographics
  • Plot Diagram
  • Character Map
  • Who is a Good Man?
  • Biography of author

A Good Man is Hard to Find Literary Analysis

Table of contents.

Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is a richly symbolic story that utilizes a variety of literary devices to convey its themes. The story is packed with symbolism that is both obvious and subtle, contributing to the deeper meaning of the narrative. Here are some of the main symbols in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and their meanings in the story.

The Misfit is the central symbol in the story. He represents the embodiment of evil and violence in the story. He is a symbol of the harsh realities of life that the grandmother and her family encounter on their trip. His name alone implies that he is not a typical or ordinary criminal but someone who is out of place in society. The Misfit's mannerisms and speech are also symbolic of his character. He speaks in a calm and collected manner, yet he is capable of committing heinous acts of violence. He shows no remorse for his actions, and his words suggest that he is more aware of his true nature than the grandmother and her family are. His ability to manipulate and control the situation further emphasizes his power and the danger he poses. The Misfit's character is a stark contrast to the grandmother's idealistic views of the world, and his presence serves to expose the harsh realities of life that she has tried to avoid. 

The Grandmother's hat

The Grandmother's hat is a symbol of her desire for social status and her old-fashioned values. The hat is described as a "navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim" and is worn by the Grandmother to give her a sense of dignity and respectability. She believes that her appearance is important, and that by dressing well she can exert a measure of control over her surroundings.

The hat also serves as a symbol of the Grandmother's old-fashioned values. It is part of her attempt to maintain a sense of propriety and decorum in a world that she perceives as becoming increasingly chaotic and immoral. She believes that her hat and other accessories set her apart as a lady of refinement and culture, and that they are a reminder of a time when manners and morals were held in higher regard.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find", symbolism of hat takes on an additional layer of meaning when the Grandmother loses it during the car accident. This loss symbolizes the loss of the Grandmother's sense of control and her eventual realization that her values and beliefs are not as fixed and certain as she had once believed. It is a moment of crisis for the Grandmother, and her loss of the hat is symbolic of her loss of control over the situation.

The car symbolizes the family's journey towards their inevitable demise. The car is repeatedly referred to as "climbing" and "rattling," suggesting that the family is slowly ascending towards their tragic end. The car also represents the family's desire for independence and freedom, but this desire ultimately leads them to their downfall. The car is also associated with the Misfit and his henchmen, who use it as a tool of destruction and violence.

The car is initially seen as a source of excitement and adventure for the family, but it becomes a vehicle for their destruction. The car is also symbolic of the changing times and values of the South, as the family's old-fashioned attitudes and beliefs clash with the modern world represented by the car. In this way, the car serves as a metaphor for the family's inability to adapt to the changing world around them, ultimately leading to their tragic end.

The woods serve as a symbol of the unknown and the dangerous. When the family takes a detour onto a dirt road that leads them into the woods, the reader knows that something bad is going to happen. The woods are described as "dark and deep" and "lovely" but also "sinister." The trees and bushes are so thick that the sun cannot penetrate them, which adds to the feeling of being lost and trapped.

As the family ventures further into the woods, they become more vulnerable to the dangers that lurk there. The Misfit and his accomplices are able to trap them in the woods, away from the eyes of society and the protection of civilization. The woods also serve as a metaphor for the family's descent into chaos and darkness. The order and safety of the road is left behind as they venture deeper into the woods, just as the family's orderly and predictable life is shattered by the events of the story.

In the end, the woods serve as the setting for the final confrontation between the Misfit and the Grandmother. It is here that the Grandmother realizes the depth of her own depravity and the true nature of evil.

The grandmother's cat

The grandmother's cat is a minor but significant symbol that highlights the theme of innocence and vulnerability in the story. The cat is portrayed as a harmless creature that the grandmother insists on bringing along for the car trip. She believes that the cat would not survive on its own and wants to take it with them to their destination. However, the cat's fate is left unknown after the family's car crashes and they come across the Misfit and his accomplices.

The cat serves as a metaphor for the innocent and helpless individuals who become casualties of violence and evil. The grandmother is also an example of this, as her manipulation and selfishness ultimately lead to the family's encounter with the Misfit. Like the cat, the grandmother is vulnerable to the dangers of the world and is unable to protect herself or those around her. The cat's disappearance adds to the uncertainty and sense of foreboding in the story, as it leaves the reader wondering about its fate and the fate of the family. The cat's symbolic representation emphasizes the message that the innocent and vulnerable are often the ones who suffer in a world that is unpredictable and full of danger.

The gun is a powerful symbol of violence and death. The Misfit and his gang carry guns and use them to kill the family. The gun is a physical representation of the Misfit's power and control over life and death. It is also a symbol of the violent, unpredictable world in which the characters live.

The grandmother's recognition of the Misfit's gun is significant because it reveals her awareness of the danger they are in. She realizes that the Misfit is not a good man and that he is capable of using the gun to harm them. However, her realization comes too late, and her attempts to appeal to the Misfit's humanity are futile. The gun ultimately represents the inevitability of the family's tragic fate, as well as the brutal reality of the world in which they live.

In conclusion, Flannery O'Connor's use of symbolism in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" enhances the depth and complexity of the story's themes. The symbols in the story are carefully chosen and contribute to the overall meaning of the narrative. The story uses symbols to explore the themes of good and evil, family, and redemption, and to create a richly layered and thought-provoking narrative.

Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is renowned for its vivid and impactful descriptions of the setting. The story takes place in the rural south of the United States, in the 1950s. In “ A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, the setting, which is largely symbolic, serves to create a sense of foreboding and tension that ultimately leads to the tragic climax of the story.

The story begins with a description of the family’s trip from their home in Georgia to Florida. The first setting is the family’s home, which is described as a typical southern dwelling with a yard of “red gravel.” The family then sets out on their road trip, passing through various rural areas that are described in detail. These descriptions include abandoned cotton fields, rundown gas stations, and small towns. The family stops for lunch at a diner that is described as being “a long dark room with a counter at one end and tables at the other and dancing space in the middle.” The descriptions of the various settings, including the diner, serve to create a sense of discomfort and unease that is felt throughout the story.

The main setting in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is the secluded back road where the family’s car crashes and they encounter the Misfit and his gang. The road is described as “a narrow dirt road through the woods,” which serves to create a sense of isolation and danger. The family’s car is also described in detail, and its breakdown serves as a symbol of their vulnerability and helplessness.

The final setting of the story is the woods, where the Misfit and his gang murder the family. The woods are described as “dark and deep,” with “yellow slashes” of sunlight shining through the trees. This setting serves to create a sense of darkness and death, and it is where the family ultimately meets their tragic end. The description of the “yellow slashes” of sunlight can also be seen as a symbol of hope, or a glimmer of the divine in the midst of darkness.

Overall, the setting in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” plays a significant role in creating a sense of tension and unease throughout the story. The various settings serve to create a sense of isolation and danger, and the final setting in the woods is where the tragic climax of the story takes place. The vivid and symbolic descriptions of the setting serve to reinforce the themes of the story, including the themes of goodness and evil, redemption, and the power of the divine in the midst of darkness.

In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor uses a third-person limited point of view to tell the story. This means that the narrator only knows the thoughts and feelings of one character, usually the protagonist or a main character, and reports events from their perspective. In this case, the narrator is not a character in the story but instead follows the grandmother's point of view.

The third-person limited point of view is particularly effective in this story because it allows the reader to closely follow the grandmother's thoughts and emotions. Throughout the story, the reader is given access to the grandmother's inner monologue, which reveals her true motivations and desires. The reader is able to understand her fear of change and her desperate need to be seen as a lady. This understanding makes the story's shocking ending all the more powerful, as the reader is able to see the grandmother's desperation for herself.

O'Connor's use of the third-person limited point of view also allows her to control the flow of information in the story. As the story progresses, the reader is given more and more insight into the grandmother's thoughts and motivations, which builds suspense and tension. For example, early in the story, the grandmother is shown to be a nagging and somewhat annoying character, but as the story progresses, the reader begins to sympathize with her fear and vulnerability.

Another important aspect of the point of view is how it affects the reader's perception of the other characters in the story. Because the narrator only reports events from the grandmother's perspective, the other characters are often presented in a negative light. For example, the children are portrayed as bratty and disrespectful, and Bailey is shown to be impatient and dismissive of the grandmother's concerns. The Misfit, too, is initially presented as a cold and ruthless killer. However, the limited point of view allows for some ambiguity in the characterizations, and the reader is left to decide whether the other characters are truly as bad as the grandmother perceives them to be.

Overall, the third-person point of view in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" allows for a deep exploration of the grandmother's character and motivations, while also creating suspense and tension for the reader. It is an effective tool in O'Connor's masterful storytelling, leaving a lasting impact on the reader long after the story has ended.

Tone&Mood

In " A Good Man is Hard to Find", the tone and mood of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" are complex and multi-layered, reflecting the various themes and ideas explored in the story.

One of the most dominant tones in the story is one of irony. From the beginning, the Grandmother is portrayed as a pious, church-going woman who believes in the power of goodness and the importance of being a "lady." However, her actions and words reveal a hypocritical nature that contrasts sharply with her professed values. This irony is also reflected in the Misfit, who claims to be a "good man," yet is a cold-blooded killer. The irony in the story highlights the hypocrisy and moral ambiguity of the characters and the world they inhabit.

Another dominant tone in the story is one of suspense and foreboding. From the moment the family sets out on their trip, there is a sense of unease and impending danger. The foreshadowing of the accident and the description of the Misfit's escape from prison create a palpable sense of tension and fear. This tone is heightened by the vivid and graphic violence that occurs in the final scene, leaving the reader with a sense of shock and horror.

The mood of the story is similarly complex, reflecting the different emotions and responses elicited by the various themes and tones. There is a sense of melancholy and nostalgia in the opening scene, as the Grandmother reflects on the past and longs for a simpler time. This mood is quickly replaced by one of humor and satire as the family dynamic is revealed, particularly in the interactions between the Grandmother and her son, Bailey.

As the story progresses, the mood becomes more ominous and dark, as the family becomes increasingly lost and disoriented. The sense of dread is heightened by the description of the deserted back roads and the dilapidated gas station where the family stops. The mood is also influenced by the bleak and oppressive nature of the landscape, which reflects the moral decay and corruption of the characters.

In the final scene, the mood shifts once again to one of shock and horror, as the Misfit and his accomplices murder the entire family. The graphic violence and the description of the family's final moments create a mood of tragedy and despair, leaving the reader with a sense of sadness and loss.

Overall, the mood and tone of "A Good Man is Hard to Find " are complex and multi-layered, reflecting the different themes and ideas explored in the story. The irony, suspense, and foreboding create a sense of tension and unease, while the humor and nostalgia provide moments of levity and reflection. The final scene, with its graphic violence and tragic ending, creates a mood of horror and despair, leaving the reader with a sense of the darkness and moral ambiguity of the world depicted in the story.

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  1. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Literary Critical Analysis Essay

    Short Summary of "A Good Man is Hard to Find". The action of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" depicts a family vacation gone terribly awry. On a road trip to Florida a family from Atlanta encounter a homicidal escaped convict whom the media dubs The Misfit. The Misfit and his henchmen execute the entire family and steal their clothes, car ...

  2. A Good Man is Hard to Find Summary & Analysis

    Red Sam is lying on the ground under a truck when the family drives up. A monkey, chained to a nearby tree, scurries away and up the tree at their approach. Though Red Sam later laments the same moral decay that the Grandmother sees in the world, he cruelly keeps a monkey chained to a tree.

  3. A Good Man Is Hard to Find Analysis: Essay Example & Summary

    Conclusion. The analysis of A Good Man is Hard to Find reveals an intriguing aspect. The grandmother and The Misfit have very similar personalities. They both are ready to lie, manipulate, and murder to fulfill their desires. A Good Man is Hard to Find essay covers Flannery O'Connor's concern.

  4. Analysis of Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find

    Frequently anthologized, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" exemplifies Flannery O'Connor's southern religious grounding. The story depicts the impact of Christ on the lives of two seemingly disparate characters. One is a grandmother joining her son's family on a trip to Florida. Accompanied by a silent daughter-in-law, a baby, two unpleasant ...

  5. A Summary and Analysis of Flannery O'Connor's 'A Good Man Is Hard to Find'

    'A Good Man Is Hard to Find' is one of the best-known short stories by Flannery O'Connor (1925-64), who produced a string of powerful stories during her short life. First published in the collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find in 1955, the story is about an American family who run into an escaped murderer at a plantation.

  6. A Good Man is Hard to Find Analysis

    A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Summary. A Good Man Is Hard to Find portrays a tragic tale of a family. A grandmother, father, mother, and three children set out on a trip to Florida. Initially appearing as good country folk, the family harbors various flaws. The older children, John Wesley and June Star, exhibit rude and ignorant behavior.

  7. A Good Man Is Hard to Find Analysis

    A Good Man Is Hard to Find Analysis. F lannery O'Connor is a Southern Gothic writer and her stories often evoke a regional sensibility while also remaining more broadly relatable.; The title of "A ...

  8. Analysis of the novel, 'A Good Man Is Hard to Find'

    "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," first published in 1953, is among the most famous stories by Georgia writer Flannery O'Connor. O'Connor was a staunch Catholic, and like most of her stories, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" wrestles with questions of good and evil and the possibility of divine grace.

  9. A Good Man is Hard to Find Study Guide

    This genre became popular from the 1940s to the 1960s, precisely when O'Connor wrote most of her fiction. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is now considered a central part of the genre, along with other O'Connor works like "Good Country People" and Wise Blood. Gothic fiction was first made popular with Horace Walpole's 1765 novel The ...

  10. A Good Man Is Hard to Find Critical Overview

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  11. A Good Man Is Hard To Find: Study Guide

    Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," published in 1953, is a Southern Gothic short story that skillfully blends elements of dark humor, violence, and religious symbolism.Set in the American South, the narrative follows a dysfunctional family on a road trip. The grandmother, a central character, manipulates the trip's direction to visit an old plantation, leading the family ...

  12. A Good Man Is Hard to Find Essays and Criticism

    The force of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find'' speaks for an angry outsider, a person without illusions or sentimentality. The grandmother does not go to Florida, and O'Connor has her way. A world of ...

  13. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Critical Analysis

    Topic: A Good Man is Hard to Find Words: 834 Pages: 3. The story A Good Man is Hard to Find written by Flannery O'Connor is considered to be rather tragic through the author's breakage of traditional "happy ends". The short story is rich in literary devices and expressive means; O'Connor managed to create a symbolic and imaginative ...

  14. A Good Man Is Hard To Find: Full Plot Analysis

    Full Plot Analysis. The title of Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" points directly to the text's primary interest in the meaning of goodness and its relation to spirituality. While the relationship between these concepts seems rather fixed according to the grandmother's perspective early in the story, her ...

  15. A Good Man is Hard to Find Story Analysis

    Analysis: "A Good Man Is Hard to Find". "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is a story in the Southern Gothic tradition, a genre that Flannery O'Connor used in most of her writing. This genre is characterized by grotesque characters and settings, disturbing or highly unusual events, and often dark humor. It is also always deeply rooted in ...

  16. A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Flannery O'Connor

    Cite this page as follows: "A Good Man Is Hard to Find - Flannery O'Connor (essay date 1963)" Short Story Criticism Ed. Margaret Haerens, Drew Kalasky. Vol.

  17. A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Essay Prompts, Summary, & Analysis

    Here are a couple of essay prompts and thesis ideas our pros have prepared for your inspiration. Means, meaning, and mediated space in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Flannery O'Connor talked about the failures of the Southern gothic genre to depict Southernness and addressed those problems in the short story. The means of what, in your opinion ...

  18. A Good Man is Hard to Find Literary Analysis

    In "A Good Man is Hard to Find", the tone and mood of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" are complex and multi-layered, reflecting the various themes and ideas explored in the story. One of the most dominant tones in the story is one of irony. From the beginning, the Grandmother is portrayed as a pious, church-going woman who believes in the power of ...

  19. A Good Man Is Hard to Find Style, Form, and Literary Elements

    In A Good Man Is Hard To Find, O'Connor writes from a third-person narrator, telling the story from the perspective of the Grandmother.The point of view straddles the line between limited ...