A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

If you think your family's road trips are bad, you probably haven't read Flannery O'Connor's story about a vacation gone terribly wrong. Check out this lesson, including a synopsis and analysis, of 'A Good Man is Hard to Find.'

A Brief Synopsis

Many of us are probably familiar with how painful family vacations can be, with hours of driving in cramped quarters and arguing where to stop for lunch. Just be glad, though, that none of your family's road trips have turned out like the one in Flannery O'Connor's short story 'A Good Man is Hard to Find.'

Before the family even hits the road, the grandmother - the story's unnamed protagonist - is trying to convince her son Bailey that they should go to Tennessee instead of Florida. She even tries to use the report of an escaped Floridian convict to convince him, but the decision's been made, and she's nonetheless the first in the car with her elegant travelling attire on and her cat secretly stowed away.

The trip seems pretty normal for a family vacation, even somewhat comedic. Bailey drives, while his unnamed wife and their infant ride up front with him. In the backseat, the grandmother's two older grandchildren, John Wesley and June Star, make negative comments about their home state of Georgia, which she quickly corrects. The children read some comics, but are soon restless and fighting over a game they're playing. The grandmother tells them a story from her youth to quiet them, and soon the family pulls over for a bite to eat.

While they wait on their orders, the grandmother unsuccessfully tries to get Bailey to dance with her, as June Star performs her tap routine on her own. Red Sammy, the service station/restaurant's owner, comes in to tell his wife to quit lounging and serve the customers, but has a seat himself to discuss the worsening moral state of humanity with the self-righteous grandmother. Red Sammy observes that 'a good man is hard to find.'

Before long, they're back on the road, and the grandmother wakes from a nap to remember a house in the area she wants to visit. She makes up a story about a secret panel to get the kids interested in seeing it, which makes them scream and kick seats to get their father to take them there. Bailey finally relents, and they turn onto a dirt road in great disrepair.

The grandmother soon realizes that they're heading in entirely the wrong direction, but she's too proud to say anything. The road's poor conditions jostle everything in the car, leading to the stowaway cat's escape and leap onto Bailey's shoulder. The shock to the driver sends the car over an embankment, but no one's dead … yet.

It looks like help has arrived when two larger men and one thinner one find the family over the hill. The thin man the grandmother recognizes from the news report as the escaped convict, The Misfit, and she announces his identity to everyone. With any cover he had blown, the convict has his men take the family members off in groups and shoot them in the woods. All the while, the self-centered grandmother pleads with The Misfit, saying she knows he has to be a good man who'd never shoot 'a lady' like her.

Of course, he's not at all a good man and kills her himself - even after their somewhat lengthy discussion on the saving grace of Jesus Christ. After recoiling from her only genuinely tender gesture (a hand on his shoulder), The Misfit shoots the grandmother three times. As his men are taking her body off with the others, the convict observes that she would've been a good woman 'if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.'

Under Pressure: Analyzing 'A Good Man is Hard to Find'

So many books, movies, and television series today stress the point that we are our noblest selves when we're under the greatest pressures (i.e. a zombie outbreak or some other catastrophe). This same idea is expressed by The Misfit when he comments on the fact that even this arrogant, self-centered grandmother could've been a good person if someone had been around to put the right pressure on her (i.e. threaten her life). And this unfortunate truth is key to O'Connor's understanding of the human condition in 'A Good Man is Hard to Find.'

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