A Good Man Is Hard to Find is a short story written by Flannery O’Connor. It was first published in 1953 in a collection of short stories titled “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”
You might have heard this old proverb – don’t judge a book by its cover.
In my recent reading experience, I have found that to be equally applicable to the title of the stories which I have been reading lately.
I read the title of this story and the first thing that popped in my head was an image of an American version of one of Jane Austen’s leading ladies and her difficult journey to a good man, but hey! What did I know?
A Good Man Is Hard To Find: Summary and Plot Analysis
The story opens with a grandmother trying to convince her son to take a trip to Tennessee where she wanted to meet up with some of her connections.
Her son Bailey and his family, on the other hand, wanted to head to Florida.
The grandmother lives with her son Bailey, her innocent `cabbage faced` daughter-in-law, her grandson John Wesley, her granddaughter June Star and a toddler.
Despite the grandmother trying to convince Bailey to go to Tennessee, citing all sorts of reasons including the presence of an escaped convict in Florida, the family does not budge and it is confirmed as the destination.
On the day of the trip, the grandmother hides her cat in a basket and puts her in the car. She wears a dress and a hat that says she is ‘a lady’ in case they meet with an accident.
She sits with June and John on either side of her. The children engage in their banter and John calls Tennessee a ‘hillbilly dumping ground’ resulting in his grandmother chastising him.
She narrates a rather funny story of her suitor named Edgar Atkins Teagarden.
He used to bring a watermelon for her everyday, leaving it on her porch with his initials on them resulting in a black child eating it mistaking the initials E.A.T as an instruction.
Enroute, the family stops at a restaurant called the Tower, owned by Red Sammy Butts.
Red Sammy mentions people are becoming more and more untrustworthy these days, quoting one incident from the recent past where he let two decent looking men buy gas on credit.
A conversation about Misfit – the escaped convict – starts somehow and the woman worries that he will rob them.
Sammy laments that good men are hard to find these days and the world is worse off for it.
The family gets on the road again and the grandmother takes her intermittent naps, waking up from one to realize that she had visited the plantation in the past and wanted to see it again.
Knowing fully well that her son will not entertain the idea of stopping to look at that place, she crafts a story about the house with a plantation that has secret panels.
This spurs the children’s imagination and they start yelling and screaming to visit it.
Bailey, who is completely against the idea at first, finally agrees to take the family there to handle the ruckus children have created.
The grandmother points him to a dirt road and the family drives deep into the woods, the grandmother suddenly realizes the house that she was mentioning was actually in Tennessee.
Horrified, her feet jerked, upsetting the cat. The cat jumps on a startled Bailey’s shoulder, and he loses control of the car.
Although the car is wrecked, the family escapes unhurt with the exception of Bailey’s wife who had a broken shoulder.
The grandmother decides not to mention anything about her mistake to her son, who is fuming at this point.
They wait for someone to come by to seek help. They see a car approaching from far away and grandmother waves her arms dramatically to attract their attention.
The car stops and three armed men come out of it.
The grandmother has a strange feeling that she recognizes one of those men. One of them asks the mother to settle her children down as they make him nervous.
The grandmother, suddenly realising that one of the men is Misfit, screams out at the Misfit with recognition, upsetting her son, who curses violently at her.
She starts crying and the man starts consoling her. She asks if he would shoot a lady, and the man mentions that it wouldn’t be his preference.
The grandmother keeps telling him that he is a good man and he agrees to that, calling his mother the finest woman and his dad to have had a heart of pure gold.
Hiram and Bobby Lee take Bailey and John into the woods.
The conversation continues between the grandmother and Misfit. Misfit agrees that he is not a good man but not the worst either.
He apologizes to the ladies for not wearing a shirt because they had to bury their clothes after they escaped. He mentions that they borrowed the clothes they’re wearing from some people they met on their way.
The grandmother asks Misfit if he prays to which he says No.
Two gunshots fill the air.
He tells the grandmother that he was not a bad child but remembers having gone to the prison for the crime that he didn’t remember committing. He gets to know from a psychiatrist that he had killed his father. Misfit has no memory of this.
The grandmother urges that he prays so Jesus helps him. Misfit denies doing that as he does not need any help and he is doing good by himself.
Bobby Lee and Hiram come back from the woods, without Bailey and John and hand over a shirt to Misfit. Misfit asks the children’s mother to take the child and June Star with her and go with Bobby Lee and Hiram.
Bobby Lee tries to hold June Star’s hand who ridicules him for looking like a pig.
Realizing her soon-to-be fate, the grandmother starts chanting “Jesus, Jesus”.
He thinks himself to be like Jesus except that he had not committed a crime. He calls himself Misfit because he thinks that the punishment that people get for their crimes do not fit their crimes.
The grandmother hears gunshots again, three this time and cries out for Bailey. She implores him to not shoot a lady.
Misfit continues her conversation about Jesus saying that Jesus confused everyone by raising from the dead. Because if he actually did that, then everyone should follow him.
But if he didn’t actually do that then indulging in meanness in one life is a natural thing for people to do.
The grandmother agrees with him. Misfit wishes he was there to see Jesus raising the dead, he would have known for sure then.
Seeing Misfit’s voice breaking and face contorted as he was going to cry, in her moment of clarity, the grandmother calls the Misfit “one of my own babies,” and touches him on the shoulder.
As if bitten by a snake, Misfit springs on his feet and shoots her in the chest three times.
Bobby Lee and Hiram return, remarking on the grandmother being a talker.
The misfit observes that the grandmother could have been a good woman “if someone was there to shoot her every moment of her life.”
The Misfit says life has no true pleasure.
Want to buy A Good Man Is Hard to Find?
A Good Man Is Hard to Find is a short story which is published in a novel alongwith other short stories written by Flannery O’Connor. You can use the links given below to buy this short story collection on Amazon:
A Good Man Is Hard To Find: Analysis and Review
There is a quality to this story that’s haunting to the core. The author paints a picture of a regular family taking a trip to Tennessee, talking about things that any regular family talks about, including the news of a cruel murderer who’s on the run from the law.
No one in the family, in fact, not even the reader of the story expects the murderers to actually meet the family in the end and then kill them in cold blood.
There’s a bone-chilling aspect to this story – the further you go in the story, the scarier it becomes, mostly because of the fear of “what’s going to happen next”.
A true classic! The accolades that A Good Man is Hard to Find has received is a testimony to that. This is certainly Flannery O’Connor’s best work.
First published in 1953, this story has inspired a lot of scholarly work and on-screen adaptations.
The story was adapted into a film called Black Hearts Bleed Red in 1992 and a modern chamber opera in 2003.