A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Summary & Analysis

Summary & Analysis

In A Good Man Is Hard to Find, O’Connor depicts a road trip to Florida that ends unpredictably. A comical chain of accidents leads to a tragedy. A typical American family encounters a gang of criminals on a lonely country road, with no one to come for help. The gangsters kill the family members one by one in a nearby forest while their leader is philosophizing about morality and religion.

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Welcome to A Good Man Is Hard to Find Summary & Analysis page prepared by our editorial team! Here you’ll find a detailed summary and analysis of the most famous short story by Flannery O’Connor.

📰 A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Episode 1

Bailey is taking his family on a trip to Florida, but the Grandmother objects. She would rather go to Tennessee. She substantiates her objections by a newspaper article about a dangerous criminal, The Misfit, who is at large. He has escaped the federal prison and is heading toward Florida, too. The old lady says she would not answer to her conscience if she took her children in the same direction as the criminal has escaped.

Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Active Characters

Bailey, the Grandmother, John Wesley, June Star, the baby’s mother

Active Themes

Analysis

The Grandmother is never mentioned by name in the story. Moreover, she is ignored by the adults and mocked by the children. Nobody shows any respect for her, but her obnoxious behavior does not raise any reader’s affection.

Her namelessness suggests two themes: the young generation’s unwillingness to take their grandparents seriously and the universality of the character.

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👒 A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Episode 2

The next morning, all six of them get into the car. The Grandmother was in the car before anybody else, dressed up.

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

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

The old lady takes her cat, Pitty Sing, and is afraid to leave him alone for three days.

During the trip, the Grandmother keeps talking. She tries to entertain the kids by playing with them. She also tells a story from her youth, when a suitor brought her a watermelon, but a “nigger boy” mistakenly ate it. In the course of the ride, she sees a “pickaninny” in the door of a shack. He has no pants, and when June Star notes that, the old lady replies: “Little niggers in the country don’t have things like we do.” Then she remarks: “If I could paint, I’d paint that picture.” Then they pass by a field with six graves in the middle. It was an old graveyard of a family that “belonged to a plantation.”

Active Characters

Bailey, the Grandmother, John Wesley, June Star, the baby’s mother

Active Themes

A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: family.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: society & class.
FamilySociety & Class

Analysis

Although the years of plantations and slavery are “gone with the wind,” as the Grandmother points out, the aged people preserve the old racist views.

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The three short moments mentioned in the previous paragraph indicate the old lady’s racist approach to African Americans.

She feigns her compassion to the poor boy, but in fact, she does not perceive him as equal to her grandchildren. And once again, even the cat has a name, but the Grandmother does not.

🥪 A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Episode 3

The family stops to eat barbecued sandwiches at The Tower, which is a gas station and a dance hall at a time. The name of Red Sam, the master of the station, is mentioned in the advertisements mentioning his barbecue, “happy laugh,” and a veteran past. During their dinner, Bailey’s wife turns on the music on a jukebox. The Grandmother asks Bailey to dance, but he leaves her question unanswered. When a faster tune comes up, Bailey’s daughter decides to dance. then Red Sam’s wife asks June Star if she would like to be her daughter, but the girl rudely replies that she “wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks!”

Then Red Sam has a short conversation with the Grandmother about the fact that the people are no longer as friendly and kind as they used to be. They agree that nobody can be trusted these days.

A good man is hard to find… Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

The Grandmother asks if he has read about The Misfit. Sam’s wife says she won’t be surprised if the criminal attacks their restaurant, but her husband interrupted her and sent her to bring the drinks for the guests. Then he remarks that one can no longer leave the screen door unlocked. The Grandmother blames Europe for the low morality: “The way Europe acted you would think we were made of money.”

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Active Characters

Bailey, the Grandmother, Red Sam, Red Sam’s wife, John Wesley, June Star, the baby’s mother

Active Themes

A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: moral decay.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: society & class.
Moral DecaySociety & Class

Analysis

All the characters have their sins. The children are disrespectful to the older people, but it is no wonder as their father ignores his mother most of the time. Bailey’s wife is quiet and ordinary with a face “broad and innocent as a cabbage.” Even the old lady is selfish and manipulates other people. Red Sam does not wish to discuss the dangers of the real world. Instead, he prefers a self-righteous conversation about how bad the new generation is and the guilt of Europe.

Indeed, a good man is very hard to find. This meaningless cliche was said to support the conversation, but it became symbolic in the perspective of the entire story.

🛣️ A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Episode 4

They drive off. The old lady suggests visiting an old plantation which she visited in her young years. Moreover, she knows how to get there. Knowing that her son, Bailey, would object to additional road time, she invents a story that there exists a secret panel with silver hidden behind it. The children are excited by the possibility to look for the hidden panel. The Grandmother continues that it is not far away, but Bailey says, “No.” Then the children start kicking and screaming, and the father has to surrender.

All right!.. Will you all shut up? Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don’t shut up, we won’t go anywhere.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

The Grandmother and the children spend some time speculating about the house and its secret panel, but Bailey says that they will not go inside the building as people may live there. John Welsey, the son, suggests sneaking in, but his mother says no. They are driving the dirt road for a while, and then Bailey threatens he will turn back. But the next moment, a “horrible thought” came to her. It was so embarrassing that “her feet jumped up,” hitting the valise in the corner. The cat escapes his hide and jumps on Bailey’s shoulder. He swerves, and the car turns right side up off the road. The “horrible thought” was that the plantation was not in Georgia but in Tennessee. It was one big mistake.

Active Characters

Bailey, the Grandmother, John Wesley, June Star, the baby’s mother

Active Themes

A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: family.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: society & class.
FamilySociety & Class

Analysis

Flannery O’Connor makes her story move faster. The family was discussing mundane things. The children see no harm in sneaking into the house. They do not respect other people’s privacy as their father does.

The Grandmother’s egoism, manipulations, and self-centeredness caused the accident. Had she not taken the cat or asked to visit the plantation, no accident would have happened.

In addition, Bailey is shown as a man tired of his mother’s vexatiousness and his children’s rudeness. At the same time, he is a bad son and father as his family’s relationships are quite unhealthy.

🚙 A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Episode 5

Bailey’s wife and her baby fell out of the car into the ditch. The baby is crying, and the mother has a broken shoulder. June Star says with disappointment, “But nobody’s killed.” Surprisingly, the Grandmother’s biggest concern is expressed in one phrase: “I believe I have injured an organ.” They are ten feet below the road level. There are only the ditch and the forest as far as an eye can reach. They were trapped in the wild, so the sight of a big black battered automobile approaching them raised their spirits.

The car continued to come on slowly, disappeared around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on top of the hill they had gone over. It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile. There were three men in it.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

The car stops above them on the road. The driver looks out and then says something to the other two passengers. All three of them come up to the family.

Active Characters

Bailey, the Grandmother, John Wesley, June Star, the baby’s mother, the Misfit, Bobby Lee, Hiram

Active Themes

A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: family.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: grace & evil.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: society & class.
FamilyGrace & EvilSociety & Class

Analysis

Bailey’s wife suffered the most. She and her baby seem to be the most pitiful characters in the short story. On the contrary, her daughter laments that no one has died, and the Grandmother lies about her injuries. The two of them would prefer the accident to be more serious, which suggests their narrow-mindedness and selfishness.

The symbolism of the car is literally stated in the text: it resembles a hearse that carries the death. The dramatic shift is on the way, and the culmination is near.

👓 A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Episode 6

The three men surround the family, holding guns in their hands. One of them with “silver-rimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look” had no shirt on. The Grandmother has a “peculiar feeling” that she has seen the bespectacled man before. When he steps down the road with the words “Good afternoon… I see you all had a little spill,” she remarks that they have turned over twice. He says he saw that it was only once and tells one of his companions to see if the car is in running order.

John Wesley wonders what the gun is for, and the man in glasses asks Bailey’s wife to calm her children. Then June Star rudely inquired: “What are you telling US what to do for?”.

Bailey starts explaining their predicament, but at that moment, the Grandmother interrupts him screaming, “You’re the Misfit!”

The bespectacled man remarks that it would have been better had she not recognized him. Bailey says something to his mother, and she starts crying. The Misfit tries to comfort her.

Don’t you get upset… I don’t reckon he meant to talk to you that away.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

She wonders if he would ever shoot an old lady. The reply is, “I would hate to have to.”

Active Characters

Bailey, the Grandmother, John Wesley, June Star, the baby’s mother, the Misfit, Bobby Lee, Hiram

Active Themes

A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: religion.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: grace & evil.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: society & class.
ReligionGrace & EvilSociety & Class

Analysis

The children’s rudeness is not just foolish; it becomes dangerous. Furthermore, the old lady decided to flaunt her knowledge and detective skills. Her simplicity and loose tongue used to articulate everything that enters her mind made the criminal shift from helping the people in distress to killing them. Surprisingly, Bailey’s words (whereof the reader is ignorant) upset her more than the fact that the dangerous criminal is standing next to her. The Misfit seems to be sympathetic to the family. He even pronounces some words of comfort. Obviously, he did not intend to kill them from the very beginning.

🏞️ A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Episode 7

The Grandmother continues that she knows the Misfit is a good person.

Listen… I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Bailey asks her to shut up.

Then The Misfit tells his men to take Bailey and John Wesley to the forest as if intending to ask them something. As they go, Bailey shouts: “I’ll be back in a minute, Mamma, wait on me.”

The Grandmother desperately cries, “Bailey boy!” and keeps on insisting that The Misfit is a kind man. “I ain’t a good man,” the criminal replies. Then he tells the story of his life. He was different from his brothers and sisters. His father said, “He’s going to be into everything.” And so he was, “at home and abroad, been twice married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive.” His first imprisonment changed his personality: “I was buried alive,” as he describes it. Then two shots are heard.

Active Characters

Bailey, the Grandmother, John Wesley, June Star, the baby’s mother, the Misfit, Bobby Lee, Hiram

Active Themes

A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: religion.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: grace & evil.
ReligionGrace & Evil

Analysis

The Grandmother keeps assuring the Misfit that he is a good man and that he should pray more, never realizing that he does not want to. He does not need God’s help because he can do everything all by himself. He never was a bad boy, but life circumstances made him one. Flannery O’Connor uses sounds and colors in A Good Man is Hard to Find to provide a summary of the complicated feelings and emotions her characters go through.

The two pistol shots and the Grandmother’s shouting “Bailey boy!” require no explanation. These were the first feelings of affection she had shown to her family in the entire story, and probably in her whole life.

💥 A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Episode 8

Bailey’s wife began to breathe heavily, and The Misfit asked his companions to take her to the forest to join the husband. The Grandmother is left one-on-one with the criminal. He says he always forgets his crimes during the punishments, so now he asks for a copy of documents to compare the severity of punishment with his evil deeds.

I call myself The Misfit because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Another shot is heard from the woods. The Misfit asks the Grandmother if it is fair that some people are punished so much while others are so little. She says that there is “good blood” in him and that he “wouldn’t shoot a lady.”

Active Characters

The Grandmother, June Star, the baby’s mother, the Misfit, Bobby Lee, Hiram

Active Themes

A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: grace & evil.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: society & class.
Grace & EvilSociety & Class

Analysis

The punishment is deteriorating human nature more than improving it. The penitentiary system of those days required profound reformation. In her turn, the Grandmother remains unaware that her understanding of “goodness” is too narrow in front of the harsh and violent real world.

🩸 A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Episode 9

Another two shots are audible. The Misfit says he would like to live in the days of Jesus.

Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead… and He shouldn’t have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him…

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Then the Grandmother calls the criminal one of her babies, touching his shoulder.

Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

The next moment he shoots her to death and cleans his glasses. When all the bodies are put together, the Misfit remarks that she would have been a good person if there was a gun in front of her face every minute of her life.

Active Characters

The Grandmother, the Misfit, Bobby Lee, Hiram

Active Themes

A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: religion.A Good Man Is Hard to Find themes: grace & evil.
ReligionGrace & Evil

Analysis

This is when the climax of the story comes. The confrontation with real danger transforms the Grandmother. She treats the criminal as her son, forgiving him and feeling almost holy love. But the universe is too evil to let this story have a happy ending.

You are also welcome to read a short summary of the story. And if you need to make your own summary of a story or an article, please use our great summarizing tool!

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1. IvyPanda. "Summary & Analysis." July 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-study-guide/summary-analysis/.


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IvyPanda. 2021. "Summary & Analysis." July 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-study-guide/summary-analysis/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Summary & Analysis'. 20 July.