A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

A good man is hard to find and other stories by Flannery O'Connor

“A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a 1953 short story by Flannery O’Connor, remains one of this author’s most controversial works. 

This story by author of modern Southern gothic was first published in 1953 in an anthology of modern writing, and in 1960, it was the eponymous title of O’Connor’s own anthology of her collected short stories. Because it has appeared in many anthologies, this story is one of her best known, if not necessarily her best. 

The story begins as a man named Bailey wishes to take his family on a road trip from Georgia to Florida. His mother, who is simply called “the grandmother” argues that they should go to East Tennessee instead. She has seen a news article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that escaped murderer called “The Misfit” was spotted in Florida.


A brief analysis of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”

This analysis was contributed by Jillian McKeown, excerpted from Feminist Short Stories: Horror & SCi-Fi (Part 1):

I knew very little about Flannery O’Connor when this collection of short stories was recommended to me.  I knew that O’Connor was Irish Catholic, and that the stories were written in the mid-20th century. 

Needless to say, as I finished the first story, which is also the namesake for my particular edition, I was completely taken aback. “The person who suggested that I read this should have warned me!” I thought. Like so many of the other stories in this article, it’s thrilling to read a gem so subversive that it still shocks nearly seventy years later.


Murderer on the loose

As the story begins, we meet a family comprised of three young children, their mother and father, and the paternal grandmother.  Like many of O’Connor’s other writings, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is set in the South, and as the family embarks on a road trip to Florida we learn that a murderer is on the loose by the nickname, “The Misfit.”

From start to finish, the grandmother is a pill. She believes the past was best, children should be quiet, women should always be ladies, and her opinion is always right. 

Basically, she’s the Southern queen of unsolicited advice. O’Connor is a master at tapping in on a personality type that annoys most people because they are in everyone’s lives in some form. 

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Flannery O'Connor stamp

See also: Flannery O’Connor on the Grotesque in Fiction
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A long road trip

Because of that, we as readers are extended participants in this very long road trip. In addition to being an expert character study, O’Connor takes us on a trip through 1940s/50s Georgia in the summer.

It’s hot and dusty with a killer on the loose. They are alone on the road in a deserted part of the state where gas stations come only intermittently, setting a tone that leaves us unsure of our surroundings and insecure about the future. 

As the trip goes on, the grandmother sends the family on a wild goose chase, seeking out physical proof of a misplaced memory.  This dirt detour sends the family into a downward spiral that puts them face to face with what the grandmother hoped to avoid from the outset – the Misfit.

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A Good Man is Hard to Find

Photo by Anna Fiore
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An unfolding of a multitude of layers

At first read, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” could seem like nothing more than a story about an incredibly annoying grandmother and a gang of psychos.

However, this is one of those great stories that unfolds a multitude of onion-like layers that encompasses race, religion, class and poverty, region, crime, place in history, Civil Rights, and gender roles, amongst others. 

However you choose to read this story, as one of good old-fashioned murder, or a story of murder inextricably bound with issues of class, race and religion, you are left with comparable sense of dread, and maybe just a hint of schadenfreude as the grandmother finally gets her lips zipped.

Contributed by Jillian McKeown; excerpted from Feminist Short Stories: Horror & SCi-Fi (Part 1) on Exploring Feminisms.

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Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor on the Grotesque in Fiction
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How the story begins

The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal.

“Now look here, Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. 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.”

Bailey didn’t look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit’s ears.

She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar. “The children have been to Florida before,” the old lady said. “You all ought to take them somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have been to east Tennessee.”

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