A Good Man is Hard to Find Summary

  • Last updated on March 25, 2021
"infobox Book "
name A Good Man is Hard to Find
image
image caption Harcourt Brace Modern Classics Edition
author Flannery O'Connor
country America
language English language
genre(s) Short story
publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
release date 1955
media type Hardback and Paperback
pages 252
isbn
0151365040
A Good Man Is Hard To Find is a short story from Flannery O'Connor's collection of short stories called A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Other Stories (published in England as The Artificial Nigger and Other Tales), published in 1955.

Character Summaries

The grandmother

The protagonist of the story. She brings her family into the path of the serial killer known as The Misfit when she asks them to take a detour to see an old plantation house she had known as a child.

Bailey

The grandmother's son. He is nervous about going on vacations.

June Star

Bailey's daughter. She is a bit of a brat, like her brother.

John Wesley

Bailey's son. He is a bit of a brat, like his sister.

The Misfit

A serial killer who has recently escaped from the Federal Penitentiary. He doesn't seem himself as a truly bad person, and believes that the crimes he committed do not fit the level of punishment he received in prison.

The mother

The unnamed mother of John Wesley, June Star and the unnamed baby.

Bobby Lee and Hiram

The Misfit's accomplices.

Red Sam

The owner of the truck stop known as The Tower. He believes that the world has deteriorated, and that things used to be better before.

Red Sam's wife

A server in The Tower. She compliments June Star on her tap-dancing routine but is met with rudeness from the child.

Plot Summary

The story begins with the grandmother of the family not wanting to leave to go to Florida – she wants to go and visit some friends in Tennessee instead, and is trying to change her son Bailey’s mind. Bailey and the grandmother live together.

To try and change Bailey’s mind, the grandmother tells him about how there is a prisoner called The Misfit who has escaped from the Federal Penitentiary and is heading to Florida. She says that it would be too dangerous to go there and take children, and that besides, they have all already been to Florida and so should go to Tennessee instead to see something different.

Bailey’s son, John Wesley, asks the grandmother why she doesn’t just stay home. June Star, Bailey’s daughter, says that the grandma wouldn’t stay home under any circumstances. The grandmother then asks John Wesley what he would do if he came face to face  with The Misfit, and John Wesley replies simply that he would just beat him up.

The family leave the next morning. Grandmother is the first in the car, waiting. She is even bringing her cat as well, much to Bailey’s annoyance. The grandmother is also in her finest clothes.

The family head out on their way, passing some interesting scenery such as Stone Mountain as they go. John Wesley says he wants them to travel through Georgia quickly, because he doesn’t like to look at it and thinks it is a “lousy state”. He also thinks that Tennessee is “just a hillbilly dumping ground”. The grandmother tells him off for talking about Georgia, their home state, in such a negative way, and that in her day children were more respectful of where they came from.

Eventually the children run out of comic books, so they eat lunch. John Wesley and June Star then mess around in the back of the car because they have nothing else to do. The grandmother then distracts the children with a story about her past.

Later on the family stops at The Tower for some food. The Tower is owned by a man named Red Sammy Butts, who owns a pet monkey. Inside the restaurant, the mother of the children plays “The Tennessee Waltz” from a jukebox and the grandmother wants to dance. Bailey does not, however, as he “didn’t have a naturally sunny disposition like she did” and is nervous from their trip. The grandmother contents herself with swaying to the music from her seat.

When some livelier music is played, June Star does her tap dance routine. Red Sam’s wife thinks she is really cute, and asks “would you like to come be my little girl?”

June Star replies rudely that she would never want to live in such a round-down place, and the grandmother tells her off for being rude. Red Sam then comes in, annoyed, telling them how he was ripped off by two guys.

The conversation then changes to be about the escaped man known as The Misfit, and Red Sam’s wife says she would not be surprised if the criminal came and attacked The Tower. Red Sam replies that “a good man is hard to find” and that “everything is getting terrible”, and nothing seems safe anymore. He then has a conversation with the grandmother about how times used to be better.

Eventually the family leave and continue on their way. When the family is on the outskirts of Toombsboro, she tells them about how she visited an old plantation in the neigbourhood when she was young. She wants to see the old house but knows that Bailey will not want to make a detour. Craftily she lies and says that there is a purportedly some old silver in the house, and that makes the children desperate to go there. They throw a tantrum until their father gives in and drives them all there.

The grandmother recalls details of the old house to herself, and how the roads in the area used to all be made of dirt. Suddenly, she thinks something embarrassing to herself (that the house was in Tennessee not Georgia), and that makes her move her valise and upset the basket where the cat is sleeping.

The cat leaps up onto Bailey’s shoulder and causes him to have an accident. The car rolls once and lands right-side up in a gulch near the side of the road. The family is alright, but the children are ecstatic with the excitement of having had an accident. Awfully, June Star is even disappointed that nobody has died.

The grandmother flags down a strange, hearse-like car with three men in it. For a while the driver just sits and stares at them, but eventually the tree men get out and come over to them. All three men have guns.

The man with spectacles, the driver and the one who seems to be in charge, looks strangely familiar to the grandmother. Suddenly she realises that he is the Misfit. She is terrified, asking him if he would kill an old lady or not. He replies simply “I would hate to have to.”

She tries to convince him that he is a good man. He agrees, saying that his parents were the “finest people in the world.”

The Misfit’s accomplices, Hiram and Bobby Lee, are looking over the car. It is going to talk half an hour to fix. The Misfit mentions multiple times that the rest of the family (excluding the grandmother) are making him nervous, especially the children. He tells Bobby Lee to take Bailey and John Wesley into the woods, because the boys want to apparently ask them a question.

John Wesley and Bailey are taken off into the woods, and the grandmother grows even more scared. She continues to plead with The Misfit, telling him that he is a good man and not common.

The Misfit disagrees, saying that he isn’t a good man, but not a terrible one either. He explains that his father told him that he was different from everyone else. He also apologizes for his state of dress, saying that he and his accomplices had to “borrow” clothes from some people they met after they escaped from prison.

The grandmother offers The Misfit some of Bailey’s clothes to placate him, and the children’s mother screams out “where are they taking him?”

The Misfit ignores the mother, however, and continues to talk about his father. The grandmother continues trying to convince him that he is good and that he shouldn’t harm her or her family.

Two pistol shots ring out from the woods behind them where Bailey and John Wesley have been taken. The grandmother calls out for her son, but The Misfit ignores her, and just continues talking about his past and his time in prison. He ignores the grandmother’s suggestion that he pray multiple times, saying that he doesn’t need help from Jesus.

Bobby Lee and Hiram return, Bobby Lee carrying Bailey’s shirt. He gives the shirt to The Misfit.

The Misfit continues talking, saying that it doesn’t matter what sort of crime you do, because eventually you are going to forget what it was and just be punished. He then asks the children’s mother and June Star to go into the forest with Bobby Lee and Hiram. They leave.

The Misfit and the grandmother end up alone, and she finds she has lost her voice. Eventually she starts repeating the word “Jesus” over and over, not as if she is praying, but as if she is cursing.

The Misfit reveals that he was sent to prison on the charge of murdering his father, but he says that his father died of influenza. He also says that he calls himself The Misfit because “I can’t make what all I done wrong fir what all I gone through in punishment.”

The mother, baby and June Star are killed. The grandmother becomes more desperate, saying that she will give The Misfit all of the money she has if he won’t kill her. He doesn’t care about that, though.

The Misfit begins to rant and rave and then falls to the floor, as if he is crying. The grandmother tries to soothe him, saying that “you’re one of my own children.” When she reaches out to touch his shoulder her recoils and shoots her three times through the chest, killing her.

When Bobby Lee says that it is fun to kill people, the Misfit tells him to shut up and says “it’s no real pleasure in life.”

 

Categories: Short Stories