A Good Man is Hard to Find

1. In the last sentence of the story, the attending doctors pronounce
the cause of Mrs. Mallard's death to be "the joy that kills." What do the
doctors mean by this?
a. She is overcome by despair because she realizes she is still
b. She is overwhelmingly happy that Brently is alive.
c. She is deathly frightened that Brently will become violent
when he discovers her relationship with Richards-and the doctors
cover it up.
d. She dies in the throes of passion when Brently returns alive;
unfortunately, she is too physically weak for love.
2. According to Josephine's account, how did Mr. Mallard die?
a. He was killed in the war.
b. He died of heart disease.
c. He was in a train wreck.
d. He was mauled by large dogs.
3. "[Mrs. Mallard] sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except
when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob
in its dreams." Which of the following is the most appropriate paraphrase of the simile in this passage?
a. Like a child sobbing uncontrollably, Louise is not in control of her emotions.
b. Like an overwhelmed child, Louise needs to be attended to by her sister and Richards.
c. As children are frightened by dreams, so Louise is terrorized by her marriage.
d. As a child will sob after losing consciousness, Louise did not know anymore why she was
4. Which of the following best describes June Star's and John Wesley's behavior toward adults?
a. disrespectful
b. submissive
c. frightened
d. cheerful
5. The grandmother suggests a detour to see what sight?
a. a Civil War battleground
b. an old plantation house she had visited in her youth
c. a statue of Robert E. Lee
d. a craft fair
6. What causes the family's car accident?
a. The grandmother's cat startles Bailey as he is driving.
b. The children's fight over the comic book distracts Bailey as
he is driving.
c. The baby's shrieking distracts the mother as she is driving.
d. The Misfit runs them off the road.
7. What does the grandmother say that causes the Misfit to kill her?
a. She tells him Jesus has saved him.
b. She begs him to spare her grandchildren and kill her instead.
c. She calls him one of her own children.
d. She tells him he cannot be saved.
Katherine O’Flaherty was born in St. Louis,
Missouri, to a Creole-Irish family that enjoyed a
high place in society. Her father died when she
was four, and Kate was raised by her mother,
grandmother, and great-grandmother.
Very well read at a young age, she received her formal
education at the St. Louis Academy of the Sacred Heart.
In 1870, she married Oscar Chopin, a Louisiana
businessman, and lived with him in Natchitoches parish
and New Orleans, where she became a close observer of
Creole and Cajun life. Following her husband’s sudden
death in 1884, she returned to St. Louis, where she raised
her six children and began her literary career. In slightly
more than a decade she produced a substantial body of
work, including the story collections Bayou Folk (1894)
and A Night in Acadie (1897) and the classic novella The
Awakening (1899), which was greeted with a storm of
criticism for its frank treatment of female sexuality.
Kate Chopin’s biography may illuminate some of the
central themes and issues in play in “The Story of an
Hour.” Chopin married her husband, Oscar Chopin,
in 1870 when she was twenty years old. The couple
moved to New Orleans, where he pursued a career as
a cotton broker and she became active in the city’s
social life. Kate Chopin attracted attention in the city
for her unconventional insistence on her own
freedoms: she smoked and drank, and sometimes
went out unattended in the evenings. By all accounts,
her husband was tolerant, and perhaps even
encouraging, of her independence, and their marriage
seemed to be one of mutual respect and affection.
When Oscar Chopin’s cotton
brokerage failed in 1879,
he moved his family—which by this
time included six children—to rural
Louisiana, where he managed some
small plantations and a general
store. In 1883, he died of swamp
fever, leaving Kate a thirty-two-year
-old widow with six children to
support and limited financial resources.
Chopin soon relocated to St. Louis,
where she moved into her mother’s
house and began writing poetry and short stories.
By 1894, she had established a national reputation as a
writer of “local color” fiction that captured the distinctive
customs and culture of Louisiana. Her career is also
notable for her creation of unconventional female heroines
and her willingness to engage controversial subjects like
female sexuality, divorce, and miscegenation. Eventually,
her work provoked hostile reviews, and she encountered
difficulty publishing and selling her more daring stories.
What is the significance of Mrs. Mallard’s
diagnosis of “heart trouble”? What symbolic
significance might this phrase contain?
When do we learn the main character’s first name?
What is the effect of revealing this information late
in the story?
How would you describe the narrative point of
view in “The Story of an Hour”? Does it change or
shift over the course of the story? How does our
varying access to Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts and
feelings affect our understanding of events and of
her character?
Why do you think Chopin chose the “short
story” form for this story? What is left out or
underdeveloped in the 1,000-word format?
What is enhanced by the concentrated
Examine the final line of the story. Is the
doctors’ diagnosis of “a joy that kills” an
example of irony? How does irony work in this
Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia,
studied at the Georgia State College for Women, and won a
fellowship to the Writer’s Workshop of the University of Iowa,
from which she received her MFA. In 1950, she was first
diagnosed with lupus, a painful autoimmune disorder that had
killed her father and would trouble her for the rest of her brief
life. Her first novel, Wise Blood, was published in 1952, and her
first collection of stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, in 1955.
She was able to complete only one more novel, The Violent Bear
It Away (1960), and a second collection of stories, Everything
That Rises Must Converge (1965), before dying of lupus in
Milledgeville, Georgia. Her posthumously published Complete
Stories won the National Book Award in 1972. A collection of
letters, edited by Sally Fitzgerald under the title The Habit of
Being, appeared in 1979.
Southern gothic has been described as literature
focused on “disturbed people doing disturbing
things.” As a genre or a topical focus of some
southern writing, southern gothic is characterized by
its casts of strange characters, its interest in bizarre or
macabre occurrences, and the way it uses these
“grotesqueries” to explore social issues unique to the
American South. Narratives in the southern gothic
tradition tend to examine social and behavioral codes
by depicting people who are engaged in acts ranging
from the out of the ordinary to the eccentric to the
taboo. Incest, murder, suicide, lynching, rape,
castration, and insanity are not unusual topics within
southern gothic literature.
O’Connor’s fiction was deeply influenced by her Roman
Catholic faith, and by her commitment to revealing what
she thought of as “the central Christian mysteries,” or
moments of awakening, grace, and redemption. As you
read O’Connor’s fiction, you may find it difficult always
to locate or understand the Christian principles at work in
what often seem like macabre and violent stories, peopled
by characters profoundly lacking in sympathy and selfawareness. O’Connor explained that she found “violence
strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and
preparing them to accept their moment of grace.” On the
other hand, she also acknowledged that “there are,
perhaps, other ways than my own in which [my stories]
could be read.”
Audio version of text, read by Flannery O’Connor
What values or worldview does the grandmother
represent in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”? How,
specifically, do her own words and those of the
narrator contribute to our understanding of her
character? What stance does the story encourage
us to take in regard to the grandmother?
The grandmother is associated with the past from
the beginning of “A Good Man.” What was the
past like, according to the grandmother and Red
Sammy? How was it different from, and better
than, the present?
During their brief encounter, both the Misfit and the
grandmother talk about religion and morality. What does
the story ultimately say about either or both of these issues?
To what extent and how, specifically, might “A Good Man”
embody O’Connor’s belief, expressed in “The Fiction Writer
and His Country,” that “the meaning of life is centered in
our Redemption by Christ”? that, as O’Connor says in “The
Grotesque in Southern Fiction,” “life is and will remain
essentially mysterious”?
From its title right through to the Misfit’s comments about
the dead grandmother, this story clearly explores the
question of what it means to be a “good” man or woman,
contrasting at least two different definitions of “good.”
What are those definitions? What, if any, definition, does the
story ultimately embrace?

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