A Good Man is Hard to Find: Who is the real Misfit?

Flannery O’Connor
“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life
distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem
will be to make them appear as distortions to an audience
which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may be
forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision
across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that
your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a
little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you
have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your
vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you
shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.
— Flannery O'Connor [From the Flannery O'Connor
Special Collection, via EDSITEment reviewed Internet
Public Library].
Take A Moment: Paraphrase what O’Connor is suggesting in
this quote. (#1 on worksheet)
Gain some contextual understanding of the story.
Identify and explain some allusions and tone in the
Identify and analyze literary devices in the story.
In your group, please discuss your reaction to the story.
What did you think about its strange ending?
Record your group’s responses on the worksheet. (#2)
 Flannery O’Connor was born in Georgia (1925-1964)
 Catholic writer who often discussed issues of morality
and faith in her writings.
 Humor was always evident in her writings and her
"When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward
and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the
chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was
the high point in my life. Everything since has been
 Father died of a form of lupus when she was 15. The
same disease would take her at 39. Her mother lived to
be 97.
 O’Connor was a Catholic in the middle of the
protestant Bible belt.
 She lectured on her faith and was considered a
strongly Christian writer despite her grotesque views.
 Wrote in “Southern Gothic Style” – a style that relied
on supernatural, irony or unusual plot but served as
social commentary of the south.
 Also considered a Southern grotesque writer. In
fiction, characters are usually considered grotesque if
they induce both empathy and disgust.
 Most of her works feature disturbing elements, though
she did not like to be characterized as cynical. "I am
tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal
and sarcastic," she writes. "The stories are hard but
they are hard because there is nothing harder or less
sentimental than Christian realism... when I see these
stories described as horror stories I am always amused
because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong
 How does the group respond to O’Connor’s depiction
of her story as “Christian realism?” Record your
answer. (#3)
 She is often said to have her character’s embody the
Protestant fundamentalism but by their own perverse
actions bring them closer to Catholicism in their
 She believed in the divine and the importance of
 The Catholic church teaches that pain and suffering is
one way to become closer to God. In what ways is the
grandmother “closer” to God in the story’s end?
Explain. (#4)
 Reread page 1. Describe the grandmother using one
adjective and justify that description using details
from that page. Record on your worksheet. (#5)
 The grandmother thinks that taking the Georgia-
based family to east Tennessee would make them
"broad" by "see[ing] different parts of the
world.“Looking at how travel changed in the
grandmother’s lifetime, what is O'Connor's tone here
in her characterization of the grandmother?
 How does O'Connor's humor come through in this
Read page 2, the section that begins “Tennessee is a
hillbilly dumping ground…. To the end of the page.
Now, answer these questions in your worksheets.
 What does the grandmother mean when she says, "In
my time" at the beginning of this passage?
 What does the grandmother's use of these words
suggest about the racial views she holds? (Pickaninny
is also a derogatory term)
 How does the grandmother represent the South's
earlier times by using this word?
 Since 1896, the rule of the south was Plessy vs.
Ferguson – “separate but equal”
 1954, the year this was published, that was overturned
with Brown vs. Board of Education
 How does O'Connor use the grandmother to
distinguish between the "Old" and "New South"?
 What is symbolic about the fact that the "phantom"
plantation is just a figment of the grandmother's bad
 When O’Connor writes this story, historical change is a
process, and radical, immediate change is rare. How
does the family in O'Connor's story reflect this idea?
Reread paragraph 2 on page 1 and record how the daughter-in-law
is described. Now read this passage (#9):
The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton
gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in front
of the back window. The children's mother still had on slacks
and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the
grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of
white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small
white dot in the print. 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.
 (#10) How does the above image compare to O'Connor's
descriptions of the mother and the grandmother?
 What does the grandmother think of the "modern
woman"? What are some differences between the
grandmother and the mother?
 Though the story is told from the grandmother's point-ofview, does the story reveal praise and/or criticism for both
the mother and the grandmother? How?
 Flannery O'Connor once said that, "while the South is
hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christhaunted" [From
build/iguide/oconnor.html Via American Studies
Web.] (44).
 What might O'Connor mean when she says "Christhaunted"? Why "Christ-haunted" instead of "Christcentered"?
 What passages of "A Good Man is Hard to Find"
support O'Connor's claim about the South?
 Title suggests a quest = grandmother tries to save
herself by “saving” the young man.
 Bailey's family literally sets out on a journey, the family
vacation. How does the road trip function as a
metaphor or symbol of this journey?
 What might the road trip (and the specific images of
the country road) symbolize based on what you have
learned from the story at large?
 John Wesley (son’s name = founder of Methodist
 Back to the young black boy on the road: possible
allusion to Matthew 25:31-46
Matthew 25:31-46
New International Version (NIV)
The Sheep and the Goats
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious
throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from
another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the
goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my
Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I
was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I
was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you
looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and
give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes
and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters
of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire
prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty
and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes
and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes
or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
 How is the grandmother, a supposedly righteous
woman, un-Christian in the road scene?
 Contrast this with her dealings with the Misfit on
pages 12. Why is this ironic?
 How can the Misfit and his thugs be like the devil that
receive the goats in the passage?
Mention of death (foreshadow) (#13)
Last paragraph page 1
Second paragraph page 2
First paragraph page 3
Paragraph 5 page 5
Paragraph 3 page 7
Paragraph 6 page 7
 Scan the rest of the story, and record at least three
instances when the children behave poorly and the
grandmother comments or corrects them. (#14)
 Read the comment on page5 by Red Sam about a good
man. Why are the grandmother and Sam too simplistic
in their musings about “good men?” What do they not
recognize about “good men?”
The Misfit is identified on page 8 and reddens when
Bailey apparently swears at his grandmother. Find and
record at least three more instances when the Misfit
acts with the manners the grandmother scolds her
grandchildren for not having. (#15)
 Record at least two passages where the Misfit discusses
 In what ways is he more thoughtful than the “proper”
grandmother about his faith?
In an article "What We Talk about When We Talk about the South" by
Edward Ayers, dean and professor of history at the University of
Virginia and author of The Oxford Book of the American South:
Testimony, Memory, and Fiction and The Promise of the New South: Life
After Reconstruction, Ayers writes:
“Southern history bespeaks a place that is more complicated than the
stories we tell about it. Throughout its history, the South has been a
place where poverty and plenty have been thrown together in especially
jarring ways, where democracy and oppression, white and black,
slavery and freedom, have warred. The very story of the South is a story
of unresolved identity, unsettled and restless, unsure and defensive.
The South, contrary to so many words written in defense and in attack,
was not a fixed, known, and unified place, but rather a place of
constant movement, struggle, and negotiation.”[26]
 List all the binaries/dualities you see in the story. Star
the one that you think is the most important.
 The Misfit states that he is called that because his
crime did not justify his punishment. In what ways is
his name appropriate for him?
 In what ways is the grandmother, who follows the old
ways, a misfit herself?
 How is the grandmother in the final scenes, as she is
about to be killed, a better person than the one in the
beginning? How is this actually a “misfit?”
 What insight does this give you into the final quote by
the Misfit?

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