Jul 11, 2019 in Book Review

“A Good Man Is Hard to find"

“A Good Man Is Hard to find" is a short story written in 1953 by Flannery O'Connor. The story focuses on the family of Bailey a father of three; John Wesley, June Star and the third born son only identified as Baby, who is always held by the mother. The family is planning to travel for a vacation in Florida. There is also Bailey’s mother identified as grandmother who always like going whenever the family goes as explained by June.

Vacation trip to Florida

This short story starts with the grandmother protesting to her son, Bailey, that she would prefer going to East Tennessee to going to Florida for vacation, so that she can visit some of her old connections. The grandmother tries all the means to make Bailey change his mind including using the story of The- Misfit written in the newspaper, a criminal who escaped from the Federal Pen and went to Florida. She asserts that she would not allow her children to travel to Florida where they can possibly meet the criminal in the loose. Bailey however does not listen to the mother and does not read the story; this prompts the grandmother to try another reason that the children had been to Florida but not Tennessee, that it would be good if they are taken to see other worlds. Despite this intense lobbying, the family sticks to its decision to travel to Florida.

Surprisingly, the following day she becomes the first to prepare early, dress in attire that will identify her as a lady should they be involved in an accident and she wait for the other in the car. Along the way, the grandmother talks ceaselessly throughout the journey, telling the experiences she had when was still youth in the Old South and giving comments on numerous things she observes like the plantation that went with the wind next to the graveyard, the poor nigger boy who ate the watermelon that was brought to her by Edgar Atkins from Georgia.

After a long drive, the family stops for lunch at the diner called “The Tower,". Here, they meet Mr.  Red Sammy who is the owner and consequently engages grandmother into a conversation about an fugitive murderer recognized as "The Misfit." who escaped from prison and the grandmother concurs with Sammy's allegation that a good man is very hard to find. This is the second attempt the grandmother is trying to prove her point that The Misfit is a very dangerous man known by all and justifies why they should not proceed to Florida. In addition, grandmother proves her love for Tennessee when she listens to the ‘Tennessee Waltz’ music played in the machine and dances by swinging her head. She even tries to catch Bailey’s attention by asking him if he wanted to dance. This shows her determination to influence the direction to be taken, with strong indication that though they are heading for Florida, Tennessee is still her best destination. This leaves one with suspense what is so appealing in Tennessee that the grandmother desperately wants to see.

After the lunch, the family continues with the journey and the grandmother continues with her quest to divert the family from going to Florida. She begins narrating stories about a nearby beautiful home inside a plantation that she had visited when she was a child. Bailey ignores all these stories until the grandmother lies that " There was a secret:-panel in this house” . This makes the children to insist on visiting the house to see the hidden silver in this house; they scream and yell until the father changes his mind to take them there under the guidance of grandmother. After driving down the abandoned road that appeared not to have been used for months, the grandmother finally remembers that the house she was talking about is actually not in Georgia where they were headed to, but in Tennessee. This makes her guilty and Nervous, she upsets her cat, which jumps onto Bailey’s neck causing Bailey to lose control of the car and ends up in a ditch after the car rolling once, leading to Bailey’s wife breaking her shoulder and the grandmother pretending to have sustained internal injuries so that she can win sympathy not to be blamed to be the cause.  As they waits for help, a car approaches and three men get out, with their leader, a shirtless and spectacled man who grandmother later identifies as “The Misfit” the escaped convict. This identification makes things worse for the family, identifying a fugitive man who does not want to be identified by anybody. The Misfit then instructs the other two men to kill all the Bailey’s family member one by one starting with Bailey and Wesley, then Bailey’s wife and June in the woods  and he finally kills grandmother by shooting her three times even after pleading with him not to by flattering him to be a good man. The Misfit finally concludes that grandmother would have been a good woman. 

This scene confirms that a good man is truly hard to find proved by the merciless way Misfit and his two men killed injured people who really needed their help including children. It shows that the members of the society have lost the morals, human feeling and neglecting their Christian values. There is also irony in this scene. Grandmother had originally vowed not to allow her children go to an insecure place where The Misfit would kill them, but that is exactly what she does, directs her son and family to a dark end where they are first involved in an accident and are finally killed turning the trip that was intended to be a happy vacation into a trip of tragedy.

These final outcomes contrasts with the original expectation of the family members who expected to view beautiful plantation and house. Instead of such expectation to be met, it turned out to be directly opposite leading to death of all the family members.

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Imagery used in the Short story

Toombsboro

"Toombsboro" is the name of the town the family passes right when the grandmother wakes up to from her sleep and remembers the old plantation that never was with a beautiful house that is claimed to have a secret panel and hidden silver. “Toombsboro" is mentioned immediately before the family changes direction from where they were heading to, before they are involved in an accident and finally before meets The Misfit who kills all of them denoting and predicting that the family was headed for doom. The word sounds like tomb which and spelled tragedy and was the beginning of their misfortunes. 

Big black battered hearse-like automobile

This is the description of The Misfit's car as it approaches the family at the accident scene. A hearse is a motor vehicle that usually carries caskets to a funeral. A black color is in most cases associated with darkness and doom. This therefore points that there is another image of forthcoming death, which indicates awaits the family even before The Misfit and the two men even get out of the car. The description of the men also spelled bad news to this family. One man had a gray hat pulled very low, hiding most of his face. This clearly showed that he had ill intensions and never wanted to be identified. The three men had guns at their waist lines

The driver got out of the car and stood next to it, looking down at Bailey’s family in the ditch. He appeared older than the other two men. This was confirmed by his hair that had started turning gray and he had silver-rimmed spectacles. He only wore tight blue jeans, shoes without socks and was holding a black hat and a gun on his hand.

The Dark Forest

The forest that appears over the ditch where the family was trapped which is described as “tall and dark and deep" is another image very consistent with the hearse and Toombsboro. Dark forest is thick usually meaning end of the road and only inhabited by wild animals that are life threatening and taking that anyone who goes in do not come out. The forest is frightening, and depicts the awaiting death of the family and true to the depiction; all the family members except the grandmother are taken to be shot inside the forest by the two accomplice of Misfit.

The Cloudless, Sunless Sky

The cloudless, sunless sky is stated a number of times after the family are involved in the accident, and mostly by The Misfit. The narrator also mentioned the same phrase after The Misfit had shot grandmother as "her face smiling up at the cloudless sky". Whenever there’s no sun, it is expected to be dark or night and when there is no cloud, it is expected that there will be no rain soon which is the source of life thus no future hope. In this analysis, it therefore means that the horror brought by darkness was yet to befall Bailey’s family.
This empty sky without clouds and Sun image may also mean there's something seriously missing. This can be in the view that this emptiness is an indication of the family's extreme and desperate situation where they are being killed in the isolated place, without anyone to save them. Another version is that the emptiness also refers the character of The Misfit who has lost all the moral values and is empty from inside having no sense of good left in him together with his two men who mercilessly kill including children.

On the other hand, a cloudless sky is often reflected as bright, happy and beautiful day, and the grandmother exclaims that it is a beautiful day immediately The Misfit remarks about the sky. This version contrasts with the events that follow including murders in the dark forest woods in the middle of nowhere instead of assisting the injured from accident. However, the smiling face of grandmother as she looks at the cloudless sky as she takes her last breath depicts the peace, she finally finds relief from the ordeal and having that she is a Christian, she believes that it is the beginning of life after death.

Dark Edge

This phrase is used when Bailey and Wesley are taken by the two men towards the wood under the direction of The Misfit. When they reached the dark end, Bailey turned and leaning against a pine trunk, he said to the mother that she would be back  The dark edge in this case meant the point of termination and death. The edge where there was no more life for those who get there. In as much as Bailey was optimistic that he would return to his mother, he never returned but instead his wife and two children joined him and only gun shots were heard.

Woods gaped like a dark open mouth

These were the line of woods that were behind the family where they were seated at the ditch after the accident. It shows that the forest woods was scary and was very ready, just waiting to swallow all of them never to be seen again. The dark open mouth depicts that the woods was going to consume them just as it was for dark forest and dark edge.

The Tower

Mr. Sammy’s diner is referred as ‘The Tower’, a place that Bailey’s family branches for lunch before they proceed with their journey to Florida. A tower is a tall barbican that can be located from far or can be used to view longer distances. This has been used to indicate that the diner famous and attracted more people and was a place that travellers could not avoid easily. The description of the place according to the signs mounted on the road sides saying, ‘Try Red Sammy's Famous Barbecue’ .

The Misfit

This is the name given to the escaped convict from Federal pen that was bare chested and ordered the other two men to kill Bailey and his entire Bailey family members. The grandmother accused him of killing his father and was also accused for killing his own father whom he claims to be having the heart of gold. The word ‘misfit’ means ‘rebel’ or ‘nonconformist’. This means that The Misfit was one who had rebelled against the moral values and could not conform to be good man.

In conclusion, the Short story ‘A good man is hard to find’ focuses in the effects of losing the society morals that are partly blamed on the failure of parents to teach their children good morals. This is seen when Bailey ignores his children not to correct then when talking rudely to the grandmother and The Misfit especially when he explains how good heated his mother and father were, but in contrast never taught him good morals. Mr. Sammy and grandmother blame it on Europe while the narrator shows the feeling of loss of Christian values as the course of all the mess.  The story notes that none can be trusted to be a good person. For example, when grandmother saw The Misfit’s car approaching, she trusted them and even waved to them to come for their rescue. The people she trusted would save them turned out to be their murderers.

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