Discussion of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"

  Post your answer in the comments below. Make sure to include the number of the question you're answering and either cut and paste the question or answer in complete sentences so that we know which question you're answering.


A-4, B-5, C-6, D-7, E-8, F-9, G-10, H-11, I-12, J-13, K-1, L-2, M-3

If you have further thoughts or questions about the story, please feel to also post these below. 

13 Questions To Ask of Every Story: 

1.          What makes this story “literary”? 

 

2.          Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

 

3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

 

4.          Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

 

5.          Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

 

6.          Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

 

7.          Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

 

8.          Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

 

9.          Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

 

10.      Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

 

11.      Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

 

12.      What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it? 


13.    How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

Comments

  1. 8. Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?
    I think Flannery chose this point of view for this story so we the reader could get the reactions of what was happening to the grandma and her family as well as the aftermath. The point of view makes the reader feel like they are there watching this horrible thing happen to this family as well as the criminal's reactions to it a little afterwards.
    -Michael

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    1. Yes. I feel like this particular point of view (third person close) in which we are getting mostly one character's interior, is so effective. The character stays close to the grandmother.

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  2. 13. How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

    A: This story reminded me most of 'Enormous Radio' as far as stories we've read in this class go. Both are stories mostly grounded in normalcy until a fantastical element is introduced. Of course the fantastical element in 'Radio' is more supernatural in nature than the character The Misfit, but both are an abnormality in what is initially presented as a fairly normal set of circumstances.

    -Alec

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    1. I didn't actually think of the Misfit as being supernatural, but his presence definitely draws the narrative from "normal" to surreal in a hurry.

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  3. 6 . Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

    The writer shows character by their mannerisms and through dialogue. There are some physical descriptions but more is told about the characters by the way they act. For example, June Star is shown to be blunt and judgmental in the way that she regards the other characters. "'I don't want to hold hands with him,' June Star said. 'He reminds me of a pig.'" The character of Bailey is also described more in the way he acts, such as: "Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. 'No,' he said."
    Another thing that I was interesting about character is that the mother's name is never mentioned. She is only referred to as "the children's mother", which I thought was a unique and interesting choice and says a lot about the characters' relationships.

    -Bailey (also I love that one of the characters was also named Bailey :P)

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    1. I wondered if you'd have a response to the Bailey thing. The grand,other, too, is never named, is she? I agree that dialogue is the primary vehicle that O'Connor uses to impart character. The dialogue is so telling.

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  4. 3. Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?
    I think this story does a really good job of setting up the external and internal conflict from the opening conversation (the presence of the Misfit and Bailey's dissatisfaction with his own family/clash with his mother respectively), and by setting that early, it allows the tension to build. By the time the family makes it to the BBQ place, O'Connor's redirected the reader's attention away from the external conflict of the Misfit, and inwards to the tension of the family's dynamic. When the Misfit gets brought up again at the BBQ places, it sets up the confrontation between the Misfit and the family after the car crash.
    I think what made this story particularly successful in its time was the borderline blasphemous use of Jesus, and the fact that the deaths of all the characters could have been avoided at nearly every instance: if Bailey had listened to his mother from the jump and gone to Tennessee instead of Florida, if his mother hadn't pressured him to go to the old house, if she wasn't so afraid of Bailey's anger that she involuntarily flung her legs out. The fact that this scenario could so easily have been avoided makes the conflict that much more haunting.
    In terms of Jesus, drawing a parallel between him to a murderous criminal was a gutsy move, and one that I think would be guaranteed to stoke conversation and controversy, even now. Even though the the Misfit himself clearly states that he is *not* Jesus, just the choice to compare the two of them and imply the only difference was a small turn of fate has sticking power.
    I will say, the piece ending with "there is no pleasure in life" feels a bit on the nose and turned me off from the piece (it's a bit too cliche to feel like it works for me) but I think the issue here is that that sort of ending is very cliche now, but likely was very subversive in the 50's when O'Connor wrote this. I can't really hold the ending being overdone against her for that. I'm sure at the time it was really impactful, and "stuck the landing" for her piece.
    -Cassie

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    1. I hadn't really thought of this story in terms of cliche, but I can see how you might, and I definitely agree that this is one of the stories/genres that started the cliche to begin with. I think it's telling that he says there is no pleasure in life except in meanness, but then he doesn't take any real pleasure in being mean to the grandmother at the end.

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  5. 1. What makes this story "literary?"
    It is literary in a way that the story itself is unpredictable in a way. At first the story feels like it's going to be a regular road trip story where the family hangs out and tells stories. Then when they are diverting from the path as a reader I was taken by surprise when the family got into an accident. I was even more surprised by the fact that the criminal that was talked about at the start happened to come by their crashed car and shot everyone.
    This story is also literary in the fact it focused in on what is a good man through the grandma's eyes, and her trying to convince the Misfit that he was a good man in hopes of stopping him from doing something horrible.

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    1. Yes, this is so clever of O'Connor, to give us this detail about the Misfit in the opening paragraph. The story, in spite of its drama, comes off as literary to me because it's so, so character driven.

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  6. 10. Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

    One of the three best lines to me are "Bailey and the children's mother and the baby sat in the front and they left Atlanta at eight forty-five with mileage on the car at 55890." I especially liked this line because the small details and quirks of characters make me feel as though they are real people. After finishing the story, I realized that this line could be considered foreshadowing too. The second line I like is "All at once they would be on a hill, looking down over the blue tops of trees for miles around, then the next minute, they would be in a red depression with the dust-coated trees looking down on them." The imagery used is amazing and I feel like I am driving along with them. The third line I like is "The Misfit sneered slightly. 'Nobody had nothing I wanted,' he said." I think this line was important in showing the reader that The Misfit didn't seem to have a clear motive for anything he did or the people he killed.

    -Taylor

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    1. All three of these are good, but I especially responded to that last one. For me the most striking line in the piece is "She would have been a good woman if there had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." Wow. That is a line.

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  7. 9. Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

    This story is set in the South, which makes sense since this is a Southern Gothic. Like other Gothics set in once majestic castles that now lay in ruins, O'Connor's setting is a South still trying to hold onto his glorious Antebellum days. Significantly, the first key place is a car. It always the characters to roam through the South, where all the description comes from the grandmother, remembering it in her lofty ways, while the children say the states are trash. Of course, memory isn't the same as reality, as the grandmother goes from praising how respectful people back in the day were to making racial slurs in the next breath. This reality check comes in the next setting, Red Sammy's restaurant, the Tower, can you get more Gothic than that? The name implies a sense of grandeur of the descriptions of the place and the signs make it out to be gaudy and rundown, and certainly the monkey chained to the tree outside symbolizes something. The descriptions start to feel more real as the family turn down the last fateful stretch of woods. We get to see dust-covered trees along an increasingly worn-out and dangerous dirt road. As the grandmother finds herself the last member of the family, she looks around and hears a lonely wind blowing through the trees. Just as the grandmother predicted by wearing a fancy hat so people would recognize her status in case of an accident, she meets her end on the side of the road, only it is in a dusty gulch by a road no one has been on in months and, of course, her hat is broken.

    -Logan O.

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    1. Yes, I think you're exactly right about how the setting functions differently for the different characters. O'Connor is some ways DEFINED the notion of Southern Gothic.

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  8. 2. Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

    Everyone has their own definition of a “good” person. Because the definition is obscure and depends on what constitutes an individual’s moral code, this is a topic that is still relevant today. In this story, the grandmother labels herself “a lady” and believes that she is virtuous enough to deem someone a good person even though her values aren’t pure or representative of a good moral character. The grandmother only refers to another character as a good person when some part of their moral code aligns with hers. Whether a person is bad or good is subjective, and so this piece’s sustained significance is in part due to our ongoing interests in ethics, morals, how they distinguish one person from another, and what influence they have on our behaviors.

    -Samantha W.

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    1. Well said. I think it's a story that has lived on for exactly this reason, and also because it is just so memorable--the details and characters are so vivid.

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  9. 4) What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

    When looking to the stories, the conflict is the trip. Especially made difficult by everyone’s different thoughts and how that might work out. However, I think the most important part is when the grandmother recognizes the bespectacled man. Especially since it leads up to the idea of “His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was”. As it begins to set the scene towards the conclusion. It is still raising but, you kind of get set off by the fact that she knows the face.

    - Nicole

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    1. Agreed. That moment when she recognizes him is so key, not only because her saying so cements their doom, but because it also foreshadows the moment when she will "recognize" the Misfit as her child.

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  10. 11. Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

    After doing some reading on Flannery O'Conner, I was interested to see that "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is actually her best known story. So I would say that it is a prime example of her work. Additionally, I learned that O'Connor grew up and lived in small town Georgia, so all of her short stories on small towns in the American South are threaded with believable experience. She also grew up in a Roman Catholic family -- we see this influence in how many of her stories deal with the relationship between the individual and God. Unfortunately, she inherited lupus erythematosus from her father, and it proved deadly to both in time. It is interesting to compare this to "A Good Man is Hard to Find," where Bailey suffers the same death as his mother.

    - Elizabeth S.

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    1. Nice. I hadn't thought before of how O'Conner's death and her father works as a parallel here.

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  11. 12. What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it?
    I think readers are supposed to take away the definition of a "good man" used throughout the story. The grandmother was very opinionated throughout the entire story on everything the family did and everything she saw around her. She called Red Sammy a good man and then called the misfit good as well. Both these men she called good not because they were good but because something they said aligned with her own values. For Sammy it was because he let two people get gas using credit and the misfit because she believes he wont shoot a lady. As writers I think what we can learn is about how she wrote her characters. The grandmother was very well written because sometimes I would be rolling my eyes at her actions but other times I felt bad for her and the way her family treated her.
    - Zoe

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    1. I love what you said about her calling them good not because they were good, but because they aligned with her own values. Also, I think she keeps trying to call the Misfit good (when he clearly isn't) because she so desperately WANTS him to be good.

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  12. 5.) Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

    At the end of page 129, two pistol shots were fired in the woods. This signifying oncoming death is the height of the conflict that's been ongoing, surpassing the revelation of the Misfit or the grandmother's injury. The end, in some form or another, was coming, and what little that remained of the family could do is attempt to convince the Misfit, whose mind seemed unshakable. It was the eerie calm and continuation of the man's thought that seemed to speak of doom. The gunfire was both a literal and figurative depiction of the Misfit's resolution on the moral conundrum presented, and the revelation here was in two part, which, at least for me, made a great escalator to the climax of this story.

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    1. I like this as a climax--it is definitely the point where there is no going back. I would, as I said in class, point to slightly later than this, when the grandmother tries to reach out physically to the Misfit, but I think your idea definitely works, too.

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