Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia but moved to Atlanta as a teenager. She began writing as student and was also an avid reader. When she was fifteen, her father died of LSE, a disease affecting the immune system. When Flannery was just thirty nine, she too passed away of the same disease which she had inherited from her father. But before that she produced a large volume of short stories and essays.
Relevance of the Title
The title seems to have been taken from a song that was popular in the days when this story was written. The line also comes in the story when the grandmother and Red Sammy get talking. They agree that good men are not easy to find in the world but can’t agree on what makes a man good. In the final assessment, the men they encounter are Misfit and his gang who wipe out the family, so good men are not easy to find.
The Good Man – Who is he?
The grandmother spends time and words branding people ‘good’ but she is not consistent with her definition. Sometimes people are ‘good’ if they are trusting and gullible though these qualities cannot in real life be equated with goodness. For her being a ‘lady’ is also equal to being ‘good’. When she is desperate, she ironically goes to the extent of calling Misfit also ‘good’ whose code is “no pleasure but meanness”.
The grandmother considers her to be morally superior to all around because she calls herself a lady. She is not troubled by her lack of conscience as when she smuggles the cat into the car or when she realizes that the plantation she wants to visit is nowhere near but in Tennessee. It is the cat which triggers the tragedy as it jumps on Bailey and causes him to veer of the road and crash. It the accident had not happened, they would not have run into Misfit and his gang. When the family is being killed one by one, she does not even once plead with Misfit to spare them and kill her instead.
The Misfit’s philosophy of life is warped but it is steady unlike the grandmother’s. He has gone through some bad experiences like being jailed for a crime he did not commit. He has also thought long and hard to find out what God means to him. There are some stories about Jesus that he does not believe in; for example the story of raising the dead. Now what he believes in is meanness. He does not worry about killing; he is a psychopath.
A family consisting of husband, wife and two children and the grandmother are planning their vacation. All want to go to Florida but the grandmother tries to kill their enthusiasm by reminding them that the escaped convict, Misfit is said to have headed that way. Anyway, it is to Florida that they head. The grandmother takes her cat hidden in a basket inside the car. On the way they stop at a restaurant to eat. The grandmother gets talking to the owners about how undependable people are these days. She makes sure they know she is a lady, something that is always on her mind.
On the way, the grandmother naps a little. When she wakes up, she tells the children about a plantation near about that she had visited as a child. She makes up a story of an old mansion there that had a secret panel. This gets the children all excited and they want their father to drive down there, away from the highway. The mud road takes them deep into the woods when the grandmother remembers that the mansion she plantation she spoke about was actually in Tennessee and not Georgia where they are now. The shock of remembering causes her to jerk and her foot moves the basket that contains the cat. With a meow, the cat leaps out and lands on Bailey’s shoulder. Startled out of his wits, he swerves and the car goes off the road and falls into a ditch. The mother is injured. The grandmother still does not admit her mistake.
Soon a car arrives there carrying three men with guns drawn. The grandmother recognizes one of the men is Misfit and she blurts it out. The men take them into the woods in twos and shoot them. The grandmother tries to argue and persuade them not to kill her. She tries to appeal to misfit’s better impulses but it is of no use as he is a dangerous psychopath. She is the last to be shot dead.
The grandmother has misguided moral values. She calls herself a lady and she shows it to the world by wearing a hat that is decorated with flowers. If she were to die in an accident, the hat will indicate that she was a lady, she says. She is incredibly selfish as she does not care what will happen to the rest of the occupants of the car. In the end, her hat does not save her. She is shot dead just like the rest of the family.
- “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”
There is much irony in these words. The grandmother does not want the family to go to Florida just because a convict is reported to have gone there and then she is the person who with her fake story of the plantation delivers them to Misfit’s hands. The grandmother’s holier-than-thou attitude is illustrated here. The mention of the convict right at the beginning makes a meeting with the convict seem inevitable.
- “Two fellers come in here last week,” Red Sammy said, “driving a Chrysler. It was a old beat-up car but it was a good one and these boys looked all right to me. Said they worked at the mill and you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why did I do that?”
“Because you’re a good man!” the grandmother said at once.
The grandmother has strange ideas about what constitutes goodness. The owner of the restaurant has been cheated out of his gas by two fellows who buy it on credit. It was foolishness on his part to let them have gas on credit but the grandmother calls it his goodness.
- “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?” [John Wesley] and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.
“She wouldn’t stay at home to be queen for a day,” June Star said without raising her yellow head.
The children, especially June Star, can read the grandmother’s mind really well. The grandmother wants to go to east Tennessee and not Florida nevertheless, she has no plans of dropping out of the vacation and staying at home. She does not want to stay at home alone rather she wants to be at the center of events.
- “I was a gospel singer for a while,” The Misfit said. “I been most everything. Been in the arm service both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet…”
The Misfit seemed to have lived a normal life for a while being a preacher,a soldier and marine. But at some point something snapped inside him and he became a psychopath. He interest in religion seems to stem from the time he spent as a gospel singer.