Human beings have an undeniable capacity for compassion and evil. The diabolical relationship and existence of the two are demonstrated by Flannery O’Connor in ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find.’ The story focuses on a grandmother living with her son’s nuclear family and their eventual demise at the hands of an escaped criminal identified as ’the misfit.’ O’Connor places her family on a trajectory of traveling from home to Florida and specifically utilizes the setting to set the tone and mood for the short story. The change of setting in O’Connor’s story demonstrates the lack of good men in the country and further reveals crucial turning points in the story, such as their death at the misfit’s hands.
A character’s growth in O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’
Bailey’s family emotions change from happy to sad in accordance with their change in setting from home to Florida. Their temperament and emotions are elated as they discuss where the family will travel to. The parents’ moods are so effective that they manage to happily ignore their grandmother’s warning about the escaped convict in Florida. O’Connor writes, “Bailey didn’t look up from his reading, so she wheeled around then and faced the children’s mother” (2016, p.1). Likewise, the mother is ignorant of the misfit’s news, as described by O’Connor; “The children’s mother didn’t seem to hear her…” alienating her entirely (2016, p.1). The setting altered their mood and made their reasoning imperceptible to their grandmother’s protests due to the comfort and safety of being at home.
As the family travels from home to Florida, they stop to sight-see in Georgia, and the family’s interactions reveal the grandmother’s character. After seeing a little black child, June and John’s grandmother expresses interest in taking the former’s picture. Specifically, her language use identifies America’s racial composition and its continuing problem with prejudice. Specifically, the author writes, “Little niggers in the country don’t have things as we do” (O’Connor, 2016, p.2). Such an elitist mindset indicates the grandmother’s lack of racial empathy and exposure to racial harmony. Furthermore, she reinforces and reiterates her societal beliefs by trying to convince herself of the misfit’s outstanding nature. She desperately insists, “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady,” as she attempts to bargain for her life (O’Connor, 2016, p.11). Eventually, her grandchildren possess her dismissive attitude, and they aptly demonstrate it when they point out their dislike of the states of Georgia and Tennessee.
June and John are ill-behaved children, as evidenced by their manners when they stop at ‘The Tower.’ They prove that finding well-mannered, good people is difficult, even within the family. In particular, when Red Sam playfully asks June if she would be her daughter, the little girl replies, ‘No, I certainly wouldn’t, I wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks” (O’Connor, 2016, p.4). Despite the grandmother’s complaints to Red Sam, she has failed to ensure her kin are disciplined. Additionally, Red Sam shares a similar story about three customers who he allowed to charge their gas since they worked at a nearby mill. “Said they worked at the mill and you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought?” (O’Connor, 2016, p.4). In return, the grandmother compliments Red Sam about his good nature. This interaction with Red Sam outlines the futility of her search for a good man and also demonstrates that it is with actions that people prove themselves worthwhile.
Grandmother’s desire to visit Tennessee is apparent from the beginning as she intended to see her friends in the region. The author writes, “She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee, and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind” (O’Connor, 2016, p.1). Her desire ultimately harms her family when she convinces them to investigate an old plantation near Toombsboro (O’Connor, 2016). To reach the house, the family veers onto a dirt road that foreshadows the horrific events that befall them. In particular, the author tries to portray the risk incurred by the family through the following words; “the dirt road was hilly, and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on dangerous embankments” (O’Connor, 2016, p.6). Moreover, its rundown nature should have indicated the desolate experience awaiting them.
Ultimately, the misfit and his two cohorts choose to change the setting to eliminate Bailey’s family. The escaped convicts first separate Bailey and his son from the rest of the family and pick a secluded spot in the forest for the execution. The author encapsulates their humanity since they did not want to traumatize the grandmother with the murder. “Behind them, the line of woods gaped like a dark open mouth.” O’Connor writes, alluding to the fact that the forest and its darkness will consume the family (2016, p.8). Bobby Lee and Hiram, the misfit’s cohorts, eventually execute the entire family. The change in scenery symbolizes their change in status from alive to dead, sound distinctly marking the transition with finality. O’Connor writes, “There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen…” (2016, p.11). Additionally, the dark and lonesome forest crushes the family’s hopes and dreams of seeing Florida or enjoying their time in the sunny state.
In conclusion, a story’s setting defines the stage for a character’s growth and development. O’Connor utilizes the setting in ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’ to showcase the tribulations that Bailey’s family suffers at the hands of the misfit. The choices in the story define the character traits of both the antagonist and protagonist and belay their inner mental workings. Successfully choosing a setting helps move a story forward and outlines a character’s key aspects by creating the requisite space for conflict to occur.
O’Connor, F. (2016). A good man is hard to find. Faber & Faber.