“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor: A Formalist Analysis

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The short and anthologized story A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor refers to the Gothic Fiction genre. Ismail suggests that the story can be characterized as the best example of Southern Gothic Fiction. The text consists of grotesque and macabre events, eccentric characters and concentrates on creating a moody and unsettling life reflection (35). For instance, in her text, O’Connor connects the grotesque and humorous elements when delivering the message about religion, good, and evil. Ismael state that Christianity is one of the most prominent components of the story (35). O’Connor’s talent to contrast violence and comedy and combine humor with horrific events and the seriousness with ridiculousness generate the readers’ interest.

Themes and Characters

Significantly, A Good Man Is Hard to Find presents various themes. The central theme of A Good Man is Hard to Find is the philosophical theme of absurdity. Zhao mentions that the theme is incredibly dominant due to “the protagonists, plot, and some inscrutable details or images” that O’Connor elaborates in the story (40). For instance, the story’s protagonist, namely the grandmother, is a brilliant example of absurdity.

Grandmother’s character is vividly described; O’Connor shows an elderly naive woman who loves to give instructions to her children and looks pretty respectable. Nevertheless, she manipulates and lies to family members, committing rash acts without caring about the consequences. She reveals herself as “an advisable, elegant and well-educated lady, while virtually; she is an ultra-hypocritical, tyrannical and self-centered old woman” (Zhao 40).

Even though the grandmother perfectly understands that her son, namely Bailey, is against taking the cat to the motel, she secretly hides the cat in the car, presenting an absurd excuse for herself. She believes that the cat will miss her greatly in three days and may accidentally die if it touches one of the gas burners. The absurdity is that the grandmother logically insists on a trip to Tennessee in order to avoid meeting the criminal ‘The Misfit.’ Still, her decision to take the cat somehow impacts the murder of the family. Essentially, the cat is the cause of the turnover and the meeting of the unprotected family with ‘The Misfit.’

Another central theme of A Good Person is Hard to Find is redemption. Zhao states that the story can be called a tale about original sin and redemption (40). Thus, Zhao presents the opinions of two critics, namely Jefferson Harm and Claude Richard, who emphasized that ‘the Misfit’ sent the grandmother to heaven and that the grandmother had a God’s ‘moment of grace’ (40). Important to note that when ‘the Misfit’ murders the family members, the grandmother cares about her redemption more than her children or grandchildren; she also hopes that ‘the Misfit’ is a good person and will not want to kill a lady.

Consequently, the antagonist is ‘the Misfit,’ a mysterious murderer with a good past. Additionally, the absurdity is also shown in the character of ‘the Misfit,’ who seems to be a good man from civil society with great parents. He tried to succeed in life, sang gospel, served in the army, was married twice, worked hard, but all attempts were doomed to failure, which led him to become a criminal and a murderer. ‘The Misfit’ claims that children make him nervous, and cruelty helps him understand the meaning of life and existence. Moreover, this is precisely the reason why he kills the family without regret or pity.

The discrepancy between the standards of good and evil is also a sign of the story’s absurdity. For example, ‘the Misfit’ apologizes for not putting on a shirt in the presence of women. At the same time, he asks the children’s mother to accompany his comrades into the forest to be shot with the utmost politeness (Zhao 42). Thus, O’Connor conveys her own deep real-life experience through the character of ‘the Misfit’; the writer reflects on how numb people are concerning their absurd circumstances in this civil society (Zhao 42). Hence, other characters play a significant role in revealing the story’s themes, for example, a son named Bailey, his wife, and three children.

The grandmother’s family does not depict emotional connection and devotional communication. The family’s dysfunctionality “makes their bloodline fragile under outsiders’ attack, with the result of shocking but reasonable death” (Zhao 42).

For instance, Bailey demonstrates the highest level of ignorance by not saying a word during the car drive. O’Connor portrays “the antithetical image of the daughter-in-law, young, popping out babies like a rabbit, despite the impediment of her slacks, with two recalcitrant children ” (Seeley 62). Moreover, Bailey expresses only irritation after the car incident and does not show love or care to his children. Therefore, these inconsistent attitudes in the family lead to “an imminent disaster upon the seemingly settled life” (Zhao 42). Significantly, A Good Man Is Hard to Find is an excellent example of complex human nature and life’s absurdity, where evil and good are part of the whole.

Structure, Setting, and Point of View

The story in A Good Man Is Hard to Find has been shown from the perspective of a third person with limited knowledge. It is essential to add that the story focuses exclusively on the grandmother and her fateful actions, which lead to the final events. The text structure consists of most of the dialogues, which forces readers to pay more attention to family relationships, thoughts, and conversations instead of the details of the characters. The writing style is pretty simple because the text consists of short, consistent, and understandable sentences.

The story’s major events unfold in the South, namely in the states of Florida and Georgia. O’Connor points to various sceneries in A Good Man is Hard to Find, for instance, Stone Mountain in Georgia. Another example of the setting that O’Connor demonstrates in the story is the plantation. It is crucial to say that the plantation has a symbolic meaning, namely the omen of a grandmother who will die on the land of the plantation at the hands of Injustice. It’s important to note that O’Connor’s choice of setting was suitable enough to accomplish the goal of writing a story. The writer vividly and critically describes the nature of the environment depicted in this particular region of the South.


During the murder, ‘the Misfit’ behaves like a confession, reflects on Jesus while talking to the grandmother. He pours out the inmost soul to her, although he perfectly understands that the grandmother’s death is just a matter of time. Meanwhile, the grandmother worries more about her redemption than her family and tries to become spiritualized by crying out to Jesus Christ. Despite the grandmother’s requests, the last shot is fired, and ‘the Misfit’ utters the final phrase: “It’s no real pleasure in life” (O’Connor 32). To conclude, O’Conner, with the help of grotesque, absurdity, and humor, conveys to readers the primary meaning that there is no happiness when evil walks around the world, like ‘the Misfit’, and murders people with impunity. Hence, using the example of the family, O’Connor shows that there is no happiness with no love, understanding, and respect for one another.

Works Cited

Ismail, Sezen. “Humor and Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find”. International Journal of Education & Philology, vol. 1, no. 1, 2020, pp. 35-39.

O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories. San Diego, Calif: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983. Print.

Seeley, Mark. “The Misfit and the Real: A Rereading of Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Veda’s Journal of English Language and Literature, vol. 7, no. 2, 2020, pp. 61-66. Web.

Zhao, Yang. “The Absurd Theme in A Good Man is Hard to Find”. 2017 3rd International Conference on Economy, Management and Education Technology (ICEMET 2017). Web.