Symbolism of O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

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The transformational power of human compassion and grace is demonstrated by Flannery O’Connor in her short tale “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The story’s message is conveyed via changes in the two characters’ archetypes, which the grandmother and the Misfit symbolize. The author illustrates that everyone may change through the presence of grace by enabling stereotypes to grow into round characters with the possibility to change. Flannery O’Connor exposes the theological degradation of the South by depicting flawed, hypocritical, and even insane individuals. Grandma and The Misfit, while they appear to be very different on the surface, are both sinners in need of Christ’s salvation. O’Connor sets her characters on a mission where they must encounter God’s salvation and choose whether to accept it or reject it. Using various images and symbols, the author demonstrates a story that aims to show the possibility of each person changing by means of grace.

The symbolism of Grandmother’s Behavior and Appearance

The grandma is a classic southern Christian mother who is frequently hypocritical and two-faced. She is faulty and irritating from the start, and she bears the brunt of the family’s misfortune more than anybody else. While she feels herself a “lady” and morally superior to others, she regularly judges others without first examining her hypocrisy, greed, and dishonesty (O’Connor, 1953). She blames the children’s mother for not taking them to a place where they might be “broad,” and compares the mother’s face to a cabbage (O’Connor, 1953). She chastises John Wesley for not treating his native state of Georgia with tremendous respect. She also seizes any chance to criticize people’s lack of virtue. She maintains a prim and correct demeanor throughout, wearing a well-chosen outfit and cap. She chooses not to admit that she made a mistake regarding the house’s location with the secret panel when the family is involved in an accident. When the Misfit methodically murders her family, the grandmother never begs him to spare them, but she pleads for her own life when she sees her execution approaching.

The grandmother’s hat has a lot of significance and foreshadowing that is often ignored. Despite her fake moral code toward others, the grandmother’s wish to be seen as a lady is symbolized by the hat. When the author tells readers that “anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady,” the grandma explains her attire (O’Connor, 1953, p. 3). The grandma is again preparing for the same situation that will occur later in the novel. It is worth noting that the grandmother’s hat is the one with the most intrigue. The grandma does not seem concerned about how others may see her family or survive the hypothetical disaster because she dresses in a ladylike manner. As previously stated, the grandmother’s idea of being held to a higher standard – as a woman with excellent moral standards – is symbolized by the hat. When the accident occurs, however, the brim of her hat is ripped to shreds, much like her self-righteous and judgemental moral code. Her distorted self-image crumbles when she drops the damaged hat, much like the brim of it.

Changing Attitudes to Life

The awareness of shared humanity is the grandmother’s most sane moment in the short narrative. Before she dies, “her head clears for an instant,” and she is granted clarity and compassion (O’Connor, 1953, p. 13). She not only redeems herself, but she also appears to have influenced the Misfit in some way. In other words, The Misfit’s vicious egotism is undermined by this act of grace, which is not limited to the grandmother. It is worth mentioning that “violence serves as a catalyst to produce the grandmother’s moment of grace at the climax of the story” (Walls, 1988, p. 3).

The Misfit comments to the grandma after he shoots her that she would have been a gorgeous lady if he had been there “to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor, 1953, p. 13). Even though he reacted by murdering her, the Misfit’s behavior demonstrates that he acknowledges her good deed. The Misfit, who had before stated that the sole joy in life was “meanness,” suddenly says that violence and meanness are “no pleasure in life” (O’Connor, 1953, p. 13) towards the end of the narrative. He did not get any joy from killing the grandma; instead, he was troubled by it. Grace has worked with the Misfit in this way, and this might be the start of a significant change for the Misfit.


Both the grandmother and the Misfit are presented as caricatures throughout the narrative, but their last encounter changes them. Even the nastiest, unrepentant character, the Misfit, can be changed by the grandmother’s journey from spiritual blindness to recognition of her own mistakes. The author of this short story uses the two character types represented by the grandma and the Misfit to demonstrate that anybody may change, as both individuals reflect humanity in all its wickedness to differing degrees. Grace, an enormously significant idea for Flannery O’Connor, is revealed to function in both individuals in the story’s last encounter, offering them the prospect of transformation. As a result, in the story, these people are either brought to a point in their life where circumstances shatter their self-confidence, or they encounter a moment of grace that allows them to reconsider their previous lives and view the world from a new and spiritual perspective.


O’Connor, F. (1953). A good man is hard to find. Gothic Digital Series.

Walls, D. W. (1988). O’Connor’s a good man is hard to find. The Explicator, 46(2), 43–45. Web.