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National Review
National Review
3 Jun 2023
Luther Ray Abel

NextImg:The Corner: Weekend Short: Flannery O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’

Author’s note: “Weekend Short” is a weekly profile of a short story. Analysis from the readership is encouraged in the comments section.

Welcome to the weekend!

It was the sort of week that discovers the weekend suddenly, with no memory of how one came to be standing on Saturday’s doorstep. I’m in the midst of staining our gazebo, and it was hardly a delight to discover how many planes and surfaces are involved in the construction of such an outbuilding. The brush was set aside a third of the way through, and Harbor Freight’s sign reflected on my windshield. Forty dollars later, and we have a High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) paint sprayer. Cheap Chinese goods, the official sponsor of wrapping infrequent DIY projects.

Flannery O’Connor and her 1953 “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is today’s selection. What with summer fully arrived even in the American tundra, it feels right as cicadas creak from the pages of her prose, and the suggestion of the wet-dog Southern humidity is omnipresent even when reading the tales in an air-conditioned neurologist’s office.

There’s a lot to love, but the delicious facetiousness of the recurring observation that Red Sammy and the Grandmother voice, that “Everything is getting terrible,” is just right. I reckon that Seth heard those words first from Adam and Eve, and it’s been said ever since — of course, those first two had a point.

Mothers-in-law, murder, and “good blood”; “A Good Man” has it all.

O’Connor writes:

The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here, Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. “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.”

You can read the rest here.

Assuming you’ve read the piece, how can one not be awed by that concluding line? At the close, the Misfit observes after putting three rounds into the lady that the Grandmother would have “been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Wow.

This then raises the question of who is ultimately responsible for killing the family. Obviously the Misfit and his men shoot the family in pairs until only the Grandmother is left, but do we hold him as responsible as we do her for brining them down a road they didn’t belong on, and, when she discovers her misremembering, causes the crash that leaves them stranded and at the mercy of the convict? And what does one do with the children and wife who are little more than straw figures until their deaths?

I reckon there are two villains here and one evil. The Grandmother is the worst of the lot, but her son Bailey cannot tell an old woman “no.” His inability to preserve his family at the expense of his mother’s displeasure is embarrassing, and he dies with hollowed eyes — though, to be fair, every kid has seen those same eyes in his father’s head after a twelve-hour roadtrip at the end of Spring Break.

The Misfit is the evil we’ve always had — the Snake in the Garden. The Grandmother’s pretending he can be anything other than that is a false tale that many tell themselves about criminality to this day. “It can’t be his fault,” they’ll say. “It must a been society that made him thataway.” No, sometimes evil is just that, and should be treated accordingly.

Here’s John Lee Hooker with “I Hated the Day I Was Born”:

Thanks to Larry (and someone else, can’t find the record of our correspondence) for the suggestion.

Author’s note: If there’s a short story you’d like to see discussed in the coming weeks, please send your suggestion to 

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