I listened to “A Good Man is Hard to Find” after the booktuber Better Than Food reviewed it and provided a link to Flannery O’Connor herself reading it. Watch his video – he has great insight into the story and O’Connor as an author.
You can read this and other short stories by Flannery O’Connor free here.
A family takes a road trip and has a car accident. It’s the 50s, so cell phones aren’t a possibility. They must wait for help. It comes in the form of an escaped convict, dubbed The Misfit by the newspapers, and his convict pals.
There’s a proverb about a scorpion and a frog. The scorpion needs a ride across the river. It convinces a frog to give him a ride, but ONLY if the scorpion swears not to sting him.
The scorpion agrees, but once they’re halfway across the river, the scorpion can’t help himself. He stings the frog, plunging them both to watery deaths; frog by sting, scorpion by drowning. But why? The frog implores. Because it’s my nature.
Grandma and The Misfit remind me of the frog and the scorpion. The rest of the family accept their fates without surprise (and holy crap, this story goes dark. O’Connor goes there. How did this Catholic woman of the 1950s get away with this kind of content? Hats off to her.)
But Grandma refuses to admit The Misfit is a scorpion. Maybe it’s indicative of the old way of thinking; not accepting that things have changed in the world, hoping it blows over.
Perhaps it’s a symbol of the grandmother’s closed-mindedness against that “otherness” so many were afraid of in the 50s.
Or she’s trying to plead her way out of the situation.
Maybe it’s just the stark heartbreak of seeing her son, his wife, and grandbabies murdered, knowing she’s next and her whole life, all of its triumphs and heartbreaks, will be reduced to this one tragedy.
Whatever the case, grandma tries to cross that metaphorical river with The Misfit; tries to believe they can get across together, knowing all the while that it’s a doomed mission.
Likewise, The Misfit could find redemption with grandma. He could let her go and begin life as a new man. But he just can’t pull back that stinger.
“I just know you’re a good man,” she said desperately. “You’re not a bit common!”
“Nome, I ain’t a good man,” The Misfit said after a second as if he had considered her statement carefully, “but I ain’t the worst in the world neither. My daddy said I was a different breed of dog from my brothers and sisters.”
– Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
The scorpion is a scorpion and The Misfit is a misfit.
And the family, well they’re just screwed.