When first reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, one may find oneself wondering whether or not good will prevail over evil, whether or not the grandmother will live. But upon closer reading, we see Flannery O’Connor’s use of foreshadowing throughout the story, predicting the grandmother’s ultimate demise.
The southern gothic tale of a family’s summer vacation gone awry protrays a story of good versus evil. The story is decidedly the grandmother’s and we get a chance to peek into the mind of a selfish, dishonest, trifling old woman. Yet, when she is faced against the “evil” Misfit, we see that there is no true good or evil in the world. The Misfit murders the grandmother, yet there are subtle signs of good in him. In the face of adversity, the grandmother represents “good”, yet we see her conniving and dishonest behavior throughout the story. The story is presented from the point of view of the grandmother, up until the end, when the grandmother is killed following the death of her son, his wife, and their three children.
Early in the story, we learn that the family is going on vacation to Florida. The grandmother does not wish to go, and expresses concern that an escaped convict, dubbed The Misfit, may be going to Florida as well. She tries to use this information to convince her son, Bailey, to instead go to Tennessee to visit her relatives. She states, “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” (1096). While we do not know the details of what harm The Misfit may have done to “these people”, we see our first example of O’Connor’s use of foreshadowing. Whatever happened to “these people” may very well happen to the family. The author would not have included the information about The Misfit and hinted at previous crimes if they were not relevant to the story.
While the grandmother expresses that she does not want to go to Florida, she does indeed go with them. O’Connor uses the voice of the granddaughter for her next foreshadowing event: “‘She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks,’ June Star said. ‘Afraid she’d miss something. She has to go everywhere we go'” (1096). In this case, we can tie this statement to the ending of the story. After the family has an automobile accident and encounters The Misfit and his two companions, the family is led a few at a time into the woods to be shot and killed. Only the grandmother is left talking to The Misfit at the end, and the statement “She has to go everywhere we go” (1096) foreshadows that the grandmother will be killed also.
Although she expresses a desire not to go to Florida, ironically, the grandmother is the first family member ready to go the next morning. Not only is she the first ready to go, but she is dressed in her Sunday best, a navy blue straw sailor hat and a navy blue dress trimmed in white organdy and lace. Her reason for dressing up foreshadows her ultimate death. “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (1097). While the narration is in third person, we do hear the grandmother’s internal thoughts throughout the story, up until her death. Here we see that the grandmother does indeed think of death, even while she is dressing for an automobile trip. This statement also leads us to believe that she is ready for death, she is prepared for it.
However, when she is face-to-face with The Misfit and death is indeed in her near future, she is the least willing of the family to accept it. All the other family members seem almost complacent as they walk into the woods to their deaths, putting up very little fight. Only the grandmother attempts to talk her way out of the situation, trying to convince The Misfit that he is doing wrong in order to save her own life. So, even though her thoughts concerning her dress foreshadow her death, and lead us to believe she is ready for death, she is only prepared for accidental death, not death that she feels she can prevent.
We see hints of death again as the family travels along the highway. “They passed a large cotton field with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island” (1098). The grandchildren find the graveyard interesting, and the grandmother states that the graveyard belonged to an old plantation that used to be located there. The five or six graves correlates to the passengers in the car: three adults, two children, and one baby, predicting their demise. “‘Where’s the plantation?’ John Wesley asked. ‘Gone with the Wind,’ said the grandmother. ‘Ha. Ha'” (1098). The grandmother’s response of “Gone with the Wind” is suggestive of her end as well; her life and soul will be gone with the wind, foreshadowing her death at the end of the story.
After traveling for several hours, the family decides to stop at a roadside diner to eat dinner. The children’s mother places a dime into the nickelodeon and selects, not just any song, but “The Tennessee Waltz”, the melancholy and hauntingly beautiful ballad of loss. While the song deals with loss of love, its lyrics could also apply to the characters of the story, another of O’Connor’s use of foreshadowing. While the family dined and listened to the lyrics, “Well I didn’t see it coming / It’s all over but the cryin'” (Stewart and King, 1948), little did they know that the lyrics would apply to their own situation, only a few hours away.
While eating, the grandmother engages in conversation with Red Sam, the owner of the roadside diner. Their reflective conversation concerns better times, the old times. The grandmother states, “‘ People are certainly not nice like they used to be'” (1099), and they also discuss The Misfit’s prison escape. The grandmother’s statement hints at things to come: when the grandmother encounters The Misfit, he is certainly not a nice person, although she tries to convince him that he is in order to save her own life.
Once the family has eaten and is back on the road, the grandmother and grandchildren convince Bailey to take a detour down an old dirt road to see a plantation home. “Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady” (1100). By no mistake did O’Connor choose the town’s name of Toombsboro. How appropriate for the family to have an automobile accident and encounter The Misfit outside a town with “tomb” in the name, signifying their death.
When The Misfit appears on the scene, no one yet knows his identity. His car is ominous: “It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile” (1102). Although we do not know yet who these mysterious strangers with guns are, we are provided with the black hearse-like description, foretelling the demise of the family. The author also tells us that the grandmother thought the driver looked familiar, adding to the suspense of the story, as well as providing us with a hint of what is to come.
The grandmother indeed recognizes the driver as The Misfit, and begins to converse with him. In an attempt to understand his plans, the grandmother asks, “‘You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?'” (1103) But we soon see The Misfit address the children’s mother as “Lady” as he asks her to walk to her death: “‘Lady,’ he asked, ‘would you and that little girl like to step off yonder with Bobby Lee and Hiram and join your husband?'” (1105) Obviously, the grandmother’s question and The Misfit’s response through actions forecast the grandmother’s murder.
With the rest of her family assassinated in the woods behind her, we are provided with one final clue to the grandmother’s fate before it happens. The grandmother, in a last-ditch effort to escape with her life, offers The Misfit all the money she has. The Misfit responds appropriately, “‘Lady,’ The Misfit said, looking beyond her far into the woods, ‘there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip'” (1106).
The use of foreshadowing throughout “A Good Man is Hard to Find” becomes more obvious after carefully reading the story several times. However, the descriptive terms O’Connor uses to hint at the story’s outcome also give the story its air of suspense, evident even in initial readings.
There are many additional aspects of the story in which further analysis could be made: What are the significance of the trees and woods throughout the story? What is the significance of the use of voice? (While the story is decidedly the grandmother’s, it is narrated in third person, a necessary tactic due to the fact that the grandmother is dead at the end of the account, and being dead, has no voice, yet the story continues briefly.) What religious statements is the author attempting to make? What makes The Misfit behave the way he does? By combining all these elements and more, Flannery O’Connor has constructed a bizarre but intriguing story that demands further investigation by the reader.
Work Cited: O’Connor, Flannery. 1955 “A Good Man is Hard To Find”, Making Literature Matter, Pages 1096 – 1107.