A Good Man is Hard to Find

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The Misfit Character Analysis

The Misfit remains largely a mystery throughout the story. The Grandmother first reads about him in the newspaper—he is an escaped convict and murderer, and is thought to be headed to Florida (like the family). When he comes across the family after their car accident, The Misfit seems to actually just want to get their car fixed and send them on their way. But when the Grandmother shouts out that she knows he is The Misfit, his plans change, and he has each member of the family killed. While the others are being shot, the Misfit carries on a largely philosophical conversation with The Grandmother. He explains that he doesn’t view actions in terms of right or wrong—if he does something that other people consider wrong, he gets punished, and that’s it. He acknowledges that praying to Jesus might save him, but he claims that he doesn’t need that kind of help. The Misfit’s attitude, in general, is apathetic toward any notion of morality—he simply does what he wills. When the Grandmother makes her final grand gesture, reaching out to The Misfit as if he were her son, he shoots and kills her. With the story’s final line, however, the Misfit chastises his henchman for taking pleasure in the killings, and we get the sense that something about the encounter might have changed him.

The Misfit Quotes in A Good Man is Hard to Find

The A Good Man is Hard to Find quotes below are all either spoken by The Misfit or refer to The Misfit. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of A Good Man is Hard to Find published in 1971.
A Good Man is Hard to Find Quotes

The car continued to come on slowly, disappeared around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on the top of the hill they had gone over. It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile.

Related Characters: The Misfit
Related Symbols: The Misfit’s Car
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

While the accident marks the turn in the story, the appearance of the Misfit's car confirms the dark tonal shift that the accident suggests. The family has had an experience of violence (the car accident) and it has left them unmoved, so the black car that looks like a hearse coming around the bend can only mean that things are about to get worse. 

The appearance of a car that looks like a hearse (a peculiarly shaped vehicle designed to carry coffins) can only portend death. In a sense, this is an escalation of the story's theme of unjust punishment. Since the family members are not behaving like kind and moral people and the accident has not shocked them into reconsidering their behavior, the arrival of the hearse foreshadows the ultimate punishment. Certainly this is disproportionate to the "crime" of their petty behavior, but it proves to be adequate to the task of forcing the family members to confront their own failings and mortality.

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His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was.

Related Characters: The Grandmother, The Misfit
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation has multiple meanings in the context of the story. Throughout the story, the grandmother has shown her flippant attitude towards death (recall her dressing like a lady so that people would know she was respectable if she died on the highway). When she sees The Misfit, whose association with the hearse makes readers think of him as a bringer of death, she thinks his face is familiar, but she cannot place it. This directly echoes her attitude towards death, which she recognizes as a vague possibility, but does not understand exactly the profundity and significance of it. 

This quote also has added significance in the context of the end of the story. While at this point it is suggested that the grandmother recognizes his face since she read the newspaper article about The Misfit, right before the grandmother is killed she seems to recognize The Misfit anew, and declares that he is one of her children. This is the climax of the story, the grandmother's moment of grace in which she experiences love and forgiveness for the man who has killed her whole family and is about to kill her. In this context, her initial uneasy recognition of The Misfit seems to mark the beginning of the grandmother's transformation. This moment can be seen as the stirrings of the true goodness within her that has laid dormant so long that she barely can recognize it. 

“I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!”

Related Characters: The Grandmother (speaker), The Misfit
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Even though the grandmother is now barreling towards her eventual epiphany, she is still largely beholden to her typical petty logic. This quote is part and parcel with the grandmother's association of goodness and propriety with appearing respectable, rather than with exhibiting actual kind behavior. The grandmother knows that she is speaking with an escaped murderer, someone who would generally be considered the opposite of a "good man." However, because The Misfit looks like he might come from a wealthy or respectable family, she pronounces him to be good, just as she declared Red Sam good just because he told a vague story about giving somebody gas on credit. This quote, then, shows the absurdity of the grandmother's attitude about goodness, and her ineptitude as a judge of character. The quotation is also a bit ironic since the grandmother agreed heartily with Red Sam when he said that "a good man is hard to find." Here, the grandmother has found someone who is not a good man—someone who would seem to support her hypothesis that the social fabric of her youth is eroding—and she cannot even recognize him as such because her sense of morality is so concerned with appearances.

“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 from my brothers and sisters. ‘You know,’ Daddy said, ‘it’s some that can live their whole life out without asking about it and it’s other has to know why it is, and this boy is one of the latters. He’s going to be into everything!’”

Related Characters: The Misfit (speaker), The Grandmother
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

The Misfit says this in response to the grandmother desperately telling him that he is a good man. This seems to follow a modulation in tone for the grandmother, who has just shown her first tinge of "goodness" in calling after Bailey as he is led to the woods to be shot. It appears that the grandmother is beginning to recognize that her behavior and concerns are shallow, and she is beginning to show love for her family. Her character has shifted, which indicates that her declaring The Misfit a "good man" might be different than the delusional instances in which she has said this before. She seems now to be trying to appeal to a goodness that she fears he lacks, rather than identifying a goodness she believes he has. This goodness is a kind of basic human decency, not something based on the appearance of respectability or politeness.

However, the grandmother's appeal is in vain, as The Misfit is not operating within the moral and social frameworks that the grandmother believes in. In this quotation he confirms that he is from a "good" family, but says he has always been different from them, and he doesn't offer a reason why. This defies the logic that has structured the grandmother's world, in which being from a good family means a person should be good. This, in a sense, mirrors the grandmother's own family. While the grandmother believes herself to be a good, respectable "lady," her son and grandchildren behave in petty, shallow, and even mean ways that do not reflect well on their upbringing.

“I was a gospel singer for a while,” The Misfit said. “I been most everything. Been in the arm service, both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet . . . I even seen a woman flogged.”

Related Characters: The Misfit (speaker), The Grandmother
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

The Misfit says this after two pistol shots are heard coming from the woods—there is no doubt now in the mind of the reader or the grandmother that the family is in the process of being murdered. The grandmother asks The Misfit if he ever prays, and in response he casually lists his various occupations, placing the sacred (gospel singer) on the same level as the violent (the army) or the morbid (undertaker). He also lists violences he has experienced ("seen a man burnt alive oncet" and "seen a woman flogged") in the same sentence, without giving context or any emotional reaction to them. This suggests that The Misfit's world gives the same importance to religion as violence, and that he reserves no special reverence or fear for violence in the world. From this quotation, O'Connor makes us understand that The Misfit lives in a chaotic world where actions and consequences are disconnected, and violence occurs without reason. That The Misfit treats violence so casually is chilling, since it seems there is nothing the grandmother can say to dissuade him from the murders in progress.

“I never was a bad boy that I remember of,” The Misfit said in an almost dreamy voice, “but somewhere along the line I done something wrong and got sent to the penitentiary. I was buried alive.”

Related Characters: The Misfit (speaker), The Grandmother
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation comes in stark contrast to the grandmother's idea that a person's character depends on his or her station in life rather than his or her actions. It also contradicts the grandmother's idea that a person's character is fixed as good or bad, that a person can, in his or her essence, be "a good man." The Misfit seems to think his own character has shifted senselessly, without him having much to do with it. He wasn't a bad boy, he states, but he did something wrong and was dramatically punished for it. While here he appears to admit to having done something wrong, soon after he denies that he has done the thing he was punished for. This confusion of motive, morals, and even actual events further points to The Misfit's chaotic and violent worldview in which his own violent actions seem to just be random events happening to him.

It is also significant that in this quotation The Misfit places much more emphasis on the punishment than the action that caused him to be punished, suggesting that he has not taken responsibility for whatever he did wrong. When he says that the punishment buried him alive, it suggests that he has experienced some kind of rebirth or transformation. Fitting with O'Connor's interest in how violence changes people, The Misfit suggests that his punishment was a violence done to him that has transformed him into someone for whom morals are no longer relevant. 

“It was a head-doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie. My daddy died in nineteen ought nineteen of the epidemic flu and I never had a thing to do with it.”

Related Characters: The Misfit (speaker), The Grandmother
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a confusing quotation, as it establishes The Misfit's unreliability and, perhaps, his mental illness. More important, it gives a sense of why he is dangerous. The Misfit's experiences in jail have led him to literally believe that punishments are arbitrary and are not only given in a way disproportionate to the crimes that caused them, but are also sometimes given without a crime having been committed at all, or for the wrong crime entirely. While the reader is left uncertain as to whether The Misfit is accurately reporting his experiences (doubt has been cast on his sanity, honesty, and memory), this quote allows the reader to understand that, by the logic of The Misfit's own belief, it would not be excessive or unjust to murder a whole family simply because one of them recognized him. In addition, because for The Misfit there is not a logical thread connecting violence to retribution and punishment, there seems to be no way to convince him to change his mind about murdering the family.

The ambiguous charge that The Misfit has murdered his own father also touches on the family conflict that has pervaded the story. Whether or not The Misfit actually did kill his father, the quote points to the possibility that it was familial strife that has led to his doom. For the grandmother and her family, it is similarly family conflict that has ultimately resulted in their deaths. This parallel forces readers to consider what exactly separates the behavior and character of the family and The Misfit. 

“Well then, why don’t you pray?” she asked trembling with delight suddenly.

“I don’t want no hep,” he said. “I’m doing all right by myself.

Related Characters: The Grandmother (speaker), The Misfit (speaker)
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

If readers have not yet understood that the logic of The Misfit's world is distinct from the logic of the grandmother's, this quotation erases all doubt. The grandmother informs The Misfit that if he prayed then Jesus would help him, and he agrees with her. When she then asks him why doesn't he pray, it seems that she thinks she has found a way to change The Misfit's mind about killing her, since she believes that being good and moral is something everybody wants. The Misfit, however, sees this kind of salvation as pointless. He believes that faith can't help him, since there is no point in being good, as violence and punishment will follow him whether or not he behaves. He is not concerned with morality, nor with the appearance of it. In fact, his statement that he is "doing all right by [himself]" shows that, for him, his behavior is correct. It is at this point that the grandmother loses courage and becomes very afraid.

“I call myself The Misfit,” he said, “because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”

Related Characters: The Misfit (speaker), The Grandmother
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

Until this moment, the name "The Misfit" seems to imply The Misfit's separation from society, either that he is different from other people, or that at least that he believes he is. However, in this quotation we learn that the name does not have to do with his assessment of his own place in society at all; he calls himself "The Misfit" because he feels he has been excessively wronged by others, to an extent that he can never reconcile his punishment with the things he knows he did wrong. Not only does The Misfit's name not imply that he is separate from society, he actually believes that he is similar to Christ, because Christ, he argues just before this quotation, was also punished excessively for a crime he didn't commit. This turns our original assumption, that the name references The Misfit's inability to fit into society, on its head; Christ is the moral center of the world that the grandmother inhabits, which implies that The Misfit sees himself to be at the center of some kind of social truth. This pronouncement also makes the case that The Misfit feels that his life of senseless violence is not only morally justified, but constitutes, like Christ's teachings, its own moral framework.

“Then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can—by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.”

Related Characters: The Misfit (speaker), The Grandmother
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

At the time that The Misfit says this it seems perverse and menacing. Because The Misfit has experienced such violence (in the form of his disproportionate punishments) that he no longer believes in traditional morals, it seems that, for him, the only reprieve from violence is to enjoy it. This seems, too, to validate the grandmother's concern that society is eroding; it lends a certain logic to that claim to think that violence begets more violence and less concern for others, as The Misfit's statement suggests.

However, The Misfit's response to his murder of the grandmother casts this statement in a different light. When Bobby Lee calls the murder "fun," The Misfit seems to retract this quote by telling Bobby Lee to shut up because "it's no real pleasure in life," seemingly referring to violence. The Misfit, then, seems to have had his own moment of grace. Transformed by his own act of violence against the grandmother, The Misfit does not express regret or even cast judgment on himself, but he does seem to recognize that the murder did not bring him pleasure. This implies that he is capable of feeling a certain concern and empathy for others, after all. 

She saw the man’s face twisted closer to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest.

Related Characters: The Grandmother (speaker), The Misfit
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the grandmother's moment of grace at its height. She knows she is going to die and she is no longer trying to change The Misfit's mind about it. Instead of simply being afraid, though, this moment of crisis brings her to a display of compassion her previous behavior did not make her seem capable of. When she sees that The Misfit seems to be about to cry, she reaches for him and tells him he is one of her children. This is such an emotionally powerful moment because it does so many things. It is, for one, the grandmother's forgiveness of a man who has done something unspeakably horrible to her family and is about to kill her, too. It is also an enlargement of her prior display of love for Bailey, which now extends to her declaring The Misfit to be a part of her family. This gives readers a sense of her newly realized love for her family, and her ability to spread that love beyond its biological confines—to see the truth about life and acknowledge the common humanity in all people. Last, this moment is tragic in that, even though the grandmother has experienced a moment of pure Christian love and goodness, she still must die. From this, we receive the message that love and goodness are essential to the human experience, but their power is personal and cannot necessarily subvert the trajectory of someone else's violence. Being moral, then, is important for the personal rewards it brings, but it does not erase or redeem all the tragedy in the world. Injustice and  morality coexist—one does not cancel the other.

“She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

Related Characters: The Misfit (speaker), The Grandmother
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

In a sense, this is an explanation of O'Connor's ideas about the connection between violence and grace. The events of the story have shown that it took extraordinary violence to bring this petty and mean family to a point of showing true love and compassion. Violence, then, was what enabled the family to experience goodness by offering them grace (their moment of realization and transformation). What killed them was also, in a sense, what saved them.

What The Misfit is saying here is that he recognizes this; he saw the shift in the grandmother's behavior as she moved closer to death. When The Misfit first started talking to her she was selfish, manipulative, and shallow, but as she began to truly confront the violence she was experiencing she turned into a "good woman" for the first time. The extremity of the Misfit's statement is skewed by his own violent worldview, but he is recognizing here that if the grandmother lived every moment of her life with the same compassion that she experienced when she was about to be shot, then she would have been a truly good person.

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The Misfit Character Timeline in A Good Man is Hard to Find

The timeline below shows where the character The Misfit appears in A Good Man is Hard to Find. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Good Man is Hard to Find
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
...Bailey, whose house she lives in. The article tells of an escaped convict known as the Misfit , who has escaped federal prison and is believed to be headed toward Florida. The... (full context)
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
...be queen for a day.” The Grandmother asks her grandchildren what they would do if the Misfit caught them. John Wesley says he would “smack his face.” June Star repeats that the... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
The Grandmother asks if Red Sam and his wife have read about the Misfit . Red Sam’s wife says that she wouldn’t be surprised if the Misfit attacked their... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
As Bailey attempts to explain their situation, the Grandmother interrupts, shouting, “You’re the Misfit !” The man in glasses says that he is the Misfit, but that it would... (full context)
Goodness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
The Grandmother insists that she knows The Misfit is a “good man” and that she knows he comes from “nice people.” He agrees,... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
The Misfit instructs Hiram and Bobby Lee to take Bailey and John Wesley over to the woods,... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
“I ain’t a good man,” the Misfit says, “but I ain’t the worst in the world neither.” He explains that he was... (full context)
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
The Misfit keeps talking about his parents, explaining that his father had a bit of an edge,... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
Two pistol shots are heard from the woods. The Grandmother glances around, shouting “Bailey Boy!” The Misfit speaks, saying that he’s been a gospel singer, a member of the armed services, married... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
The Misfit describes prison: on his right was a wall, on his left was a wall, above... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
The Grandmother says that if he prayed, “Jesus would help you.” “That’s right,” the Misfit says. She asks why doesn’t he pray. “I don’t want no hep,” he says, “I’m... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
The Grandmother is now alone with the Misfit . She wants to tell him to pray, but she only says “Jesus. Jesus.” The... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
There is a scream from the woods and another shot from a pistol. The Misfit asks if it seems fair to the Grandmother that one person can be punished so... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
...out from the forest. The Grandmother raises her head and shouts “Bailey Boy!” once again. The Misfit states that only Jesus could raise the dead, and that his doing so was a... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
The Misfit says that he wish he had been there, to know whether Jesus really had raised... (full context)
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
...Hiram return from the woods and look down at the Grandmother’s body in the ditch. The Misfit tells them to put her body with the others. Then he picks up the cat,... (full context)