Only at the story’s end do we get the slightest hint of familial love. Not only does the Grandmother shout “Bailey Boy! Bailey Boy!” as the only real affectionate moment inside her family, but she then goes on to refer to the Misfit as her own son. These moments of familial love, arriving only when the Grandmother faces death, appear in stark contrast to the rest of the story, which is filled with family members ignoring each other, arguing, and acting selfishly.
In the world Flannery O’Connor portrays, familial conflict is the norm. The story opens with the Grandmother trying to show Bailey an article and being completely ignored. Her grandchildren openly mock her. The Grandmother wants to go to Tennessee, the kids want to do whatever looks fun, and Bailey wants to just keep driving toward Florida. Only by inventing a “secret panel” can the Grandmother trick her family into attempting to stop by a house that she remembers nostalgically. Not only is there constant conflict between the family members and their individual wishes, but this conflict is almost never acknowledged. Instead, the family members mostly ignore and mock one another.
Ultimately, it takes the arrival of violence to get any members of the family to display their actual love for each other. When Bailey is taken off to the forest, Bailey’s wife cries out. The Grandmother, who is usually so petty and insensitive to life, and always in conflict with her family, cries out “Bailey Boy! Bailey Boy!” as her son is killed. And, finally this familial love extends outward, as the Grandmother reaches for the Misfit, feeling as if he were her own child. Thus, just as violence can bring moments of grace, it can also bring familial love out from beneath everyday arguments and conflict. The idea of familial love then seems to expand to take on a Christian aspect, with the Grandmother feeling love for the Misfit as if every man and woman were part of the same human family.
Familial Conflict and Familial Love ThemeTracker
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Quotes in A Good Man is Hard to Find
“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 all ought to take them somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have been to East Tennessee.”
“She wouldn’t stay home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’d miss something. She has to go everywhere we go.”
“Let’s go through Georgia fast so we won’t have to look at it much,” John Wesley said.
“If I were a little boy,” said the grandmother, “I wouldn’t talk about my native state that way. Tennessee has the mountains and Georgia has the hills.”
“Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground,” John Wesley said, “and Georgia is a lousy state too.”
“Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!” she said and pointed to a Negro child standing in the door of a shack. “Wouldn’t that make a picture, now?”
“Ain’t she cute?” Red Sam’s wife said, leaning over the counter. “Would you like to come be my little girl?”
“No I certainly wouldn’t,” June Star said. “I wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks!”
The grandmother was curled up under the dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her all at once.
“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!’”
“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.”
“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.”
There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called, “Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!” as if her heart would break.
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.