A Good Man is Hard to Find

Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Violence and Grace Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Punishment and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon
Moral Decay Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Good Man is Hard to Find, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Familial Conflict and Familial Love Theme Icon

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.

Get the entire Good Man LitChart as a printable PDF.
A good man is hard to find.pdf.medium

Familial Conflict and Familial Love ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Familial Conflict and Familial Love appears in each chapter of A Good Man is Hard to Find. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Chapter length:

Familial Conflict and Familial Love Quotes in A Good Man is Hard to Find

Below you will find the important quotes in A Good Man is Hard to Find related to the theme of Familial Conflict and Familial Love.
A Good Man is Hard to Find Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: The Grandmother (speaker), Bailey, John Wesley, June Star
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation sets up a central contradiction in the grandmother's character. She is constantly talking about goodness and politeness and she seems beholden to proper morals, but she is actually very petty and selfish. In this statement, the grandmother appears to be proclaiming that she would never endanger her family because her conscience wouldn't be able to bear it, but in reality she is trying to manipulate her family into vacationing in Tennessee instead of Florida. This statement, then, is a selfish one in the guise of being a helpful and loving grandmother. 

This also sets up a deep irony of the plot. The grandmother will later manipulate the family into taking a detour through a back road, and on that back road they will encounter the criminal to which she refers in this quote. In this way, she has done precisely what she says at the beginning of the story that she would not be able to bear to do, and we get to see exactly how her conscience responds. 


Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other A Good Man is Hard to Find quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

“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.”

Related Characters: The Grandmother (speaker), Bailey, Bailey’s Wife (the Mother), John Wesley, June Star
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

The grandmother is again using manipulation to goad the family into doing what she wants, which is to vacation in Tennessee. She frames this as being good for the children, since it would broaden their horizons and show them a new part of the country. However, this seems disingenuous since nobody, including the children, wants to go to Tennessee except her, and the narrator indicates that she is mostly just interested in visiting her "personal connections" in Tennessee. This suggests that the trip is motivated more by personal nostalgia than a real commitment to enriching the grandchildren.

The grandmother is also consumed by her belief that the goodness and propriety of society is eroding. Here she appears to appeal to that notion, stating that the grandchildren should be broadly traveled in order to be good, proper citizens. However, her self-serving motivations cast doubt on the sincerity of this seemingly deeply-held belief. 

“She wouldn’t stay home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’d miss something. She has to go everywhere we go.”

Related Characters: June Star (speaker), The Grandmother
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

While the grandmother's pettiness makes readers reluctant to accept her warnings about the moral decay of today's youth, the grandchildren actually do seem rude and spoiled. In this quote, June Star is openly mocking her grandmother and, in a sense, manipulating her into taking the trip that the rest of the family wants by telling her that she has no way to bargain since she would never skip a trip, no matter where they go. This also paints a picture of the grandmother as a nosy, gossipy woman who would never "miss something" even when it's something she doesn't approve of.

This quote seems to validate the grandmother's concerns about the erosion of manners and goodness, but it also paints a picture of a family with deep interpersonal problems. Nobody here is presented as being truly kind or polite; all the family members seem selfish and engaged in conflict with one another. Since the grandmother, the mother of the children's father, is the oldest member of the group, this behavior does reflect back on her in that she seems to have failed to raise respectful descendants. This allows readers to perhaps accept the grandmother's hypothesis about the erosion of politeness, but simultaneously requires readers to question where the blame for such erosion should rest. 

“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.”

Related Characters: The Grandmother (speaker), John Wesley (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

This exchange further shows the conflict that the entire family is experiencing. The grandmother attempts to instill respect for Georgia on John Wesley, who is openly rude and mocking towards places that she loves. While John Wesley's behavior is not admirable, the grandmother's insistence that the children respect their native state is not based on any particular qualities of the state, but only on the fact that they are from there and so it is proper for them to respect it. This points, again, to how shallow the grandmother's sense of propriety and goodness is—it is not related to the intrinsic goodness of a particular person or thing, but rather the appearance of goodness based on the devoted following of social rules like respecting one's home state. While John Wesley is certainly disrespectful, the moral decay that the grandmother believes to be in evidence based on his disrespect of Georgia is actually not the most startling disrespect in the passage. It seems far more concerning that John Wesley is so rude to his grandmother, but the grandmother barely acknowledges this.

“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?”

Related Characters: The Grandmother (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Just after the grandmother has admonished John Wesley for his disrespect of his home state, she turns around and says something blatantly racist about an African-American child. This further casts doubt on the goodness of the grandmother's morality, since she is far more concerned about preserving abstract respect for Georgia than respecting the particular child she is gawking at. This also illuminates a troubling aspect of the grandmother's nostalgia for the goodness of the past; the past to which the grandmother refers is one in which the South was much more deeply racist and oppressive. This moment of casual racism by the grandmother darkens each following instance of her lamentations about social decay and her regret that the politeness and goodness of the past are fading. This quotation forces us to see that the grandmother's narrative of moral erosion is in direct conflict with the narrative of social progress for African Americans.

“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!”

Related Characters: June Star (speaker), Red Sam’s Wife (speaker)
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

O'Connor has created a grandmother whose character is thoroughly revolting, but she does not present readers with a contrasting character who is moral and good. This has the disorienting effect of forcing readers to confront each character's failings rather than identifying with one who is "good" and reviling the others. This exchange further confirms that in addition to the grandmother being hypocritical and selfish, the children are likewise disrespectful and even unkind. June Star's willingness to insult a stranger who is serving her food is disturbing, particularly since the woman is actively trying to be nice to her. As the story advances, it becomes more and more clear that the family depicted is dysfunctional. It doesn't seem that anybody has been raised to be respectful and kind, and in this exchange in particular readers are forced to ask if June Star has inherited some of her grandmother's classism, as the reason she gives for not wanting to stay there is that the place is "broken-down." 

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.

Related Characters: The Grandmother, Bailey
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

After the accident, the grandmother's selfishness is acutely on display. Instead of worrying about the safety of her family, the grandmother cowers under the dashboard hoping that she has been injured, because she believes that an injury might ease her son's anger that she caused the accident. Her petty self-pity and disregard of others casts serious doubts on the quality of her character, and makes her lamentations about the decline of old morals farcical. 

This scene functions almost as a rehearsal for the dramatic and violent end of the story, in which The Misfit murders the grandmother and her whole family. O'Connor is interested in how violence and trauma affect people, and in particular how violence might open people to religious and moral epiphany. However, after the car accident the grandmother's character doesn't seem to shift; she remains in conflict with her family, she does not take responsibility for her actions, and she craves pity rather than true forgiveness. Because of this, the plot must escalate to truly depraved violence, which seems to be the only thing that allows the grandmother to experience grace.

“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.

“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. 

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.

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

This moment, in which the grandmother expresses love for her son and seems on the verge of heartbreak, is the beginning of the grandmother's moment of grace. In a moment of extreme violence she is realizing what is important to her and allowing herself to be deeply affected by it. The story's preoccupation with the relationship between crime and punishment makes it impossible to ignore the disproportionate nature of the grandmother's family being murdered in retribution for, in a literal sense, her recognition of The Misfit, and, in a metaphorical sense, her petty and shallow behavior. However, this connection drives home that, even though the consequences for her actions seem extreme, it was nothing less than this level of violence that could lead her to epiphany. 

This moment also marks a turn in the family relationship. Throughout the story all family members have treated each other rudely and unkindly, and the grandmother's moment of grace ushers in this quotation, which is the first sign that she deeply cares for her son. The world O'Connor depicts is a dark one, however, and this moment of transformation does not alter the trajectory of the violence in progress. The grandmother's experience of grace benefits her in that it allows her to experience something good and genuine before she dies, but it cannot redeem or change the fate of her family. 

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.