Flannery O’Connor: A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND
The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in
east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind. Bailey was the son
she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the
orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here, Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and
she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head.
“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. Just you read it. 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.”
Bailey didn’t look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children’s
mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was
tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit’s ears. She was
sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar. “The children have been to Florida
before,” the old lady said. “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.”
The children’s mother didn’t seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a stocky
child with glasses, said, “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?” He and
the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.
“She wouldn’t stay at home to be queen for a day,” June Star said without raising her yellow
“Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?” the grandmother
“I’d smack his face,” John Wesley said.
“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.”
“All right, Miss,” the grandmother said. “Just remember that the next time you want me to curl
June Star said her hair was naturally curly.
The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her big black
valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it she was
hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn’t intend for the cat to be left alone in the
house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush
against one of the gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn’t like to
arrive at a motel with a cat.
She sat in the middle of the back seat with John Wesley and June Star on either side of her.
Bailey and the children’s mother and the baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at eight forty-five
with the mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down because she thought it
would be interesting to say how many miles they had been when they got back. It took them
twenty minutes to reach the outskirts of the city.
The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them up
with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother still had on slacks
and still had her hair tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw
sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot
in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she
had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone
seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.
She said she thought it was going to be a good day for driving, neither too hot nor too cold, and
she cautioned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour and that the patrolmen hid
themselves behind billboards and small clumps of trees and sped out after you before you had a
chance to slow down. She pointed out interesting details of the scenery: Stone Mountain; the
blue granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway; the brilliant red clay banks
slightly streaked with purple; and the various crops that made rows of green lace-work on the
ground. The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled. The
children were reading comic magazines and their mother had gone back to sleep.
“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
“You said it,” June Star said.
“In my time,” said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, “children were more
respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right then. 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?” she asked and they all turned and looked at the
little Negro out of the back window. He waved.
“He didn’t have any britches on,” June Star said.
“He probably didn’t have any,” the grandmother explained. “Little niggers in the country don’t
have things like we do. If I could paint, I’d paint that picture,” she said.
The children exchanged comic books.
The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children’s mother passed him over the front
seat to her. She set him on her knee and bounced him and told him about the things they were
passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth and stuck her leathery thin face into his
smooth bland one. Occasionally he gave her a faraway smile. They passed a large cotton field
with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island. “Look at the graveyard!”
the grandmother said, pointing it out. “That was the old family burying ground. That belonged to
“Where’s the plantation?” John Wesley asked.
“Gone With the Wind,” said the grandmother. “Ha. Ha.”
When the children finished all the comic books they had brought, they opened the lunch and ate
it. The grandmother ate a peanut butter sandwich and an olive and would not let the children
throw the box and the paper napkins out the window. When there was nothing else to do they
played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other two guess what shape it suggested.
John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John Wesley said, no,
an automobile, and June Star said he didn’t play fair, and they began to slap each other over the
The grandmother said she would tell them a story if they would keep quiet. When she told a
story, she rolled her eyes and waved her head and was very dramatic. She said once when she
was a maiden lady she had been courted by a Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden from Jasper, Georgia.
She said he was a very good-looking man and a gentleman and that he brought her a watermelon
every Saturday afternoon with his initials cut in it, E. A. T. Well, one Saturday, she said, Mr.
Teagarden brought the watermelon and there was nobody at home and he left it on the front
porch and returned in his buggy to Jasper, but she never got the watermelon, she said, because a
nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, E. A. T! This story tickled John Wesley’s funny bone
and he giggled and giggled but June Star didn’t think it was any good. She said she wouldn’t
marry a man that just brought her a watermelon on Saturday. The grandmother said she would
have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentleman and had bought Coca-Cola
stock when it first came out and that he had died only a few years ago, a very wealthy man.
They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches. The Tower was a part stucco and part
wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man named Red
Sammy Butts ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building and for miles up
and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY’S FAMOUS BARBECUE. NONE LIKE
FAMOUS RED SAMMY’S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH THE HAPPY LAUGH. A VETERAN!
RED SAMMY’S YOUR MAN!
Red Sammy was lying on the bare ground outside The Tower with his head under a truck while a
gray monkey about a foot high, chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered nearby. The monkey
sprang back into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he saw the children jump out of
the car and run toward him.
Inside, The Tower was a long dark room with a counter at one end and tables at the other and
dancing space in the middle. They all sat down at a board table next to the nickelodeon and Red
Sam’s wife, a tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter than her skin, came and took
their order. The children’s mother put a dime in the machine and played “The Tennessee Waltz,”
and the grandmother said that tune always made her want to dance. She asked Bailey if he would
like to dance but he only glared at her. He didn’t have a naturally sunny disposition like she did
and trips made him nervous. The grandmother’s brown eyes were very bright. She swayed her
head from side to side and pretended she was dancing in her chair. June Star said play something
she could tap to so the children’s mother put in another dime and played a fast number and June
Star stepped out onto the dance floor and did her tap routine.
“Ain’t she cute?” Red Sam’s wife said, leaning over the counter. “Would you like to come be my
“No I certainly wouldn’t,” June Star said. “I wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this for a
million bucks!” and she ran back to the table.
“Ain’t she cute?” the woman repeated, stretching her mouth politely.
“Aren’t you ashamed?” hissed the grandmother.
Red Sam came in and told his wife to quit lounging on the counter and hurry up with these
people’s order. His khaki trousers reached just to his hip bones and his stomach hung over them
like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt. He came over and sat down at a table nearby and let
out a combination sigh and yodel. “You can’t win,” he said. “You can’t win,” and he wiped his
sweating red face off with a gray handkerchief. “These days you don’t know who to trust,” he
said. “Ain’t that the truth?”
“People are certainly not nice like they used to be,” said the grandmother.
“Two fellers come in here last week,” Red Sammy said, “driving a Chrysler. It was a old beat-up
car but it was a good one and these boys looked all right to me. Said they worked at the mill and
you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why did I do that?”
“Because you’re a good man!” the grandmother said at once.
“Yes’m, I suppose so,” Red Sam said as if he were struck with this answer.
His wife brought the orders, carrying the five plates all at once without a tray, two in each hand
and one balanced on her arm. “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you can trust,” she
said. “And I don’t count nobody out of that, not nobody,” she repeated, looking at Red Sammy.
“Did you read about that criminal, The Misfit, that’s escaped?” asked the grandmother.
“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he didn’t attact this place right here,” said the woman. “If he
hears about it being here, I wouldn’t be none surprised to see him. If he hears it’s two cent in the
cash register, I wouldn’t be a-tall surprised if he ...”
“That’ll do,” Red Sam said. “Go bring these people their Co’-Colas,” and the woman went off to
get the rest of the order.
“A good man is hard to find,” Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible. I remember the
day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.”
He and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was
entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think
we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right.
The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry
tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if
it were a delicacy.
They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grandmother took cat naps and woke up every
five minutes with her own snoring. 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. She said
the house had six white columns across the front and that there was an avenue of oaks leading up
to it and two little wooden trellis arbors on either side in front where you sat down with your
suitor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled exactly which road to turn off to get to it. She
knew that Bailey would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house, but the more she
talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin arbors were
still standing. “There was a secret panel in this house,” she said craftily, not telling the truth but
wishing that she were, “and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when
Sherman° came through but it was never found ...”
“Hey!” John Wesley said. “Let’s go see it! We’ll find it! We’ll poke all the woodwork and find
it! Who lives there? Where do you turn off at? Hey, Pop, can’t we turn off there?”
“We never have seen a house with a secret panel!” June Star shrieked. “Let’s go to the house
with the secret panel! Hey Pop, can’t we go see the house with the secret panel!”
“It’s not far from here, I know,” the grandmother said. “It wouldn’t take over twenty minutes.”
Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. “No,” he said.
The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret panel.
John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mother’s shoulder and
whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even on their vacation, that they
could never do what THEY wanted to do. The baby began to scream and John Wesley kicked the
back of the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his kidney.
“All right!” he shouted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the road. “Will you all shut up?
Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don’t shut up, we won’t go anywhere.”
“It would be very educational for them,” the grandmother murmured.
“All right,” Bailey said, “but get this: this is the only time we’re going to stop for anything like
this. This is the one and only time.”
“The dirt road that you have to turn down is about a mile back,” the grandmother directed. “I
marked it when we passed.”
“A dirt road,” Bailey groaned.
After they had turned around and were headed toward the dirt road, the grandmother recalled
other points about the house, the beautiful glass over the front doorway and the candle-lamp in
the hall. John Wesley said that the secret panel was probably in the fireplace.
“You can’t go inside this house,” Bailey said. “You don’t know who lives there.”
“While you all talk to the people in front, I’ll run around behind and get in a window,” John
“We’ll all stay in the car,” his mother said.
They turned onto the dirt road and the car raced roughly along in a swirl of pink dust. The
grandmother recalled the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day’s
journey. The dirt road was hilly and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on
dangerous embankments. All at once they would be on a hill, looking down over the blue tops of
trees for miles around, then the next minute, they would be in a red depression with the dustcoated trees looking down on them.
“This place had better turn up in a minute,” Bailey said, “or I’m going to turn around.”
The road looked as if no one had traveled on it for months.
“It’s not much farther,” the grandmother said and just as she said it, a horrible thought came to
her. The thought was so embarrassing that she turned red in the face and her eyes dilated and her
feet jumped up, upsetting her valise in the corner. The instant the valise moved, the newspaper
top she had over the basket under it rose with a snarl and Pitty Sing, the cat, sprang onto Bailey’s
The children were thrown to the floor and their mother, clutching the baby, was thrown out the
door onto the ground; the old lady was thrown into the front seat. The car turned over once and
landed right-side-up in a gulch off the side of the road. Bailey remained in the driver’s seat with
the cat—gray-striped with a broad white face and an orange nose—clinging to his neck like a
As soon as the children saw they could move their arms and legs, they scrambled out of the car,
shouting, “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” 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. The
horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house she had remembered so
vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee.
Bailey removed the cat from his neck with both hands and flung it out the window against the
side of a pine tree. Then he got out of the car and started looking for the children’s mother. She
was sitting against the side of the red gutted ditch, holding the screaming baby, but she only had
a cut down her face and a broken shoulder. “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” the children screamed
in a frenzy of delight.
“But nobody’s killed,” June Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped out of the
car, her hat still pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a jaunty angle and
the violet spray hanging off the side. They all sat down in the ditch, except the children, to
recover from the shock. They were all shaking.
“Maybe a car will come along,” said the children’s mother hoarsely.
“I believe I have injured an organ,” said the grandmother, pressing her side, but no one answered
her. Bailey’s teeth were clattering. He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright blue parrots
designed in it and his face was as yellow as the shirt. The grandmother decided that she would
not mention that the house was in Tennessee.
The road was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the other side
of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and deep. In a
few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if the
occupants were watching them. The grandmother stood up and waved both her arms dramatically
to attract their attention. The car continued to come on slowly, disappeared around a bend and
appeared again, moving even slower, on top of the hill they had gone over. It was a big black
battered hearse-like automobile. There were three men in it.
It came to a stop just over them and for some minutes, the driver looked down with a steady
expressionless gaze to where they were sitting, and didn’t speak. Then he turned his head and
muttered something to the other two and they got out. One was a fat boy in black trousers and a
red sweat shirt with a silver s ...
Purchase answer to see full