In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, O’Connor seems to suggest that only through conflicts can the “good” in people be found. The way that the grandmother seems to dwell in the past suggests that she believes that it would’ve been easier to find a “good” man a long time ago. To the grandmother, trying to find goodness today would prove to be very challenging and possibly even useless. Through the use of symbolism, foreshadowing, and metaphors, O’Connor develops the story’s theme.
Throughout this story, the grandmother struggles to find what the definition of “good” is. The grandmother wears a hat to show others that she is a lady. However, this hat is also a symbol for her foolish ethical code. When the grandmother prepares for the car trip with the family, she dresses up in collars and cuffs to show she is a lady “In case of an accident” (12). The grandmother acts as if she is completely undisturbed with the fact that she would be dead in this situation and remains unconcerned that her son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren would have also possibly died. The grandmother, however, only cares about her appearance as a lady. This silly concern shows how self-centered she really is and how delicate her ethical conviction is. This symbol further develops when the family becomes, in fact, involved in a car accident. The grandmother’s hat falls apart, much like her ethical conviction, and after she continued to stare at it, she eventually “let it fall on the ground.”(96) Once she is thrown from the car and her family is face-to-face with the Misfit, the brim of the grandmother’s hat then falls off. Her appearance as a lady melts as the damaged hat falls.
Not only does O’Connor use symbols in this story, but also foreshadowing. O’Connor’s use of foreshadowing tends to clue the reader in on future events. The grandmother expresses in the beginning of the story how she doesn’t want to go to Florida with the rest of the family. While she disapproves, the grandmother does actually go to Florida. O’Connor uses the voice of the granddaughter for this foreshadowing event when the daughter says, “She has to go everywhere we go”(7). This statement can be a foreshadowing of the ending of the story. The family is eventually involved in a car accident and winds up having an encounter with The Misfit and his two followers. After the family is led into the woods a few at a time to be killed, the grandmother is the only one left facing The Misfit. The daughter’s previous statement that the grandmother must go wherever they go, foreshadows that the grandmother will not walk away from this encounter.
The grandmother will be killed also so that she can go with her family. Another foreshadowing event happens when the family attends a dinner and meets Red Sammy. Red Sammy tells the family about two strangers who stole gas from him not too long ago: “’Two fellers come in here last week,’ Red Sammy said, ‘driving a Chrysler’”(36). This statement foreshadows that The Misfit may cross paths with the family driving a car that is parallel to the one that the two men had when they stole gas from Red Sammy. O’Connor’s use of foreshadowing deliberately describes the plot of the story. She wanted the reader to know exactly what was going to happen. This could have been because she simply did not think the plot was important. The “good” in people is the heart of this story.
By the end of the story, the only person who seems to be “good” is the grandmother through her conflict with The Misfit. The Misfit states -at the end of the story- that the grandmother would’ve been a good woman if only there had been someone there to shoot her “every minute of her life” (140). This quotation reveals that The Misfit has just uncovered the change that has gone through the grandmother in her last final moments. He realizes at first that even though the grandmother holds herself very high and claims to be a lady, she is not a good woman. Even though she is very old, The Misfit understands that her age does not permit her behavior and in no way does she deserve any special treatment. However, The Misfit does distinguish that the grandmother has the capability to be a good woman when she is face-to-face with death. The high ground she had placed herself on slowly disintegrates as she embraces the common humanity between herself and The Misfit: “‘Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!’” (136) The Misfit senses this shift in the grandmother’s ethics and understands that if she could’ve lived every moment of her life at gunpoint, she could’ve embraced the sympathy and common humanity that she had needed.
Using metaphors, foreshadowing, and symbolism, O’Connor depicts that the “good” in people can only be found through struggle and conflict. It was not until the end of the story that the grandmother actually became her definition of “good”. She had strived her whole life to be a lady and to find the good in others, but it always seemed too hard for her at times. All the while, she had overlooked trying to find the “good” herself. In the last few moments of her life she became compassionate, understanding, and loving or-in other words-“good”. Only through her struggle with her emanate death did she find the “good” in herself.