Symbolism & Irony in A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Analysis

Flannery O’Connor’s short story is stuffed with symbolism, metaphors, and other literary devices hidden from first-time readers. The analysis of A Good Man Is Hard to Find by experts aims to shed some light on these details.

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First of all, we discuss the symbols and imagery that compose the wholesome picture of the events. How much do you think a little hat can represent? Well, in A Good Man Is Hard to Find, even a car has an underlying meaning. We will also look at irony in A Good Man Is Hard to Find, tone, and foreshadowing.

🌈 A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Symbolism & Imagery

The symbols in A Good Man Is Hard to Find help convey the main idea of the story. They are sometimes highly ironic, which can’t be hidden from the reader. Moreover, they serve as literary devices such as foreshadowing. For example, the look of the Misfit’s car is a sign that you shouldn’t miss.

The key symbols in A Good Man Is Hard to Find are: the Grandmother's hat, the Misfit's car, and the sky.

The Grandmother’s Hat

The Grandmother, the story’s central character, grooms up before the family road trip until she becomes straight up overdressed. She does it because she wants to look “lady-like” in case they get into a car accident. The Grandmother is extremely concerned about what people would think of her.

In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Meanwhile, the elderly lady completely ignores the fact that she and her whole family might as well be dead if it happens.

For the selfish and hypocritical Grandmother, the only thing that matters is her image. She wants everybody to think she is a lady, and it proves her moral decay.

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After the dramatic events of the car crash, the Grandmother’s elegant hat is destroyed. We can conclude that the hat symbolizes the moral beliefs of the old lady. The accident becomes the moment when her perfect image has to dissolve. She loses her hat just like she loses her face in front of her death.

The Misfit’s Car

The Misfit’s car is pictured as a “big black battered hearse-like automobile.” Since hearse is a type of vehicle that transfers coffins, it is evident that the car symbolizes death. Moreover, it appears to be an example of foreshadowing in A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

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.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

As the family enthusiastically awaits for the car to stop and give them a hand, they have no idea how tragically it will turn out. Even when they see the car’s shape, they remain clueless and only think about getting some help. Only the reader understands that it is a clear hint about their tragic fate.

Instead of saviors, this “hearse-like automobile” carries three killers that bring death upon every member of the Grandmother’s family. We don’t know if the Misfit chose the car unconsciously, but in any case, its appearance shows that his band carries the baggage of death and violence.


The sky’s description is mentioned a few times, which makes it a prominent element of the imagery of A Good Man Is Hard to Find. There are different ways of understanding how the sky can be cloudless and sunless. This ambiguity may be confusing, but it highlights some important messages.

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Ain’t a cloud in the sky… Don’t see no sun but don’t see no cloud neither.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

You might see a sky without clouds or sun at night, but we don’t know for sure if that’s what the narrator means. However, we can suggest that there is a deeper meaning of this imagery.

First of all, the sky with no sun and clouds symbolizes emptiness. It may point out the Misfit’s inner state since he has lost the sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Moreover, the sky appears to be as empty as the whole situation happening to the family. They are in the middle of nowhere, and there is no one to help them.

Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

⚙️ A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Literary Analysis

The literary analysis of A Good Man Is Hard to Find shows the essential elements that the author uses to set the story’s tone and mood. This gothic narration unveils the main idea by:

  • irony
  • foreshadowing
  • tone
  • point of view

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Situational Irony

As you have already seen, some symbols in the story, such as the hearse-like car, work along with verbal irony. However, a situational irony in A Good Man Is Hard to Find is something else. This device is described as a situation that turns out to be the opposite of the expected, just like the Misfit’s band not being the family’s saviors.

Jesus! You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! I know you come from nice! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the money I’ve got!

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

The ending of the short story is the perfect example of situational irony. The Misfit helps the Grandmother realize that she is not what she always thought of herself. Moreover, she dies with a smile on her face instead of an expression of horror, as she finally becomes a real good Christian.

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Foreshadowing

You can write a whole essay on the topic of foreshadowing in this story. Flannery O’Connor extensively uses this device to build up the interest in the readers. It starts at the very beginning when the Grandmother mentions the Misfit.

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.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Of course, the Grandmother says it for a reason, as she and her family eventually meet the convict. Another moment to note is that the Grandmother dresses up in case she dies in a car accident.

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.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

A less obvious bit of foreshadowing is used when the Misfit says that some people run away, and others get punished for no reason. It is a hint that the Grandmother will be killed as well as the rest of her family.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Tone

Overall, the tone in A Good Man Is Hard to Find can be seen as highly cynical. In particular, the author makes fun of the Grandmother as much as she can.

Lady,.. there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Sometimes the situations are exaggerated, making the characters appear cartoonish. For instance, even in the pretty horrific situation between the kills, O’Connor writes that the old lady “raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water.”

Moreover, some people accuse the story of being overly grotesque with all the repelling and ugly characters. However, despite this style, the reader should understand that real life can be that harsh and sympathize with the Grandmother.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Point of View

Even though the story is told in the third person, the point of view in A Good Man Is Hard to Find refers to the Grandmother. The reader has a chance to know some of her thoughts and feelings. Even the description of another major character, the Misfit, is given through her perspective.

The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

At the same time, the narrator never gives too many details, leaving some room for imagination.

This way, you are given the opportunity to interpret the Grandmother’s intentions as you wish. Even the setting of A Good Man Is Hard to Find doesn’t affect the perception as much as the point of view.

⚔️ What Is the Main Conflict in A Good Man Is Hard to Find?

If you want to gain a deeper understanding of what the main conflict in A Good Man Is Hard to Find is, check out the previous section of our guide dedicated to the story’s themes. One of them is the clash between good and evil, which the Grandmother and the Misfit might also represent. This aspect of the story can be called its main conflict.

We hope that the information above was useful to you. If you’re looking for exciting essay ideas on the story, feel free to read our list of topics.

🔗 References

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