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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Flannery O’Connor

Important Quotations Explained

O’Connor and Catholicism

How to Cite This SparkNote

1. “I found out the crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it.”

The Misfit speaks these words near the end of the story, just before sending the children’s mother, the baby, and June Star into the woods to be shot. The Misfit has told the grandmother that he had been punished for a crime that he can’t remember, and this is the lesson he has taken away from it. According to the Misfit’s theory, no matter what the crime, large or small, the punishment will be the same—even if one never remembers what one did. This idea of being punished for an unremembered crime alludes to the Christian belief in original sin. According to Christian theology, all human beings are born sinners for which they will be eternally punished. Only through God’s grace can these people be saved. In this sense, humans “forget” their crime, yet are punished nonetheless, just as the Misfit suggests. The grandmother has her moment of grace when she recognizes the Misfit as one of her “own children,” recognizing how similar she is to the Misfit for the first time. She isn’t morally superior, as she has always believed. Instead, both are struggling in their own ways to come to terms with the difficult, often ambiguous tenets of the Christian faith.

2. “She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

This quotation, at the end of the story, reveals the Misfit’s understanding of what has occurred in the grandmother’s final moments, and he seems to recognize two things about her. First, he fully understands that despite her obvious belief in her moral superiority—which she conveys through her self-proclaimed identification as a “lady” and religious instruction—the grandmother is not, in fact, a good woman. She is flawed and weak, and her age grants her no particular rights for respect or reverence. Second, the Misfit recognizes that when facing death, the grandmother has the capacity to be a good woman. In her final moments, she foregoes the moral high ground she’d staunchly held and instead embraces her and the Misfit’s common humanity. The Misfit observes this shift and seems to realize what it means: if the grandmother could have lived her life at gunpoint, so to speak, she could have gained the self-awareness and compassion that she’d lacked.

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