Communication in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”


Flannery O’Connor wrote probably the cruelest and piercing stories in American literature. They addressed a wide range of social topics and revealed peoples hidden tools and behavioral motivation. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, the development of characters is described adequately through the prism of communication to underline the lack of family organization, the importance of attitudes toward places, and the power of politeness.

The Power of Politeness

In her short story, O’Connor aims to answer the central question of whether it is possible to find a good man in today’s world. The story claims that it is currently complicated to find really good people, meaning that the increase of criminal acts in the community may result in serious threats. Therefore, one of the primary aspects highlighted in the story is sociology and people’s interaction and communication.

For example, the grandmother wants to believe that people are good at heart. She is one of the main characters in the pragmatic conversation and the theory of politeness light. On the one hand, the grandmother is trying to present herself as the right person with strong moral principles. Nevertheless, it is not what she is: the reader realizes that this old lady is willing to look like an ideal individual being not that good in soul.

In contrast, Red Sammy is sad because to his mind everything is getting terrible, and it is hard to find good people. He claims, “A good man is hard to find. Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more” (OConnor 6). Both Red Sammy and the grandmother feel nostalgic about the times with no need to worry about the potential crimes, and the opened house doors posed no threat to them (Hani 346-347). This statement highlights that significantly high crime rates in those days reflected the social issues occurring in the present era.

The story clearly shows that communication turns out to be a good source of information about people and their intentions. Successful communication plays a crucial role in people’s lives and helps to get new knowledge and share personal goals (Thuan 218). Understanding each other is impossible without communicating, gaining unique experience, attaining personal goals, and demonstrating one’s power over others. Nevertheless, having a fruitful conversation is a significant concern if human beings do not pay attention to the ways they interact. Having a win-win dialogue assumes saving the interlocutor’s face. In fact, any linguistic approach to interaction is affected by theories of politeness and face, and predictability of people’s utterances shaped by their face considerations.

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the communication lack results in family disorganization. All the family members manipulate actions and language in relation to others in order to pursue their goals. This social problem might be examined utilizing psychological and sociological aspects of characterization. In Bailey’s family, each person is filled with disorganization, lacking each others attention and mutual respect. The grandmother is selfish and egocentric, Bailey seems to be indifferent to the whole family, and his children lack manners. The emergence of this family is likely to be the primary reason for its disorganization.

It is normal for people to talk about places and their importance in human life and share memories that gain meaning. In fact, attention to Stone Mountain proves the author’s passion for history rather than geography (Flint 120). Hence, the attitudes toward places determine the attitudes toward people, and age is what provokes differences (Vala 226). Nevertheless, Bailey’s family does not express any interest in the grandmother’s stories.

Politeness Approach in Communication

There are many methods to build communication, and the theory of politeness is an option chosen by O’Connor. Courtesy is crucial to the development of characters because it shows their behavioral shifts (Thuan 225). One of the most vivid examples in the story is the encounter of the grandmother with The Misfit. Being a prison escapee, he looks polite, well-mannered, and smart. Unlike her family members, Misfit saves her face, which she struggles for. The grandmother receives an entirely different conversational behavior from The Misfit’s side from what she got acquainted with receiving from all the Baileys.

He addresses the grandmother with a high level of formality like “lady” and “ma’am,” and politely speaks to the whole family. For instance, his greeting is as follows, “Good afternoon. I see you all had you a little spill” (OConnor 8). Even after admitting that children make him nervous, he remains polite with their mother, “Lady, would you mind calling them children to sit down by you?” (OConnor 8). The story is passed by the red thread that, in the past, there were more polite people compared to today’s situation, which challenges the establishment of good family relationships (Hani 345). For example, the grandmother tells stories describing children in ancient times in comparison to the present generation. She says, “In my time, 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!” (OConnor 2). This expression reveals that in nature, the grandmother puts herself much higher than others, and, hence, her politeness and good manners depend on her opponents’ social status.

Indeed, modern people pay not much attention to the role of communication, depriving themselves of many things. O’Connor underlines that people are “one violent step away from grace” (Vala 218). For instance, facing death, the grandmother mostly begs, flatters, and lies. Nevertheless, in the end, she touches The Misfit and utters the cryptic line: “You’re one of my own children!” this is likely to be her moment of grace and the divine redemption’s chance (OConnor 12). O’Connor states that “her head cleared for an instant,” and this moment might be the truest in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” She dies as if she understood something fundamental with a smile on her face.


Communication always depends on the contributions of all participants. It is reflected in the contrast of conversation between the grandmother and The Misfit and her style of talking to the family members. With Misfit, she behaves very carefully, avoiding violating the politeness principle and applying face-saving strategies. Whereas communicating with her family, the grandmother becomes a domineering character regularly using a directive tone, demanding much attention, acceptance, and obedience. On the contrary, she struggles to create intimacy in her dialogue with The Misfit through sympathizing and praising with him. On the contrary, The Misfit establishes social distance with her through politeness at the most significant scale. Nevertheless, they both realize that the grandmother lost control and her life is in his hands. Hence, O’Connor masterfully reflects how communication style and the extent of politeness depend on the circumstances and the importance of communication’s outcome.


Flint, Thomas P. “On the Significance of Civil War References in Flannery O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’.” Renascence, vol. 70, no. 2, 2018, pp. 119–128. Web. 

Hani, Mohamad. “Analysis of Social Problem in A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor.” English Community Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, 2019, pp. 342-349.

O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Gothic Digital Series, repository. 2020. Web.

Thuan, Le Thi Bich. “Character Analysis Through Politeness in A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature, vol. 6, no. 4, 2017, pp. 218-226. Web.

Vala, João Pedro. “A Good Man is Easy to Find: Flannery O’Connor’s Theology of Death. “Journal of Linguistics & Literature, vol. 1, no. 1, 2018, pp. 221-219.

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