Flannery O’Connor’s story is told by a third person narrator, but the focus is on the Grandmother’s perspective of events. Even though she complains that she would rather go to Tennessee than Florida for vacation, she packs herself (and secretly her cat, Pitty Sing) in the car with her son Bailey, his wife, and their children June Star, John Wesley, and the baby. In a comical instance of foreshadowing, she takes pains to dress properly in a dress and hat, so that if she were found dead on the highway everyone would recognize her as a lady.
When the family stops for lunch at Red Sammy Butts’ barbecue place, the proprietor, a husky man, is insulted by June Star. Nevertheless, he and the Grandmother discuss the escaped murderer known as the Misfit. Noting that the world is increasingly a more dangerous and unfriendly place, Red Sammy tells the Grandmother that these days “A good man is hard to find.” Back on the road, the Grandmother convinces her hen-pecked son to go out of their way so they can visit an old plantation she recalls from her childhood. The children second her suggestion when she mentions that the house contains secret passageways. Soon after Bailey turns down a dirt road”in a swirl of pink dust” with “his jaw as rigid as a horseshoe,” the Grandmother realizes that the plantation is not in Georgia, where they are, but in Tennessee. This sudden realization causes her to upset Pitty Sing’s basket. The cat leaps out onto Bailey’s shoulder, and the surprise causes him to lose control of the car and roll it into a ditch.
No one is seriously hurt, and the children are inclined to view the accident as an adventure. Soon a car happens along the desolate stretch of road and the family believes the driver will stop and help them. As the driver makes his way down the embankment, the Grandmother thinks “his face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was.” As soon as he starts to speak, however, she recognizes him as the infamous Misfit. He is accompanied by two other men; they are all carrying guns and are dressed in clothes that are clearly not their own. The first thing he wants to know is if the car will still run.
While the Misfit talks with the grandmother, his two accomplices, Hiram and Bobby Lee, take each member of the family off to the woods and shoot them. Soon the Misfit obtains Bailey’s bright yellow shirt with blue parrots on it, and he and the Grandmother are alone. She tries to convince him that he is “not a bit common,” in an effort to flatter him and spare her life. When it becomes clear that her words are having little effect on him, she becomes speechless for the first time in the story. “She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally she found herself saying, ‘Jesus. Jesus,’ meaning Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing.”
The Misfit’s explanation for his behavior provides an opportunity for the self-centered Grandmother to reflect on her beliefs in the moments before he shoots her “three times through the Flannery O’Connor chest.” The Misfit explains that “Jesus thown everything off balance.” In her final moment, the Grandmother reaches out and touches the Misfit, whispering “You’re one of my own children!.” The Misfit’s final commentary on the Grandmother is that “she would of been a good woman .. . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, Flannery O’Connor, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.