The Concept of a Journey in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and Eudora Welty’s “The Hitch-Hikers”

Submission date: 18/5/2009

Many critics 1 often compare works by Eudora Welty and Flannery O‘Connor, in which they find a number of similar features. The similarities concern not only the setting of their stories, but also the main topics, qualities of the major characters and the relationships between them. Therefore this essay analyses two short stories – “A Good Man is Hard to Find” 2 by Flannery O’Connor and “The Hitch-Hikers” 3 by Eudora Welty – with the aim to find correspondence between them. Car travel plays a very important role in both of the stories, for this reason, the essay focuses on the motive of the journey and the way it is depicted in each of the works. The purpose is to find out whether there is more correspondence within this aspect besides the pure fact that the main characters travel by car. The main character of “The Hitch-Hikers”, a salesman Tom Harris, gives a lift to two hitch-hikers – a talkative guitar player and his rather quiet companion Sobby. Harris wants to get to Mephis but he stops in Dulcie to arrange accommodation for the tramps in the back porch of the Dulcie Hotel – apparently the only one in the town. While Harris is talking to the proprietor of the hotel, whom he knows well, the guitar player is badly hit in his head, probably by Sobby, and dies in local hospital a day later. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, the main characters are a family with three children and a thin grandmother with very little authority, who go for a three day’s trip to Florida. On their way, however, the grandmother persuades the rest to turn off the main road and visit an old mansion, where, she claims, a treasure is hidden. When they drive down a dirt road far from civilisation, they have an accident a get found by a runaway criminal, The Misfit, who shoots them all dead. As mentioned above, the central topic of the stories is a car journey. Every journey has its purpose, start and destination. Although it is

E.g.: Sarah Gordon in Flannery O'Connor: The Obedient Imagination p. 23 or Ted Ray Spivey in Flannery O'Connor: The Woman, the Thinker, the Visionary pp. 8, 42
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First Published in 1955, in a short story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find First Published in 1941, in A Curtain of Green


not explicitly said, the circumstances suggest, that the family in O’Connor’s story goes for a trip or a three-day holiday while Harris in Welty’s story travels on business. At the beginning of O’Connor story, the grandmother tries to persuade her son to go to Tennessee instead of Florida 4, so the destination seems not fixedly given at this stage, which indicates that the purpose of their journey is not a duty. Also the fact that they decide to turn off and go to the mansion suggests that they do not have to arrive at their destination on time 5. So the family leaves home for another place. On the other hand, Harris from Welty’s story is coming back from a business trip during which he “saw people in Midnight and Louise” and he is heading to Mephis now, which is described as his “base” where he “would like to do something that night”. 6 Although the directions of the journeys described in the stories are opposite in terms of leaving home and coming back, their aim is the same. Both – the family and Harris – are heading for a place where they would relax and enjoy themselves. Thus at the beginning of each story, the journey in introduced as a transition between the daily routine and some kind of entertainment. Its role is to draw the characters closer to something pleasurable. Despite their optimistic destinations, both of the journeys are interrupted by an unpleasant event 7, which completely changes the situation and also the future of the characters (if there is any left after it). In both stories, the drive ends with a death, or more precisely a murder, of one or more characters. A more detailed description of the murderers, however, will be given later. First, it is important to focus no the development which precedes the tragic end. Both in Welty’s as well as in O’Connor’s story, the final course of events is radically influenced by a decision of a major character to do something unusual, something different from their normal habits. In “The Hitchhikers”, Harris’s decision to give a ride to two homeless men is
O’Connor 137 O’Connor 139 6 Welty 62 7 A car crash and encountering The Misfit in O’Connor’s story (144 – 153) and the fatal injury of the guitar player in Welty’s story
5 4


described as something done “rather out of a dream”. 8 The reason why he stops and offers his help is a sudden wave of emotions that he feels at the sight of two tramps. It is not out of sympathy that he picks them up, but his attention is caught by the two figures and their guitar glistening in the setting sun, which brings back a particular sensation he experienced in his childhood, when he felt strong and self-confident, full of eagerness to conquer the world. 9 By letting the two people in his car, Harris expresses his liking for the emotion and wants to preserve it, but his decision has the opposite effect and changes the direction of his journey considerably. Similarly, the family in O’Connor’s story had originally different plans for their journey and the trip to the ancient mansion was not included it them at all. However, their grandmother’s story about a treasure hidden in the old building excites the children’s interest to such a level that their father – grandmother’s dear only boy Bailey – agrees to go there, although he usually does not want to waste time with nonsense like this. 10 Surprisingly, the idea of hidden family silver – no matter how unrealistic it is – appeals to him too and his will and reason have to struggle with the emotional part of his personality. 11 His feelings finally win and he submits to the childish (or senile) wish of the family and of his own subconsciousness and decides to turn off for the old house. 12 Just as Harris in Welty’s story does, Bailey acts in a different way from his normal habits, which has a more serious impact on the further development of the journey than anyone expected. In both stories, this decision leads the travellers close to the murderer, whom no one suspects at the beginning. On the contrary, both Harris and the family think that the people they have met will help them. Harris hopes that the presence of the two hitchhikers will bring back his childhood memories and positive emotions. The family in O’Connor’s story
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Welty 62 Welty 62 10 O’Connor 142 – 143 11 This struggle is suggested by his straight look and „his jaw as rigid as a horseshoe“ (O’Connor 143) 12 O’Connor 143


expects The Misfit and his companions to help them out of trouble caused by their car accident. 13 However, none of the expectations is fulfilled and the course of the journey is gradually getting out of their hands. There is also correspondence between some of the murderers’ qualities. In O’Connor’s story it is The Misfit, a runaway criminal, who had to spend some time in prison because he is supposed to have killed his father. 14 The murder in “The Hitchhikers” is not explicitly described but there are hints for the reader to deduce what has happened. The simplest interpretation offered by a passer-by character, is that Sobby wanted to drive away with Harris’s car while he was arranging for their accommodation in the hotel but the guitar player tried to stop him and thus he got deadly injured. 15 But the case is open also to other interpretations because, as Harris himself suggests, it might have been “the other way round” too. 16 For this reason, the guitar player can be taken not only as a victim of the crime but also as the aggressor and a potential murderer. Besides, Sobby hardly ever talks and the guitar player has to speak and also act for him, 17 on the other hand the guitar player’s name is never mentioned in the story. Thus each of the two hitch-hikers lacks something which the other one possesses. They complement each other perfectly, which makes them function as one character rather than two. For this reason it is irrelevant to speculate who the aggressor was or what exactly happened and it is better to focus on the characters themselves and the way they influence the course of the journey. Both The Misfit and the hitch-hikers have spent some time isolated from the civilisation. The Misfit was in prison and the tramps have just come back from the mountains, where they “had … owls for chicken and foxes for yard dogs” but where they “sung true”, as the guitar player himself

O’Connor 145 – 146 O’Connor 149 – 151 15 Welty 66 16 Welty 66 17 The only words Sobby sais in the story is his answer to Harris inquiry about their diet: „Dewberries. “ The rest of the conversation with Harris is administrated by the guitar player, who also calls to Harris to stop because Sobby wants to give back a beer bottle, which later unfortunately becomes the supposed murder weapon.



describes it. 18 By this commentary he expresses his disillusionment with the civilisation to which he has just returned. Similarly, The Misfit says that the world has nothing to offer him 19 and he tries hard to find something which would bring him satisfaction. Their disappointment and lack of happiness at the end of their journey back to civilisation is so strong that they stop at nothing just to achieve a satisfactory answer to their questions. In both stories, their meeting the car with travellers is one of the first encounters with normal society, by which they try to assimilate, but without much success. The guitar player is killed and The Misfit’s disillusionment grows even stronger after killing the family. 20 Concerning the course of the journey, the main function of both The Misfit and the hitch-hikers’ intervention is to end the journey earlier than it was originally intended. Neither Harris nor the family expect that their journey will be brought to an end by this encounter. However, it happens and the journey ends together with someone’s life. The often used metaphor in which life is compared to a journey is taken to extremes in these stories. An everyman character is overcome by a sudden wave of emotions and consequently makes a decision which seems to be of little importance but later turns out to be fatal. Form all that has been mentioned in this essay, it can be concluded that the concept of journey plays a similar role in both of the analysed stories. In both “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The

Hitchhikers”, the original purpose of the journey is to take the main character or characters to a place of relaxation and entertainment. On the way, however, a major character makes a decision which is not typical for their normal behaviour and which radically changes the course of the journey. Thank to this decision new characters get involved in the plot 21 and the journey is brought to an end by them. Although the destinations in both stories were originally optimistic, the real end of the journeys is death. For

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Welty 64 O’Connor 150 20 O’Connor 153 21 The Misfit in “A Good Man is Hard to Find and the tramps in “The Hitch-Hikers”


this reason, the journey in both stories can be also perceived as a metaphor for human life.



1. Welty, Eudora. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980.

2. O'Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 1988.

3. Gordon, Sarah. Flannery O'Connor: The Obedient Imagination. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000. Available at: =PR9&dq=welty+o%27connor+a+good+man&ots=zY174jBRWE&sig=OR Basom7ejF7qxEyzcnMGs0IJqk#PPA23,M1

4. Spivey, Ted Ray. Flannery O'Connor: The Woman, the Thinker, the Visionary. Macon, Ga: Mercer Univ. Press, 1997. Available at: pg=PA15&dq=welty+o%27connor+a+good+man&ots=P1YICx7abg&sig=r U12kG2wYKe13CFSQ7pG9XnkeHY#PPA16,M1


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