I want you to close read your chosen short story and answer the 4 sets of questions above for your chosen short story.
- What is the book about as a whole? You must try to discover the leading theme of the book and how the author develops this theme in an orderly way… (Theme)
- What is being said in detail, and how? You must try to discover the main ideas, assertions, and arguments that constitute the author’s particular message.
- Is the book true, in whole or in part? You cannot answer this question until you have answered the first two. You must know what is being said before you can decide whether it is true or not. When you understand a book, however, you must make up your mind. Knowing the author’s mind is not enough.
- What of it? If the book has given you information, you must ask about its significance. Why does the author think it is essential to know these things? Is it necessary to you to know them?Copyright © by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. All rights reserved.
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” originally published 1894.
The Story of an Hour
Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break
to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.
It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in
half concealing. Her husband’s friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been
in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently
Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed.” He had only taken the time to assure himself of its
truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in
bearing the sad message.
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to
accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms.
When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no
one follow her.
There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank,
pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with
the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was
crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly,
and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.
There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and
piled one above the other in the west facing her window.
She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except
when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep
continues to sob in its dreams.
She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain
strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on
one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a
suspension of intelligent thought.
Copyright © by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. All rights reserved.
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” originally published 1894.
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She
did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky,
reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.
Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that
was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will—as powerless
as her two white slender hands would have been.
When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She
said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror
that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and
the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.
She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and
exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial.
She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death;
the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw
beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her
absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.
There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and
women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind
intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief
moment of illumination.
And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could
love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she
suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
“Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering.
Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for
admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door—you will make yourself ill. What are
you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake open the door.”
“Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through
that open window.
Copyright © by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. All rights reserved.
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” originally published 1894.
Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days,
and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long.
It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.
She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish
triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped
her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the
Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a
little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the
scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s
piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.
But Richards was too late.
When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.
The Lottery–Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” (1948)
by Shirley Jackson
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.
The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play. and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix– the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”–eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at rolled in the dust or clung to the hands of their older brothers or sisters.
Soon the men began to gather. surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed. The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands. Soon the women, standing by their husbands, began to call to their children, and the children came reluctantly, having to be called four or five times. Bobby Martin ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones. His father spoke up sharply, and Bobby came quickly and took his place between his father and his oldest brother.
The lottery was conducted–as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program–by Mr. Summers. who had time and energy to devote to civic activities. He was a round-faced, jovial man and he ran the coal business, and people were sorry for him. because he had no children and his wife was a scold. When he arrived in the square, carrying the black wooden box, there was a murmur of conversation among the villagers, and he waved and called. “Little late today, folks.” The postmaster, Mr. Graves, followed him, carrying a three- legged stool, and the stool was put in the center of the square and Mr. Summers set the black box down on it. The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool. and when Mr. Summers said, “Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?” there was a hesitation before two men. Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter. came forward to hold the box steady on the stool while Mr. Summers stirred up the papers inside it.
The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here. Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything’s being done.
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The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.
Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, held the black box securely on the stool until Mr. Summers had stirred the papers thoroughly with his hand. Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations. Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had argued. had been all very well when the village was tiny, but now that the population was more than three hundred and likely to keep on growing, it was necessary to use something that would fit more easily into he black box. The night before the lottery, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves made up the slips of paper and put them in the box, and it was then taken to the safe of Mr. Summers’ coal company and locked up until Mr. Summers was ready to take it to the square next morning. The rest of the year, the box was put way, sometimes one place, sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr. Graves’s barn and another year underfoot in the post office. and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there.
There was a great deal of fussing to be done before Mr. Summers declared the lottery open. There were the lists to make up–of heads of families. heads of households in each family. members of each household in each family. There was the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers by the postmaster, as the official of the lottery; at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory. tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this p3rt of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching. Mr. Summers was very good at all this; in his clean white shirt and blue jeans. with one hand resting carelessly on the black box. he seemed very proper and important as he talked interminably to Mr. Graves and the Martins.
Just as Mr. Summers finally left off talking and turned to the assembled villagers, Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the square, her sweater thrown over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back of the crowd. “Clean forgot what day it was,” she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly. “Thought my old man was out back stacking wood,” Mrs. Hutchinson went on. “and then I looked out the window and the kids was gone, and then I remembered it was the twenty- seventh and came a-running.” She dried her hands on her apron, and Mrs. Delacroix said, “You’re in time, though. They’re still talking away up there.”
Mrs. Hutchinson craned her neck to see through the crowd and found her husband and children standing near the front. She tapped Mrs. Delacroix on the arm as a farewell and began to make her way through the crowd. The people separated good-humoredly to let her through: two or three people said. in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, “Here comes your, Missus, Hutchinson,” and “Bill, she made it after all.” Mrs. Hutchinson reached her husband, and Mr. Summers, who had been waiting, said cheerfully. “Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie.” Mrs. Hutchinson said. grinning, “Wouldn’t have me leave m’dishes in the sink, now, would you. Joe?,” and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson’s arrival.
“Well, now.” Mr. Summers said soberly, “guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can go back to work. Anybody ain’t here?”
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The Lottery–Shirley Jackson
“Dunbar.” several people said. “Dunbar. Dunbar.”
Mr. Summers consulted his list. “Clyde Dunbar.” he said. “That’s right. He’s broke his leg, hasn’t he? Who’s drawing for him?”
“Me. I guess,” a woman said. and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. “Wife draws for her husband.” Mr. Summers said. “Don’t you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?” Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered.
“Horace’s not but sixteen vet.” Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. “Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year.”
“Right.” Sr. Summers said. He made a note on the list he was holding. Then he asked, “Watson boy drawing this year?”
A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand. “Here,” he said. “I’m drawing for my mother and me.” He blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the crowd said thin#s like “Good fellow, lack.” and “Glad to see your mother’s got a man to do it.”
“Well,” Mr. Summers said, “guess that’s everyone. Old Man Warner make it?”
“Here,” a voice said. and Mr. Summers nodded.
A sudden hush fell on the crowd as Mr. Summers cleared his throat and looked at the list. “All ready?” he called. “Now, I’ll read the names–heads of families first–and the men come up and take a paper out of the box. Keep the paper folded in your hand without looking at it until everyone has had a turn. Everything clear?”
The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions: most of them were quiet. wetting their lips. not looking around. Then Mr. Summers raised one hand high and said, “Adams.” A man disengaged himself from the crowd and came forward. “Hi. Steve.” Mr. Summers said. and Mr. Adams said. “Hi. Joe.” They grinned at one another humorlessly and nervously. Then Mr. Adams reached into the black box and took out a folded paper. He held it firmly by one corner as he turned and went hastily back to his place in the crowd. where he stood a little apart from his family. not looking down at his hand.
“Allen.” Mr. Summers said. “Anderson…. Bentham.”
“Seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries any more.” Mrs. Delacroix said to Mrs. Graves in the back row.
“Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.”
“Time sure goes fast.– Mrs. Graves said.
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“There goes my old man.” Mrs. Delacroix said. She held her breath while her husband went forward.
“Dunbar,” Mr. Summers said, and Mrs. Dunbar went steadily to the box while one of the women said. “Go on. Janey,” and another said, “There she goes.”
“We’re next.” Mrs. Graves said. She watched while Mr. Graves came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr. Summers gravely and selected a slip of paper from the box. By now, all through the crowd there were men holding the small folded papers in their large hand. turning them over and over nervously Mrs. Dunbar and her two sons stood together, Mrs. Dunbar holding the slip of paper.
“Get up there, Bill,” Mrs. Hutchinson said. and the people near her laughed.
“They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.”
Old Man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly. “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”
“Some places have already quit lotteries.” Mrs. Adams said.
“Nothing but trouble in that,” Old Man Warner said stoutly. “Pack of young fools.”
“Martin.” And Bobby Martin watched his father go forward. “Overdyke…. Percy.”
“I wish they’d hurry,” Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son. “I wish they’d hurry.”
“They’re almost through,” her son said.
“You get ready to run tell Dad,” Mrs. Dunbar said.
Mr. Summers called his own name and then stepped forward precisely and selected a slip from the box. Then he called, “Warner.”
“Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery,” Old Man Warner said as he went through the crowd. “Seventy-seventh time.”
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The Lottery–Shirley Jackson
“Watson” The tall boy came awkwardly through the crowd. Someone said, “Don’t be nervous, Jack,” and Mr. Summers said, “Take your time, son.”
After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr. Summers. holding his slip of paper in the air, said, “All right, fellows.” For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saving. “Who is it?,” “Who’s got it?,” “Is it the Dunbars?,” “Is it the Watsons?” Then the voices began to say, “It’s Hutchinson. It’s Bill,” “Bill Hutchinson’s got it.”
“Go tell your father,” Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son.
People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly. Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!”
“Be a good sport, Tessie.” Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.”
“Shut up, Tessie,” Bill Hutchinson said.
“Well, everyone,” Mr. Summers said, “that was done pretty fast, and now we’ve got to be hurrying a little more to get done in time.” He consulted his next list. “Bill,” he said, “you draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the Hutchinsons?”
“There’s Don and Eva,” Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. “Make them take their chance!”
“Daughters draw with their husbands’ families, Tessie,” Mr. Summers said gently. “You know that as well as anyone else.”
“It wasn’t fair,” Tessie said.
“I guess not, Joe.” Bill Hutchinson said regretfully. “My daughter draws with her husband’s family; that’s only fair. And I’ve got no other family except the kids.”
“Then, as far as drawing for families is concerned, it’s you,” Mr. Summers said in explanation, “and as far as drawing for households is concerned, that’s you, too. Right?”
“Right,” Bill Hutchinson said.
“How many kids, Bill?” Mr. Summers asked formally.
“Three,” Bill Hutchinson said.
“There’s Bill, Jr., and Nancy, and little Dave. And Tessie and me.”
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The Lottery–Shirley Jackson
“All right, then,” Mr. Summers said. “Harry, you got their tickets back?”
Mr. Graves nodded and held up the slips of paper. “Put them in the box, then,” Mr. Summers directed. “Take Bill’s and put it in.”
“I think we ought to start over,” Mrs. Hutchinson said, as quietly as she could. “I tell you it wasn’t fair. You didn’t give him time enough to choose. Everybody saw that.”
Mr. Graves had selected the five slips and put them in the box. and he dropped all the papers but those onto the ground. where the breeze caught them and lifted them off.
“Listen, everybody,” Mrs. Hutchinson was saying to the people around her.
“Ready, Bill?” Mr. Summers asked. and Bill Hutchinson, with one quick glance around at his wife and children. nodded.
“Remember,” Mr. Summers said. “take the slips and keep them folded until each person has taken one. Harry, you help little Dave.” Mr. Graves took the hand of the little boy, who came willingly with him up to the box. “Take a paper out of the box, Davy.” Mr. Summers said. Davy put his hand into the box and laughed. “Take just one paper.” Mr. Summers said. “Harry, you hold it for him.” Mr. Graves took the child’s hand and removed the folded paper from the tight fist and held it while little Dave stood next to him and looked up at him wonderingly.
“Nancy next,” Mr. Summers said. Nancy was twelve, and her school friends breathed heavily as she went forward switching her skirt, and took a slip daintily from the box “Bill, Jr.,” Mr. Summers said, and Billy, his face red and his feet overlarge, near knocked the box over as he got a paper out. “Tessie,” Mr. Summers said. She hesitated for a minute, looking around defiantly. and then set her lips and went up to the box. She snatched a paper out and held it behind her.
“Bill,” Mr. Summers said, and Bill Hutchinson reached into the box and felt around, bringing his hand out at last with the slip of paper in it.
The crowd was quiet. A girl whispered, “I hope it’s not Nancy,” and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd.
“It’s not the way it used to be.” Old Man Warner said clearly. “People ain’t the way they used to be.”
“All right,” Mr. Summers said. “Open the papers. Harry, you open little Dave’s.”
Mr. Graves opened the slip of paper and there was a general sigh through the crowd as he held it up and everyone could see that it was blank. Nancy and Bill. Jr.. opened theirs at the same time. and both beamed and laughed. turning around to the crowd and holding their slips of paper above their heads.
“Tessie,” Mr. Summers said. There was a pause, and then Mr. Summers looked at Bill Hutchinson, and Bill unfolded his paper and showed it. It was blank.
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The Lottery–Shirley Jackson
“It’s Tessie,” Mr. Summers said, and his voice was hushed. “Show us her paper. Bill.”
Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office. Bill Hutchinson held it up, and there was a stir in the crowd.
“All right, folks.” Mr. Summers said. “Let’s finish quickly.”
Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. “Come on,” she said. “Hurry up.”
Mr. Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said. gasping for breath. “I can’t run at all. You’ll have to go ahead and I’ll catch up with you.”
The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.
Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her. ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• Discussion Questions:
1. Were you surprised by the ending of the story? If not, at what point did you know what was going to happen? How does Jackson start to foreshadow the ending in paragraphs 2 and 3? Conversely, how does Jackson lull us into thinking that this is just an ordinary story with an ordinary town?
2. Where does the story take place? In what way does the setting affect the story? Does it make you more or less likely to anticipate the ending?
3. In what ways are the characters differentiated from one another? Looking back at the story, can you see why Tessie Hutchinson is singled out as the “winner”?
4. What are some examples of irony in this story? For example, why might the title, “The Lottery,” or the opening description in paragraph one, be considered ironic?
5. Jackson gives interesting names to a number of her characters. Explain the possible allusions, irony or symbolism of some of these:
● Delacroix ● Graves ● Summers ● Bentham ● Hutchinson
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The Lottery–Shirley Jackson
● Warner ● Martin
7. Take a close look at Jackson’s description of the black wooden box (paragraph 5) and of the black spot on the fatal slip of paper (paragraph 72). What do these objects suggest to you? Why is the black box described as “battered”? Are there any other symbols in the story?
8. What do you understand to be the writer’s own attitude toward the lottery and the stoning? Exactly what in the story makes her attitude clear to us?
9. This story satirizes a number of social issues, including the reluctance of people to reject outdated traditions, ideas, rules, laws, and practices. What kinds of traditions, practices, laws, etc. might “The Lottery” represent?
10. This story was published in 1948, just after World War II. What other cultural or historical events, attitudes, institutions, or rituals might Jackson be satirizing in this story?
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- Local Disk
- The Lottery–Shirley Jackson34
Flannery O’Connor, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’
THE GRANDMOTHER didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her
connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind.
Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the
table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here, Bailey,” she said,
“see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the
newspaper at his bald head. “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.”
Bailey didn’t look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the
children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a
cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like
rabbit’s ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar. “The
children have been to Florida before,” the old lady said. “You all ought to take them somewhere
else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have
been to east Tennessee.”
The children’s mother didn’t seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley,
a stocky child with glasses, said, “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at
home?” He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.
“She wouldn’t stay at home to be queen for a day,” June Star said without raising her
“Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?” the grandmother
“I’d smack his face,” John Wesley said.
“She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’d miss
something. She has to go everywhere we go.”
“All right, Miss,” the grandmother said. “Just remember that the next time you want me to curl your hair.”
June Star said her hair was naturally curly.
The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her
big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it
she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn’t intend for the cat to be left
alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he
might brush against one of her gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son,
Bailey, didn’t like to arrive at a motel with a cat.
She sat in the middle of the back seat with John Wesley and June Star on either side of
her. Bailey and the children’s mother and the baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at eight
forty-five with the mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down because she
thought it would be interesting to say how many miles they had been when they got back. It
took them twenty minutes to reach the outskirts of the city.
The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting
them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother still
had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a
navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with
a small white dot in the print. 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. In case of an
accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.
She said she thought it was going to be a good day for driving, neither too hot nor too
cold, and she cautioned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour and that the
patrolmen hid themselves behind billboards and small clumps of trees and sped out after you
before you had a chance to slow down. She pointed out interesting details of the scenery: Stone
Mountain; the blue granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway; the
brilliant red clay banks slightly streaked with purple; and the various crops that made rows of
green lace-work on the ground. The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of
them sparkled. The children were reading comic magazines and their mother and gone back to
“Let’s go through Georgia fast so we won’t have to look at it much,” John Wesley said.
“If I were a little boy,” said the grandmother, “I wouldn’t talk about my native state that
way. Tennessee has the mountains and Georgia has the hills.”
“Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground,” John Wesley said, “and Georgia is a
lousy state too.”
“You said it,” June Star said.
“In my time,” said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, “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!” she said and pointed to a Negro child standing in
the door of a shack. “Wouldn’t that make a picture, now?” she asked and they all turned and
looked at the little Negro out of the back window. He waved.
“He didn’t have any britches on,” June Star said.
“He probably didn’t have any,” the grandmother explained. “Little riggers in the country
don’t have things like we do. If I could paint, I’d paint that picture,” she said.
The children exchanged comic books.
The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children’s mother passed him over
the front seat to her. She set him on her knee and bounced him and told him about the things
they were passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth and stuck her leathery thin
face into his smooth bland one. Occasionally he gave her a faraway smile. They passed a large
cotton field with five or fix graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island. “Look at the
graveyard!” the grandmother said, pointing it out. “That was the old family burying ground.
That belonged to the plantation.”
“Where’s the plantation?” John Wesley asked.
“Gone With the Wind,” said the grandmother. “Ha. Ha.”
When the children finished all the comic books they had brought, they opened the lunch
and ate it. The grandmother ate a peanut butter sandwich and an olive and would not let the
children throw the box and the paper napkins out the window. When there was nothing else to
do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other two guess what shape it
suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John
Wesley said, no, an automobile, and June Star said he didn’t play fair, and they began to slap
each other over the grandmother.
The grandmother said she would tell them a story if they would keep quiet. When she
told a story, she rolled her eyes and waved her head and was very dramatic. She said once
when she was a maiden lady she had been courted by a Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden from
Jasper, Georgia. She said he was a very good-looking man and a gentleman and that he
brought her a watermelon every Saturday afternoon with his initials cut in it, E. A. T. Well, one
Saturday, she said, Mr. Teagarden brought the watermelon and there was nobody at home and
he left it on the front porch and returned in his buggy to Jasper, but she never got the
watermelon, she said, because a nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, E. A. T. ! This story
tickled John Wesley’s funny bone and he giggled and giggled but June Star didn’t think it was
any good. She said she wouldn’t marry a man that just brought her a watermelon on Saturday.
The grandmother said she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a
gentle man and had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a
few years ago, a very wealthy man.
They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches. The Tower was a part stucco and
part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man named
Red Sammy Butts ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building and for
miles up and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY’S FAMOUS BARBECUE. NONE
LIKE FAMOUS RED SAMMY’S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH THE HAPPY LAUGH. A
VETERAN! RED SAMMY’S YOUR MAN!
Red Sammy was lying on the bare ground outside The Tower with his head under a
truck while a gray monkey about a foot high, chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered
nearby. The monkey sprang back into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he saw
the children jump out of the car and run toward him.
Inside, The Tower was a long dark room with a counter at one end and tables at the
other and dancing space in the middle. They all sat down at a board table next to the
nickelodeon and Red Sam’s wife, a tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter than her
skin, came and took their order. The children’s mother put a dime in the machine and played
“The Tennessee Waltz,” and the grandmother said that tune always made her want to dance.
She asked Bailey if he would like to dance but he only glared at her. He didn’t have a naturally
sunny disposition like she did and trips made him nervous. The grandmother’s brown eyes
were very bright. She swayed her head from side to side and pretended she was dancing in her
chair. June Star said play something she could tap to so the children’s mother put in another
dime and played a fast number and June Star stepped out onto the dance floor and did her tap
“Ain’t she cute?” Red Sam’s wife said, leaning over the counter. “Would you like to come
be my little girl?”
“No I certainly wouldn’t,” June Star said. “I wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like
this for a million bucks!” and she ran back to the table.
“Ain’t she cute?” the woman repeated, stretching her mouth politely.
“Arn’t you ashamed?” hissed the grandmother.
Red Sam came in and told his wife to quit lounging on the counter and hurry up with
these people’s order. His khaki trousers reached just to his hip bones and his stomach hung
over them like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt. He came over and sat down at a table
nearby and let out a combination sigh and yodel. “You can’t win,” he said. “You can’t win,” and
he wiped his sweating red face off with a gray handkerchief. “These days you don’t know who
to trust,” he said. “Ain’t that the truth?”
“People are certainly not nice like they used to be,” said the grandmother.
“Two fellers come in here last week,” Red Sammy said, “driving a Chrysler. It was a old
beat-up car but it was a good one and these boys looked all right to me. Said they worked at the
mill and you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why did I do that?”
“Because you’re a good man!” the grandmother said at once.
“Yes’m, I suppose so,” Red Sam said as if he were struck with this answer.
His wife brought the orders, carrying the five plates all at once without a tray, two in
each hand and one balanced on her arm. “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you
can trust,” she said. “And I don’t count nobody out of that, not nobody,” she repeated, looking
at Red Sammy.
“Did you read about that criminal, The Misfit, that’s escaped?” asked the grandmother.
“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he didn’t attack this place right here,” said the woman.
“If he hears about it being here, I wouldn’t be none surprised to see him. If he hears it’s two
cent in the cash register, I wouldn’t be a tall surprised if he . . .”
“That’ll do,” Red Sam said. “Go bring these people their Co’-Colas,” and the woman
went off to get the rest of the order.
“A good man is hard to find,” Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible. I
remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.”
He and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion
Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you
would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was
exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the
lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully
between his teeth as if it were a delicacy.
They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grandmother took cat naps and woke
up every few minutes with her own snoring. Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and recalled
an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady.
She said the house had six white columns across the front and that there was an avenue of oaks
leading up to it and two little wooden trellis arbors on either side in front where you sat down
with your suitor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled exactly which road to turn off to get to
it. She knew that Bailey would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house, but the
more she talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin
arbors were still standing. “There was a secret panel in this house,” she said craftily, not telling
the truth but wishing that she were, “and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in
it when Sherman came through but it was never found . . .”
“Hey!” John Wesley said. “Let’s go see it! We’ll find it! We’ll poke all the woodwork and
find it! Who lives there? Where do you turn off at? Hey Pop, can’t we turn off there?”
“We never have seen a house with a secret panel!” June Star shrieked. “Let’s go to the
house with the secret panel! Hey Pop, can’t we go see the house with the secret panel!”
“It’s not far from here, I know,” the grandmother said. “It wouldn’t take over twenty
Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. “No,” he said.
The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret
panel. John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mother’s
shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even on their
vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to do. The baby began to scream and
John Wesley kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his
“All right!” he shouted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the road. “Will you all
shut up? Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don’t shut up, we won’t go anywhere.”
“It would be very educational for them,” the grandmother murmured.
“All right,” Bailey said, “but get this: this is the only time we’re going to stop for
anything like this. This is the one and only time.”
“The dirt road that you have to turn down is about a mile back,” the grandmother
directed. “I marked it when we passed.”
“A dirt road,” Bailey groaned.
After they had turned around and were headed toward the dirt road, the grandmother
recalled other points about the house, the beautiful glass over the front doorway and the
candle-lamp in the hall. John Wesley said that the secret panel was probably in the fireplace.
“You can’t go inside this house,” Bailey said. “You don’t know who lives there.”
“While you all talk to the people in front, I’ll run around behind and get in a window,”
John Wesley suggested.
“We’ll all stay in the car,” his mother said.
They turned onto the dirt road and the car raced roughly along in a swirl of pink dust.
The grandmother recalled the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a
day’s journey. The dirt road was hilly and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on
dangerous embankments. All at once they would be on a hill, looking down over the blue tops
of trees for miles around, then the next minute, they would be in a red depression with the
dust-coated trees looking down on them.
“This place had better turn up in a minute,” Bailey said, “or I’m going to turn around.”
The road looked as if no one had traveled on it in months.
“It’s not much farther,” the grandmother said and just as she said it, a horrible thought
came to her. The thought was so embarrassing that she turned red in the face and her eyes
dilated and her feet jumped up, upsetting her valise in the corner. The instant the valise
moved, the newspaper top she had over the basket under it rose with a snarl and Pitty Sing, the
cat, sprang onto Bailey’s shoulder.
The children were thrown to the floor and their mother, clutching the baby, was thrown
out the door onto the ground; the old lady was thrown into the front seat. The car turned over
once and landed right-side-up in a gulch off the side of the road. Bailey remained in the
driver’s seat with the cat gray-striped with a broad white face and an orange nose clinging to
his neck like a caterpillar.
As soon as the children saw they could move their arms and legs, they scrambled out of
the car, shouting, “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” The grandmother was curled up under the
dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her all at
once. The horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house she had
remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee.
Bailey removed the cat from his neck with both hands and flung it out the window
against the side of a pine tree. Then he got out of the car and started looking for the children’s
mother. She was sitting against the side of the red gutted ditch, holding the screaming baby,
but she only had a cut down her face and a broken shoulder. “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” the
children screamed in a frenzy of delight.
“But nobody’s killed,” June Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped
out of the car, her hat still pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a jaunty
angle and the violet spray hanging off the side. They all sat down in the ditch, except the
children, to recover from the shock. They were all shaking.
“Maybe a car will come along,” said the children’s mother hoarsely.
“I believe I have injured an organ,” said the grandmother, pressing her side, but no one
answered her. Bailey’s teeth were clattering. He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright blue
parrots designed in it and his face was as yellow as the shirt. The grandmother decided that she
would not mention that the house was in Tennessee.
The road was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the
other side of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and
deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if
the occupants were watching them. The grandmother stood up and waved both arms
dramatically to attract their attention. 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.
It came to a stop just over them and for some minutes, the driver looked down with a
steady expressionless gaze to where they were sitting, and didn’t speak. Then he turned his
head and muttered something to the other two and they got out. One was a fat boy in black
trousers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed on the front of it. He moved
around on the right side of them and stood staring, his mouth partly open in a kind of loose
grin. The other had on khaki pants and a blue striped coat and a gray hat pulled down very low,
hiding most of his face. He came around slowly on the left side. Neither spoke.
The driver got out of the car and stood by the side of it, looking down at them. He was
an older man than the other two. His hair was just beginning to gray and he wore silver-
rimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look. He had a long creased face and didn’t have
on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that were too tight for him and was holding a
black hat and a gun. The two boys also had guns.
“We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” the children screamed.
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. He moved away from the car and began to come down the embankment,
placing his feet carefully so that he wouldn’t slip. He had on tan and white shoes and no socks,
and his ankles were red and thin. “Good afternoon,” he said. “I see you all had you a little spill.”
“We turned over twice!” said the grandmother.
“Oncet”, he corrected. “We seen it happen. Try their car and see will it run, Hiram,” he
said quietly to the boy with the gray hat.
“What you got that gun for?” John Wesley asked. “Whatcha gonna do with that gun?”
“Lady,” the man said to the children’s mother, “would you mind calling them children to
sit down by you? Children make me nervous. I want all you all to sit down right together there
where you’re at.”
“What are you telling US what to do for?” June Star asked.
Behind them the line of woods gaped like a dark open mouth. “Come here,” said their
“Look here now,” Bailey began suddenly, “we’re in a predicament! We’re in . . .”
The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. “You’re The
Misfit!” she said. “I recognized you at once!”
“Yes’m,” the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in spite of himself to be
known, “but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t of reckernized me.”
Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shocked even the
children. The old lady began to cry and The Misfit reddened.
“Lady,” he said, “don’t you get upset. Sometimes a man says things he don’t mean. I
don’t reckon he meant to talk to you thataway.”
“You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?” the grandmother said and removed a clean
handkerchief from her cuff and began to slap at her eyes with it.
The Misfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the ground and made a little hole and then
covered it up again. “I would hate to have to,” he said.
“Listen,” the grandmother almost screamed, “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look
a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!”
“Yes mam,” he said, “finest people in the world.” When he smiled he showed a row of
strong white teeth. “God never made a finer woman than my mother and my daddy’s heart was
pure gold,” he said. The boy with the red sweat shirt had come around behind them and was
standing with his gun at his hip. The Misfit squatted down on the ground. “Watch them
children, Bobby Lee,” he said. “You know they make me nervous.” He looked at the six of them
huddled together in front of him and he seemed to be embarrassed as if he couldn’t think of
anything to say. “Ain’t a cloud in the sky,” he remarked, looking up at it. “Don’t see no sun but
don’t see no cloud neither.”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful day,” said the grandmother. “Listen,” she said, “you shouldn’t call
yourself The Misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell.”
“Hush!” Bailey yelled. “Hush! Everybody shut up and let me handle this!” He was
squatting in the position of a runner about to sprint forward but he didn’t move.
“I pre-chate that, lady,” The Misfit said and drew a little circle in the ground with the
butt of his gun.
“It’ll take a half a hour to fix this here car,” Hiram called, looking over the raised hood of
“Well, first you and Bobby Lee get him and that little boy to step over yonder with you,”
The Misfit said, pointing to Bailey and John Wesley. “The boys want to ast you something,” he
said to Bailey. “Would you mind stepping back in them woods there with them?”
“Listen,” Bailey began, “we’re in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is,”
and his voice cracked. His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he
remained perfectly still.
The grandmother reached up to adjust her hat brim as if she were going to the woods
with him but it came off in her hand. She stood staring at it and after a second she let it fall on
the ground. Hiram pulled Bailey up by the arm as if he were assisting an old man. John Wesley
caught hold of his father’s hand and Bobby Lee followed. They went off toward the woods and
just as they reached the dark edge, Bailey turned and supporting himself against a gray naked
pine trunk, he shouted, “I’ll be back in a minute, Mamma, wait on me!”
“Come back this instant!” his mother shrilled but they all disappeared into the woods.
“Bailey Boy!” the grandmother called in a tragic voice but she found she was looking at
The Misfit squatting on the ground in front of her. “I just know you’re a good man,” she said
desperately. “You’re not a bit common!”
“Nome, I ain’t a good man,” The Misfit said after a second ah if he had considered her
statement carefully, “but I ain’t the worst in the world neither. My daddy said I was a different
breed of dog from my brothers and sisters. ‘You know,’ Daddy said, ‘it’s some that can live their
whole life out without asking about it and it’s others has to know why it is, and this boy is one
of the latters. He’s going to be into everything!”‘ He put on his black hat and looked up
suddenly and then away deep into the woods as if he were embarrassed again. “I’m sorry I
don’t have on a shirt before you ladies,” he said, hunching his shoulders slightly. “We buried
our clothes that we had on when we escaped and we’re just making do until we can get better.
We borrowed these from some folks we met,” he explained.
“That’s perfectly all right,” the grandmother said. “Maybe Bailey has an extra shirt in his
“I’ll look and see terrectly,” The Misfit said.
“Where are they taking him?” the children’s mother screamed.
“Daddy was a card himself,” The Misfit said. “You couldn’t put anything over on him. He
never got in trouble with the Authorities though. Just had the knack of handling them.”
“You could be honest too if you’d only try,” said the grandmother. “Think how
wonderful it would be to settle down and live a comfortable life and not have to think about
somebody chasing you all the time.”
The Misfit kept scratching in the ground with the butt of his gun as if he were thinking
about it. “Yes’m, somebody is always after you,” he murmured.
The grandmother noticed how thin his shoulder blades were just behind his hat because
she was standing up looking down on him. “Do you every pray?” she asked.
He shook his head. All she saw was the black hat wiggle between his shoulder blades.
“Nome,” he said.
There was a pistol shot from the woods, followed closely by another. Then silence. The
old lady’s head jerked around. She could hear the wind move through the tree tops like a long
satisfied insuck of breath. “Bailey Boy!” she called.
“I was a gospel singer for a while,” The Misfit said. “I been most everything. Been in the
arm service both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker,
been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive
oncet,” and he looked up at the children’s mother and the little girl who were sitting close
together, their faces white and their eyes glassy; “I even seen a woman flogged,” he said.
“Pray, pray,” the grandmother began, “pray, pray . . .”
“I never was a bad boy that I remember of,” The Misfit said in an almost dreamy voice,
“but somewheres along the line I done something wrong and got sent to the penitentiary. I was
buried alive,” and he looked up and held her attention to him by a steady stare.
“That’s when you should have started to pray,” she said. “What did you do to get sent to
the penitentiary that first time?”
“Turn to the right, it was a wall,” The Misfit said, looking up again at the cloudless sky.
“Turn to the left, it was a wall. Look up it was a ceiling, look down it was a floor. I forget what I
done, lady. I set there and set there, trying to remember what it was I done and I ain’t recalled
it to this day. Oncet in a while, I would think it was coming to me, but it never come.”
“Maybe they put you in by mistake,” the old lady said vaguely.
“Nome,” he said. “It wasn’t no mistake. They had the papers on me.”
“You must have stolen something,” she said.
The Misfit sneered slightly. “Nobody had nothing I wanted,” he said. “It was a head-
doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie. My
daddy died in nineteen ought nineteen of the epidemic flu and I never had a thing to do with it.
He was buried in the Mount Hopewell Baptist churchyard and you can go there and see for
“If you would pray,” the old lady said, “Jesus would help you.”
“That’s right,” The Misfit said.
“Well then, why don’t you pray?” she asked trembling with delight suddenly.
“I don’t want no hep,” he said. “I’m doing all right by myself.”
Bobby Lee and Hiram came ambling back from the woods. Bobby Lee was dragging a
yellow shirt with bright blue parrots in it.
“Thow me that shirt, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. The shirt came flying at him and
landed on his shoulder and he put it on. The grandmother couldn’t name what the shirt
reminded her of. “No, lady,” The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, “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
The children’s mother had begun to make heaving noises as if she couldn’t get her
breath. “Lady,” he asked, “would you and that little girl like to step off yonder with Bobby Lee
and Hiram and join your husband?”
“Yes, thank you,” the mother said faintly. Her left arm dangled helplessly and she was
holding the baby, who had gone to sleep, in the other. “Hep that lady up, Hiram,” The Misfit
said as she struggled to climb out of the ditch, “and Bobby Lee, you hold onto that little girl’s
“I don’t want to hold hands with him,” June Star said. “He reminds me of a pig.”
The fat boy blushed and laughed and caught her by the arm and pulled her off into the
woods after Hiram and her mother.
Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not
a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to tell
him that he must pray. 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.
“Yes’m,” The Misfit said as if he agreed. “Jesus thown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course,” he said, “they never shown me my papers. That’s why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you’ll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you’ll have something to prove you ain’t been treated right. I call myself The Misfit,” he said, “because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”
There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report. “Does it
seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain’t punished at all?”
“Jesus!” the old lady cried. “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! I
know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the
money I’ve got!”
“Lady,” The Misfit said, looking beyond her far into the woods, “there never was a body
that give the undertaker a tip.”
There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched
old turkey hen crying for water and called, “Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!” as if her heart would
“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He
shouldn’t have done it. He thown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s
nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s
nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing
somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but
meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.
“Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,” the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was
saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her.
“I wasn’t there so I can’t say He didn’t,” The Misfit said. “I wisht I had of been there,” he
said, hitting the ground with his fist. “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been there
I would of known. Listen lady,” he said in a high voice, “if I had of been there I would of known
and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother’s head
cleared for an instant. She saw the man’s face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry
and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children !” She
reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten
him and shot her three times through the chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and
took off his glasses and began to clean 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.
Without his glasses, The Misfit’s eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-
looking. “Take her off and thow her where you thown the others,” he said, picking up the cat
that was rubbing itself against his leg.
“She was a talker, wasn’t she?” Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.
“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to
shoot her every minute of her life.”
“Some fun!” Bobby Lee said.
“Shut up, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. “It’s no real pleasure in life.”
[Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find and other stories, ed. Lisa Alther, The
Women’s Press, 1980]
- The Lottery–Shirley Jackson34
- Local Disk