The title of the story refers to a line delivered by a minor character, Red Sammy, the restaurant owner. Red Sammy and the grandmother are from the same generation, which waxes nostalgic about what they believe to have been better times after discussing the serial killer on the loose, the Misfit. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Neither the grandmother nor Red Sammy can acknowledge that bad men or evil people have always existed; the fact that the Misfit is on the loose now does not necessarily mean that the world is falling apart.
With cognitive bias and logical fallacy, though, the grandmother and Red Sammy blame the outside world and cultivate a sense of fear and mistrust.
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Their conversation suggests that the grandmother has a pessimistic worldview, one of the major themes of the story. Moreover, their conversation implies that ignorance may also be the root of evil. After lunch, the family begins driving again and the grandmother realizes they are near an old plantation she once visited. Wanting to see it again, she tells the children that the house has a secret panel and they clamor to go.
Bailey reluctantly agrees. As they drive down a rough dirt road, the grandmother suddenly realizes that the house she is remembering is in Tennessee, not Georgia. Shocked and embarrassed by the realization, she accidentally kicks over her belongings, releasing the cat, which jumps onto Bailey's head and causes an accident. A car slowly approaches them, and The Misfit and two young men get out.
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The grandmother recognizes him and says so. The two young men take Bailey and his son into the woods, and shots are heard.
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Then they take the mother, the daughter, and the baby into the woods. More shots are heard. Throughout, the grandmother pleads for her life, telling The Misfit she knows he's a good man and entreating him to pray. He engages her in a discussion about goodness, Jesus, and crime and punishment. She touches his shoulder, saying, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!
The grandmother's definition of what it means to be "good" is symbolized by her very proper and coordinated traveling outfit. O'Connor writes:.
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The grandmother is clearly concerned with appearances above all else. In this hypothetical accident, she worries not about her death or the deaths of her family members, but about strangers' opinions of her. She also demonstrates no concern for the state of her soul at the time of her imagined death, but we think that's because she's operating under the assumption that her soul is already as pristine as her "navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim. She continues to cling to superficial definitions of goodness as she pleads with The Misfit.
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She entreats him not to shoot "a lady," as if not murdering someone is just a question of etiquette. And she reassures him that she can tell he's "not a bit common," as if lineage is somehow correlated with morality. Even The Misfit himself knows enough to recognize that he "ain't a good man," even if he "ain't the worst in the world neither. After the accident, the grandmother's beliefs begin to fall apart just like 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.
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The things she has thought were important are failing her , falling uselessly around her, and she now has to scramble to find something to replace them. What she finds is the idea of prayer, but it's almost as if she's forgotten or never knew how to pray. All her life, she has imagined that she is a good person, but like a curse, her definition of goodness crosses the line into evil because it is based on superficial, worldly values. The Misfit may openly reject Jesus , saying, "I'm doing all right by myself," but his frustration with his own lack of faith "It ain't right I wasn't there" suggests that he's given Jesus a lot more thought than the grandmother has.