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A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND
A CIRCLE IN THE FIRE
PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Mrs. Pritchard watches Mrs. Cope weed her garden and tells her the story of a woman who had a baby in an iron lung and how they both died. Mrs. Cope works hard, as if she is always struggling with evil. She is always worried about fire. She also dislikes Mrs. Pritchard's talk and constantly tries to change the subject. When she sees her Negro workers driving the long way around a field, in order not to lift a gate, she reprimands them and claims that she is the only one with any sense of responsibility or gratefulness. When Mrs. Pritchard says she has four abscessed teeth, Mrs. Cope tells her to be thankful she don't have five. Mrs. Pritchard grumbles: at least she would have the decency not to be making babies while in an iron lung. Think of the Europeans in boxcars, Mrs. Cope reprimands again. She says that she has this nice farm because she works so hard, and only takes trouble as it comes. The child watching the women from the windows (Mrs. Cope's daughter) can see three boys coming up the road.
Powell walks up to Mrs. Cope and introduces himself: he used to live here. She remembers him, sort of. She asks after his mother and father--it turns out he's died, and the mother has remarried. He lives in Atlanta, in a development. When she asks he introduces the other two boys with him, one huge and the other small, and when she introduces them to Mrs. Pritchard they ignore her.
The other two boys tell her how Powell is lawyers talking about this place, Mrs. Cope's farm, about the horses to ride and all. In fact, Powell has said he wants to die here. Mrs. Cope gets uncomfortable and then thinks the boys must be hungry. But they look like they are used to hunger, and they don't seem especially grateful for the offer of something to eat. The child in the window, listening, is excited. She is twelve and fat and has braces. she sees the big boy smoking. She hears her mother and Mrs. Pritchard in the kitchen discussing the boys, the suitcase, and the fact that Mrs. Pritchard thinks they intend to stay.
Outside with some crackers and coke, Mrs. Cope reprimands the big boy for tossing a cigarette butt--he could start a fire! The boy grudgingly picks it up. Mrs. Cope tries talking to Powell about his family, but the boys want to talk about the farm and what Powell told them about it--they could ride those horses to hell! Mrs. Cope is not happy with the language. The boys don't like the crackers, or where they live in Atlanta. They want to spend the night in the barn, and Mrs. Cope says no--they could sleep in the field. They agree and leave without saying thank you.
Mrs. Pritchard says they look like trouble. The boys come back all scratched up around dinner time, and claim they have not ridden the horses. They don't like the food Mrs. Cope offers and then she makes them sandwiches. She can hardly hold a conversation with them--Powell is distracted and the other boys say nasty and violent things. Mrs. Cope asks them if they are thankful for what they have in life. The little girl makes choking sounds, leans out the windows and crosses her eyes at the boys. The big one looks up and says, "Jesus, another woman." Later, her mother tells her to say away from them.
The next morning they are not gone, as promised, and Mrs. Cope offers them breakfast and tells them they must act like gentlemen. They are rather rude, and walk off, and when Mrs. Pritchard walks up she tells Mrs. Cope that the boys rode the horses into a sweat. Mrs. Cope is mad. Mrs. Pritchard repeats over and over "there isn't anything you can do about it," and then repeats a story that Mr. Pritchard told her about the boys' rudeness concerning Mrs. Cope.
Mrs. Cope swears that they will leave on the milk truck, when it comes to pick up the milk later in the day. The boys agree, and then don't show up. The little girl says that she can take care of them, but her mother tells her to stay away from them. The little girl watches from the window as her mother and Mrs. Pritchard search for the boys, and the boys sneak away from them.
Later, they let the bull out, and then drain the oil on three tractors. Mrs. Cope is hopping angry, and Mrs. Pritchard is glad to tell her that the boys are down on the road stoning the mailbox. They get in he car and drive down to the boys, who sit on a bank, look sullen and remain silent. She tells them to go or she will call the sheriff. Mrs. Pritchard thinks this will only anger them. She thinks they have a gun in their suitcase.
Mrs. Cope will have none of it, and when she sees no sign of the boys that night or the net day, she is satisfied they are gone-- though Mrs. Pritchard isn't. Mrs. Cope tells her daughter to be thankful that she isn't them, or in an iron lung, or a Negro or a European. The next morning the sun is hot and the weather is very dry, with wind, and the girl has dressed herself in overalls and a dress with a hat and toy pistols. When her mother tells her she looks like Mrs. Pritchard's child the girl runs out to the woods to get away from her: "Leave me be!" she yells.
The girl plays in the woods, cracking branches with her toy pistols and issuing orders to the trees. Then she sees the boys. They are bathing in the cattle trough. The little boy shouts that he wished he lived there, and then the big boy says he'd build a parking lot if this were his place. The boys run around the field and yell and scream and then they dress and the big boy gets an idea. They enter the woods near the girl--they don't see her--and gather sticks together to light a fire. They light it, gleefully, and the little girl is rooted to the spot--then she runs. She yells "they're going to build a parking lot!" and Mrs. Cope and Mrs. Pritchard see the smoke in the sky and the hired help moves towards it and the smoke goes higher and wider. "Hurry!" Mrs. Cope shouts. The girl looks into her mother's face and sees terrible misery, and hears the boys shrieking as if they were prophets dancing in a fiery circle the angels had made just for them.