"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" follows a cantankerous family as they set off on a road trip to Florida. The Grandmother convinces her son, Bailey, who is driving, to turn down a dirt road to visit a gorgeous old plantation that she remembers from childhood. She remembers too late that the plantation is actually somewhere in Tennessee, and the car flips over into a ditch. The family is found by The Misfit, an escaped serial killer, and his sidekicks, who systematically take the family into the woods and murder them, ending with The Grandmother.
In "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," the wandering, one-armed Tom Shiftlet appears at the home of Lucynell Crater and her mentally handicapped daughter of the same name. After fixing up their old, unused car, he agrees to marry the younger Lucynell. The elder Lucynell gives him money for their honeymoon and sends them off. But instead of taking her on their honeymoon, he abandons her at a restaurant and steals the car.
"The River" takes place over the course of about twenty-four hours. Mrs. Connin, a devout Christian, picks Harry up from his parents' apartment to babysit him for the day. She takes him and her own children to a river where a preacher is performing healings, and Harry is baptized. Because his parents are not religious at all, he is confused about the nature of finding God, and really believes that God's Kingdom is in the river somewhere. The next morning, while his parents are sleeping late, he goes back to the river and purposefully drowns himself.
"The Displaced Person" is a story in three parts: the first is from the point of view of Mrs. Shortley, whose husband is employed on the McIntyre milk farm. Mr. Guizac, a Polish man displaced by the war, and his family arrive to work on the farm as well. Mrs. Shortley becomes increasingly paranoid about their presence, and convinces her husband to quit before he is fired; however, as they drive away she has a religious spasm and dies soon after. The second and third parts are told from the point of view of Mrs. McIntyre as she decides that Mr. Guizac must leave her farm. She, Mr. Shortley (who returns to the farm after his wife's death), and a young black farmhand, Sulk, witness a tractor roll over Mr. Guizac and kill him without yelling out to warn him, making them complicit in his death.
In "A Temple of the Holy Ghost," an ornery child creates trouble during a visit by her older cousins, Susan and Joanne, from convent school. They go to a fair with two neighborhood boys, and when they return they tell her about the hermaphrodite they have seen there. When the child and her mother drop the girls back off at convent school, they attend mass and the child becomes open to faith.
"The Artificial Nigger" takes place during a grandfather and grandson's day trip to Atlanta from the country. While there, Mr. Head (the grandfather) decides to force his grandson Nelson to the realization that the city is terrifying by pretending to abandon him on the sidewalk while he naps. When Nelson wakes up, he panics and accidentally runs into a woman, knocking her over and drawing an angry crowd. Mr. Head betrays him by denying that he knows him, and they walk on, lost, for a long time. They encounter a fake black person, a lawn decoration, and are brought together by their confusion about it. Nelson forgives his grandfather and they return to the country on the train.
In "Good Country People," Manley Pointer arrives at the Hopewell home, pretending to be a Bible salesman. He succeeds in wooing Hulga, who has a wooden leg that defines her personality, and she considers him to be stupid and charming. However, after convincing her to remove the wooden leg, he abandons her in a hayloft.
"The Enduring Chill" begins as Asbury Porter Fox arrives home from school on the train. He has come, he believes, to die, because he has been increasingly ill recently. He resents his mother and his sister, Mary George, and does not believe that the local doctor can be of any help. After failed visits from Father Finn and Morgan and Randall, two black farmhands with whom Asbury believes he can rekindle a bond, it is revealed that he is not in fact dying, but will suffer from undulating fever for the rest of his life.
"Everything That Rises Must Converge" takes place over the course of less than an hour, as Julian accompanies his mother on the bus ride to a reducing class at the Y. She wants him to take her because she is afraid of the black people who are now allowed to ride on the integrated bus system. When a black woman and her son board the bus, Julian's mother is ingratiatingly kind to the little boy, clearly offending his mother. They all get off at the same stop, and when Julian's mother offers a coin to the little boy, his mother hits her and knocks her to the sidewalk. Julian begins to scold his mother, but then realizes that she has had a stroke.
In "The Lame Shall Enter First," Sheppard, who believes himself to be Christ-like in his selflessness, tries to help Rufus, a boy from the reformatory with a club foot, by taking him into his home. In the process, however, he neglects his own son, Norton. Rufus teaches Norton about the Bible and that his dead mother is in heaven; this upsets Sheppard, who is an atheist. When Rufus is caught breaking into houses and destroying the property, Sheppard decides to love his own son more, but it is too late: Norton has committed suicide in an attempt to see his mother again in heaven.
Most of "Revelation" takes place in the waiting room of a doctor's office, where Mrs. Turpin and her husband, Claud, have come to treat Claud's ulcer. Mrs. Turpin judges the other people waiting based on their social class. Mary Grace, an ugly young woman who attends Wellesley College and who has been scowling throughout the interactions, throws her book at Mrs. Turpin and then attacks her physically. As she is being taken to the hospital, she says to Mrs. Turpin, "Go back to hell, you old wart hog." Later, while Mrs. Turpin is spraying down the hogs she and Claud own, she relates to them and realizes that what the girl accused her of is true.