During his short literary career, Flannery O’Connor managed to draw the attention of many influential literature experts and critiques and win the hearts of millions of people. Her status as a devout Catholic woman resident in the mostly protestant South and the times of World War II and the Cold War laid a notable imprint on her literary style, intentions, and techniques. Among her numerous works, A Good Man Is Hard to Find is the most famous masterpiece with an ambiguous plot rising everlasting themes of violence, hypocrisy, selfishness, and falsehood. Thus, this paper aims at providing an in-depth analysis of the work A Good Man Is Hard to Find, highlighting its uniqueness and literary elements used by the author.
Mary Flannery O’Connor was born on March 25, 1925, in Savannah, Georgia, and was the only child of Irish descent. In 1945, O’Connor graduated from Georgia State College for Women, majored in English and Sociology. It is worth noting that in the college, the gifted girl edited the student magazine Corinthian and drew many cartoons, for which she even received recognition among students and teachers (Gordon). The following year, Flannery was admitted to the prestigious Iowa Authors Seminar at the State University of Iowa, where she initially enrolled to study journalism. There, the future authoress attended lectures by several respected authors and critics, including Robert P. Warren, John C. Ransome, and Andrew Lytle (Gordon). After the diagnosis of hereditary lupus, Mary returned to the family farm in Milledgeville, where she lived for the remaining 14 years.
Despite her secluded life, O’Connor’s prose demonstrates an accurate grasp of the nuances and twists of human behavior. In particular, O’Connor entered American literature as one of the brightest and most profound masters of the “Southern Gothic,” inheriting the features of the American romantic tradition (Gordon). Her the most praised short story collections were A Good Man Is Hard to Find, The Violent Bear It Away, and Everything That Rises Must Converge. Posthumously, Flannery O’Connor has a reputation as a “small classic” of 20th century American literature, a master of chased prose, and sometimes, she is ranked with such figures as William Faulkner and Harper Lee.
The Significance of the Story
One of O’Connor’s best literary works, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, was first published in 1953, after the writer moved to Andalusia, to her mother’s dairy farm, permanently. In brief, the story portrays the disruption of a typical family by three fugitive convicts. The thematic climax of the story includes the offer of mercy and the acceptance by the Grandma of this gift as a result of an epiphany that she experiences shortly before her death. However, the events that lead to the culmination spark avid interest in the story.
The story represents the author’s forthright and rather pessimistic view on the upshot of life. In addition, like in her previous works, O’Connor displays her in-depth Christian insight, emphasizing the place of religious concepts in a people’s life and concerning the eternal questions of good and evil. Nevertheless, in this story, the authoress slightly thickens the colors to show the possibility of divine grace’s action through the prism of violence. Moreover, O’Connor’s attitudes towards the personages in this story reinforces the reader’s view on man as a fallen being that needs suffering, sometimes terrible, to be enlightened and happy eventually.
Herewith, O’Connor notes that a traumatic experience does not always lead to changes in a particular individual’s thinking and behavior. This message is clearly disclosed when after the Misfit shoots Grandma, he claims, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor 13). In this regard, Fassler specifies that the author attempts to convey the idea of sinful human nature and that the experiences people undergo at times may not take root in their minds. Additionally, the masterful use of local coloring and dialect assists O’Connor in developing the plot and depiction of the main characters, as well as extract the truth about life.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find comprises many sensitive themes, including violence and grace, family relationships and conflicts, genuine good and goodness, moral decay and hypocrisy, and the significance of death. For instance, the matter of grace is revealed in the course of the plot unfolding, implying that God presents His favor to all people, regardless of their sins and moral purity. However, the remedies by which God directs His creation can be both pleasant and painful and depend on the spiritual state of a particular person. At the end of the story, God’s grace visits both the grandmother and the merciless, sadistic killer. The former realizes that all human beings are equal, while the latter declares that killing people is “no real pleasure in life” (O’Connor 13). In this context, Harris (5) indicates the importance of death is critical for all Christians, particularly in the story, since its presence makes the grandmother change her outlook. Besides, it is worth noting that strained and complicated relationships between family members become the primary cause of the tragic finale.
The first literary method used in A Good Man Is Hard to Find is foreshadowing, through which the O’Connor gives various hints of events that occur in the story afterward. In particular, the opening paragraph narrates an escaped criminal, “The Misfit,” who was seen in the region, namely, in Florida, where the family plans to take a vacation. Besides, in her annoying and relentless effort to convince the family to move to Tennessee rather than Florida, Grandma mentions the news of a fugitive slayer to frighten Bailey and make him change his decision. Although Bailey, her son, does not reply to her, thereby demonstrating a full disrespect for her, this episode is an ironic omen of the story’s end. Moreover, the town of Toomsboro, in Georgia, graveyard, and Grandma’s dressing as though she was in a funeral, also function as a foreshadowing of the family’s doom effectively.
The second literary technique implicitly applied in the story is humor, especially concerning characters. Specifically, the grandmother’s self-complacency, her attempts at manipulation, and nostalgia about childhood and youth seem to be hilarious. Her estimation about herself as an excellent person, although, actually, she is sorely selfish, disingenuous, judgmental, looks ridiculous. Besides, the grandmother’s baseless subjective worries like when she secretly brings because she is “afraid he might brush against one of the gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself” impart her character also some comic (O’Connor 2). Ironically, the cat becomes the culprit of the car accident resulting in the death of the family, and, contrary to the grandmother’s belief of cat’s significance, it befriends Misfit. Furthermore, only the cat survives while the whole family dies. Lastly, instantly after the auto drives past “an old family burying ground,” the Grandma indicates the five or six graves in it, which is the number amounting to the car’s passengers (O’Connor 4).
The story also contains many metaphors and symbols used by O’Connor to add meaning to the plot. For example, the grandmother’s hat represents her desire to be esteemed by the surrounding people as a lady, despite her disingenuous moral attitudes toward others. When the real accident happens, the hat’s brim is torn to shreds, like her judgmental and smug moral code. Secondly, the name of Red Sammy’s barbecue restaurant, “The Tower,” where the family stops to have lunch, can symbolize the Tower tarot card implying unforeseeable accident, danger, or crisis. Finally, Red Sammy can allude to Jesus Christ when he warns the family about the Misfit being in the area, hinting that the Misfits might rob gasoline.
In summary, the paper has given an in-depth analysis of the work A Good Man Is Hard to Find Flannery O’Connor, highlighting its uniqueness and literary techniques used by the author. The main themes include violence and grace, the idea of genuine good and goodness, family relationships, moral decay and hypocrisy, and the significance of death. The main focus of O’Connor’s attention is placed on showing that human is fallen being needing sometimes painful remedy to be enlightened and happy ultimately. Foreshadowing, humor, and metaphors, such as the grandmother’s hat, her self-complacency, the name “The Tower,” and graveyard, are among the central literary techniques used by the writer in the story.
Fassler, Joe. “What Flannery O’Connor Got Right: Epiphanies Aren’t Permanent.” The Atlantic, 2013. Web.
Gordon, Sarah. “Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964).” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2019. Web.
Harris, Abbie C.’ “Jesus Thrown Everything Off Balance”: Grace and Redemption in Flannery O’Connor’s” A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Papers & Publications: Interdisciplinary Journal of Undergraduate Research, vol. 3, 2014, Article 5.
O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man is Hard to Find. Gothic Digital Library. Web.