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“A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a story by Flannery O'Connor, depicts the gruesome slaying of an all-too-normal southern family by three fugitives. The story is told in the third person and focuses on the Grandmother in particular. O'Connor employs a variety of narrative techniques, such as characterization, tone, and plot formation, to draw the audience's attention and describe the circumstances that contribute to the dramatic ending of the novel.
O'Connor's use of words and deeds reveals the mood of this short story. Going through the short story, a majority of the audience will be struck by the apparent cynicism and humor in the narrative. In the entire story, particularly the first section up until the car accident, the author uses humorous descriptions and situations, for instance, “… a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage… was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears” (O’Connor 32). In addition, the author approaches her characters with a sense of objectivity. O’Connor’s narrative voice does not stir up sympathy from her audience as she seems more focused on exposing her characters superficialities, thereby making the readers ridicule them. In certain occasions, she accomplishes her objective by being disarmingly upfront as with most of the Grandmother’s influences.
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, “There was a secret panel in this house,” she said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were…” (O’Connor 39)
More salient, however, is the manner in which the narrator portrays the fictional characters in “A good man is hard to find” as caricatures, as though they were ludicrous, thereby creating a grotesque effect. For example, the storyteller says, "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 break” (O’Connor 50). In this excerpt, for instance, Bailey and his family had just been murdered and the Grandmother is in a moment of despair, however, the writer’s choice of words creates humor in the whole situation, as opposed to stirring up sympathy in the audience. Overall, “A good man is hard to find” is presented in a humorous tone in the beginning as the audience is oblivious of the tragic climax of the story. The tone, however, changes drastically to startling, thereby highlighting the change in the setting and course of the story, making it more effective.
The characters in O’Connor’s short story play a significant role in highlighting the diverse nature of individuals as far as style is concerned. As much as the story has many supporting characters, the protagonist is the Grandmother. The author represents the Grandmother as a laughable caricature that the audience can mistakenly consider inferior. She is egoistic and insistent and her manipulations result in the destruction of the entire family (O’Connor 50). O’Connor portrays her as a lifelike character, her behavior is constant and her actions arise primarily from intrinsic motives. The Grandmother’s religious epiphany as the narrative climaxes underpins the philosophical drive behind the story. The Grandmother’s sentiment, “You’re one of my own children” symbolizes her instance of grace (O’Connor 51).
On the other hand, the Misfit can be considered the main antagonist in the fiction. His character differs from the Grandmother’s on various viewpoints. For instance, he is an unprecedented character. While the Grandmother is more predictable, the Misfit is rather mysterious. In his conversation with the Grandmother, “He thown everything off balance. If He did what He said,… thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't,… enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can…” the writer illustrates a perception of a universe that is out-of-balance, just as the climax of the narrative is not in line with the humorous tone (O’Connor 50). The remark, "She would of been a good woman ... if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” elucidates that that Grandmother’s grace required an extreme situation (O’Connor 51). Therefore, the interaction between the Misfit and the Grandmother marks the main theme of religion and grace.
Bailey is a flat character whose importance in the narrative is in his relationship with the rest of the characters. He intensifies Grandmother’s manipulative character. In addition, June Star serves to enhance the humorous tone in the story, through her rude, self-centered and annoying sentiments. The other supporting characters, John Wesley, Red Sammy and the mother serve to highlight the manipulative and egoistic nature of Grandmother.
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O’Connor uses the elements of a plot to explain the different twists in the story thereby, minimizing the story’s level of predictability. The exposition begins when the southern family goes for a vacation, even though, Misfit, a convict, is on the loose. The writer introduces us to the main characters and the central external conflicts in the story (O’Connor 31). The rising action in the story is when the family is involved in a car accident and is waiting for help. The fact that the Grandmother remembers that the plantation is in fact in Tennessee and not Georgia, makes the audience suspect that something is amiss. The arrival of Misfit at the scene establishes the central conflict and complication in the story (O’Connor 43). It is at this point that tension begins to escalate in the story.
Tension increases and suspense builds up as we see the emotional breakdown of the family. The criminals drag Bailey, his wife and their children to the woods and presumably shoot them. The Grandmother is left pleading for her life. The Grandmother’s moment of grace marks the climax of the narrative. She believes the Misfit will spare her life and calls him, “One of my babies!” However, suspense builds up when the Misfit springs “back as if a snake had bitten him" and brutally murders the Grandmother (O’Connor 51). The falling action in the story is after the demise of the entire southern family. Misfit says, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life" (O’Connor 51). Finally, the resolution is when Misfit comes to a moment of realization and recounts that there “is no pleasure in life.”
Conclusively, the author has employed a humorous and cynic tone, characterization and plot development to keep the story interesting and reduce the predictability of the horrific climax of the story.
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O'Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Edited by Frederick Asals, Rutgers UP, 1993.
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