Flannery O’Connor shows her readers a realistic look at their own mortality in “A Good Man is Hard to Find. ” The story is about a family of five, a father, mother, grandmother, and two children, starting out on a vacation to Florida from Georgia. The family, on their way to a routine vacation, takes a detour that will change their lives forever. Through the use of literary elements like symbolism and characterization, O’Connor creates a theme of good vs. evil, which can be felt throughout the story by tapping into the audience’s emotions. How does one characterize good and evil?
Throughout time, people have asked this question and only received opinions based on references from religious works, such as The Holy Bible. “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matthew 12:34). In other words, a good man does good things, and an evil man does evil things. Using characterization, O’Connor personifies the grandmother as good and The Misfit as evil. Although there are grey areas, readers are able to discern which character is which.
The grandmother is characterized as a good person and a lady that does the right thing according to the standards of her time. She seems to treat goodness mostly as a function of being decent, having good manners, and coming from a family of “good blood” (O’Connor 454). Before leaving for vacation, the grandmother donned her finest apparel, so she would look like a lady, or, in her eyes, a good person (O’Connor 446). The grandmother’s portrayal of good makes her flawed, just like every other human being, which draws in the reader by making the character relatable.
Everyone has their own flaws. The Misfit is used as a foil character to the grandmother, helping to disclose “by contrast [her] distinctive qualifications” (“Character” 127). By characterizing The Misfit as a murdering convict seeking pleasure through others pain, O’Connor’s reaches her audience by instilling fear in them. The events happening in the story can really happen, and this allows open-minded readers to put themselves in the story line and feel what O’Connor makes the characters feel.
A great example of creating fear and sympathy in the audience is when O’Connor writes, “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 454). In this line, readers feel hearts almost break in sympathy for the grandmother as if they have lost their own son, but soon fear creeps up because everyone has been murdered except the grandmother, leaving her alone with evil.
Through characterization, O’Connor creates an emotional and relatable connection between the story and the readers, which is a great element that defines good writers from great writers. Reading is just a way for people to escape the everyday redundancies of life, even if it is met with fear and sympathy. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” symbolism is used to foreshadow the actions and portray the actual character of The Misfit. Symbolism is using “a person, object, or event that suggests more than its literal meaning” (“Symbolism” 270).
O’Connor uses objects that are not menacing in everyday use and describes them in such graphic detail that it intensifies the terror to come in the story (Kahane). After the family had wrecked, a car comes into view, passes by them, comes back around moving slower than before, and stops (O’Connor 450). The car is described as “a big black battered hearse-like automobile,” and the driver is illustrated as “an older man” with graying hair around a “long creased face” wearing “blue jeans that were too tight for him” with no shirt (O’Connor 450).
The description of the car and driver portrays darkness and invokes fear. The driver, known as The Misfit, does not like kids or Jesus, and disagrees with the grandmother when she calls him a “good man” (O’Connor 451-54). “The Grandmother’s encounter with the Misfit tests her religious beliefs, and in so doing, unfolds the mystery of good and evil” (Desmond). O’Connor’s use of characterization and symbolism opens her story world up to her readers, stirring up their own emotions, and not only allowing them to see theme of good vs. evil, but feel the difference between them, as well.
No human is perfect, but most good people have decent morals and a conscience while evil people have no guilt or conscience; just like the grandmother and The Misfit. Contrary to what the grandmother thinks, being good or evil is not determined by how one is raised or what kind of family one comes from, but by the choices and actions that one makes. Being able to relate to her characters and feel what they feel is how O’Connor draws in her audience and creates a tragically wonderful story that is a must read for everyone. Works Cited “Character. ” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed.
Michael Meyer. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford, 2008. 123-43. Print Desmond, John. “Flannery O’Connor’s misfit and the mystery of evil. ” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 56. 2 (2004). Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <http://ezproxy. sccsc. edu:2084/ps/retrieve. do? sgHitCountType=None&sort=RELEVANCE&inPS=true&prodId=LitRC&userGroupName=spartechcl&tabID=T001&searchId=R5&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=BasicSearchForm¤tPosition=2&contentSet=GALE%7CA112542876&&docId=GALE|A112542876&docType=GALE&role=LitRC> Kahane, Claire. “Flannery O’Connor’s Range of Vision.
” Flannery O’Connor, Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers (1985): 123-24. Blooms Literary Reference Online. Facts On File. Web. 5 Nov 2012. <http://www. fofweb. com/activelink2. asp? ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= BMSSFO14&SingleRecord=True. > O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find. ” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford, 2008. 445-55. Print “Symbolism. ” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford, 2008. 270-71. Print The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments in the King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984. Print.