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Flannery O’Conner’s, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is saturated with a multitude of literary techniques such as irony, symbolism, characterization and foreshadowing. The story begins with a family going to take a typical summer vacation and ends with all of them being murdered. This is an unexpected plot twist. The family members in the story are all unlikeable but also humorous in how odd they are. O’Conner allows the reader to see the characters for how they really are by only describing their thoughts and actions while withholding bias.
The actions of the grandmother in the beginning of the story are entertaining as they depict how self-centered and blind she is. When she is moments from death, she reaches out to her killer, granting him forgiveness and grace. The grandmother realizes that the deranged killer’s dark soul is similar to her own. She may have not committed awful crimes but she is a sinner and just as selfish.
The grandmother exclaims to The Misfit, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children” (A-99) when she experiences a moment of clarity and feels compassion towards him. The Misfit is not her literal child but this is how the grandmother expresses that she views them both as human beings of value. Although her comments seemed insane and not fitting given the circumstances, this is actually when the grandmother is most lucid. She was granted grace for this realization and the Misfit was open to receiving grace at that moment as well.
The Mistfit previously claimed that there was “no pleasure but meanness” (A-99) in life but in the end of the story he denied there is any pleasure in life at all. He seemed to be changing as killing was no longer bringing him pleasure. A flawed level of perception, confronting reality and receiving grace become the themes in Flannery O’Conner’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in which it took impending death for a character to have clarity about life.
Dramatic irony, situational irony and verbal irony were used in the short story to contradict ideas and expose a truth that is much different compared to what seems to be true. The grandmother views herself as a righteous southern lady but to the reader, her thoughts and actions reveal her as a terrible person. She is quick to lie, use racist terminology, complain excessively, judge others and over focus on herself and her appearance. She is very concerned with her outward appearance by dressing up nicely so that, “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once she was a lady.” (A-85) The irony is that she really does end up dead, not far from the highway but in moments before her death she realizes that her definition of being a lady has been flawed and cannot be defined by her appearance. The grandmother prides herself in being a trustworthy Christian woman but she contradicts her faith with statements such as, “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you can trust.” (A-89) Ironically, she trusts the Misfit to come to her aid after the accident when she flagged down his black car. The grandmother glorifies the past and feels nostalgia for the way things used to be and this resulted in the demise of the entire family when they were driving to the “old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady.” (A-91) Prior to her realization that the plantation was actually in Tennessee and not in Georgia, she remembers ‘the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day’s journey.’ (A-91) She was envisioning the beautiful landscapes she believes they will soon find. Instead, they found death. The grandmother wrote down the mileage on the car at 55890 as she thought it would interesting to track how many miles they drove when they got back from the trip. The irony is the family would make a return trip, but in coffins. June Star exclaimed, “But nobody’s killed” (A-92) after the car accident on the highway. The irony is that although the accident did not kill them, they would all end up dead shortly thereafter. The evil character of the story, ‘The Misfit’, unintentionally causes the grandmother to see herself for who she really is, a flawed sinner. She reaches out to her deranged killer after her enlightenment in which she turns from her selfishness and becomes redeemed. When ‘The Misfit’ shoots her, she dies happy with a smile on her face as she knows she became a good woman before it was too late. The Misfit’s evil actions result in the grandmother’s redemption. Neither the grandmother nor The Misfit deserve grace but they both receive it.
The short story begins in the city of Atlanta, Georgia in the mid-twentieth century. The family is in the home discussing and preparing for a trip to Florida. The setting changes when the family travels southeast on a main highway and then they family takes an unpaved road in which the car flips over and lands in a ditch. The final scene takes place on the side of the road, after the accident. O’Conner’s descriptions reveal that the story occurs during the warmer months of the year. The structure of the plot and setting compares to three metaphor of life. In Atlanta, the family discusses and plans for the upcoming trip. This is like birth and childhood. When the family is traveling on a main highway to Florida, this compares to adulthood. When the family travels down an unpaved road, the car flips and the family is killed, this is like old age and death.
O’Conner sneaks words and passages into the story to provide the foreshadowing that leads to the tragic ending of the story. The grandmother foreshadows later events when she dresses for the trip in her nicest clothes so that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.” (A-85) After the grandmother recognizes The Misfit, he tells her, ‘Don’t see no sun but don’t see no cloud neither,’ (A-98) implying that their fates have not yet been determined. Following the murder of Bailey and John Wesley, the grandmother notices, ‘there was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun,’ and “there was nothing around her but woods”, (A-98) indicating that there is no longer hope. The author used foreshadowing when the grandmother spoke about a cemetery in a cotton field “with five or six graves”. (A-86) This gave the reader a hint that there were six people in the car that would need graves at the end of the story. The family stops at a restaurant named “The Tower” and this may remind the reader of the “Tower of Babylon” which is a symbol of man’s rejection of God. When the family left the restaurant and were approaching Toomsboro, they encountered a dusty dirt road, snaking this way and that as well as dark forest. All of these descriptions signify misfortune. A vehicle arrived at the accident scene and was described as a “big black battered hearse like auto.” (A-92) This gave the reader a clue about upcoming death and The Misfit, who is the killer was the one driving the vehicle.
This short story allows the reader to see the writer’s intent: grace can be given or received in the most unexpected ways. Using irony and foreshadowing, O’Conner is successful in her purpose of displaying evil-doing and violence as catalysts for finding grace in ordinary life. The grandmother’s story ended with a final act of grace and charity and although tragic, the story can leave the reader with hope.
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