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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Good Man

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In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good


Man is Hard to Find,” the gruesome ending


comes as quite a shock. But, upon a second


read, signs of an ominous end permeate the


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work. Hints of the family’s tragic finale exist


throughout the plot until the time of the first


murder. The story contains pervasive images


of death and to foreshadow the ultimate


demise of the nameless family at the hands of


the malicious Misfit and his henchmen.


Before the story begins, O’Connor provides


the reader with an epigraph. It quotes, “The


Dragon is by the side of the road, watching


those who pass. Beware lest he devour you.


We go to the father of souls, but it is


necessary to pass by the dragon.” (St. Cyril of


Jerusalem). These few sentences provide the


reader with an overview of the story’s events.


This quote about the “dragon” relates to the


story in that the anonymous ordinary family


sets out on a road trip to Florida, and the


passengers are consequently “devoured” by


the Misfit and his accomplices. (Orvell 10).


The Misfit exemplifies the dragon with his


redneck appearance and scholarly


spectacles. He finds the family on the side of


the road, just as the quote states, “The dragon


is by the side of the road...” He then almost


literally “devours” them, and eventually


delivers the grandmother to “the father of


souls.”


The grandmother embodies in her character


many foreshadowing elements in “A Good


Man is Hard to Find.” The story begins with


the typical nuclear family setting out on a


journey. Immediately the grandmother, who


does not wish to travel to Florida, issues her


first challenge to their plans. The entire family


ignores her except for the little girl, June Star,


who easily reads the grandmother like an


open book. She notifies Bailey, her son, about


the Misfit and his crimes and in so doing , she


foreshadows coming events. From the


beginning of the story, the grandmother


makes many attempts to change the family’s


plans. Suggesting the family go to


Tennessee to visit relatives instead of Florida


for vacationing represents but her first


alteration. Her suggestions come supported


however, as she adds, “Here this fellow calls


himself the Misfit is a loose from the Federal


Pen and headed toward Florida...” giving the


reader the first clue the family will meet their


doom before the end of the story


(Baumgaerther 4). Overlooking the


grandmother’s warning, the family decides to


pursue their trip as planned. When the day


arrives for the family to depart on their road


trip, instead of arguing, the grandmother


climbs in the car before anyone else, just as


June Star predicts. “She wouldn’t stay at


home for a million bucks,” June Star said.


“Afraid she’d miss something. She has to go


everywhere we go.” (O’Connor ). She


dresses in a manner so that if anyone finds


her dead on the highway, they shall


characterize her as a lady. She wore a navy


blue sailor hat with white violets on the brim,


to match her navy blue dress covered with tiny


white polka-dots. Her white organdy, lacy


collars and cuffs completed the outfit.


O’Connor added this information in order to


represent the grandmother preparing for


death (Driskell 6). According to Orvell,


“The graciousness of the grandmother is


humorously described, but should be taken


quite seriously. The description O’Connor


gives of the grandmother’s outfit with her


collar and cuffs, and lace and violet gives her


a ‘southern geniality’ that is indeed ‘dressed


to kill’” (Orvell 11).


But although she agrees to follow through with


the excursion, she refuses to go with out her


cat Pitty Sing. Afraid that the cat will


accidentally asphyxiate himself on the gas


stove if left behind, she secretly stows Pitty


Sing in her basket. This scenario,


foreshadowing death, gives the reader an


insight into the events to come (Baumgaertner


5-6).


Foreshadowing continues later on the trip as


a sequence of events transpires that


hints of the family’s impending doom. After


driving down the road a while, the family


passes a cotton field with five or six graves


right in the middle of it. Coincidentally, five or


six family members sit in the car the


grandmother, Bailey, the mother, the baby,


June Starr, and John Wesley (Baumgaerther


4). Then, the family stops to eat at a


restaurant named The Tower, run by a couple


named the Butts. Mrs. Butts confesses her


fear of the Misfit robbing her cash drawer


while her husband Red Sammy talks about


lending credit to two men in an old but decent


car. These two symbolic occurrences serve


as indications of the Misfit’s location (Driskell


68). After eating at Red Sammy’s, they


continue their journey to Florida. The


grandmother drifts in and out of “cat-naps,”


but awakens quickly when the family reaches


the town of Toombsboro. When analyzed, the


word “tomb” pulled out of the town’s name,


foreshadows how the family will meet their


end. While passing through the town, the


grandmother remembers a house from her


past that she would enjoy visiting again.


When the family resists, she gives the house


an element of excitement, telling the children


about a secret hiding place where the family


stored their silver. Her exaggerations cause


the children to become intrigued in the house


as well (Driskell 6).


O’Connor continues to throw hints of the


family’s fate in front of the reader after Pitty


Sing causes Bailey to flip the car. As they


gather themselves back together after the


accident, instead of being frightened, the


children begin to joke and play about their


situation. They voice their disappointment that


“no one was killed.” Instead of using the word


“died,” O’Connor uses the word “killed.”


Furthermore, while they wonder what to do


next, a “big black battered hearse-like


automobile” tops the hill coming towards


them, presenting the last clue before the


actual killings begin to occur (Jones 887).


The “hearse” foreshadows how the family will


be leaving the town, and carries the family’s


murderers as well.


When brought face to face with the men


planning to soon take the lives of everyone in


the family, aside from the cat, the conversation


between the grandmother and the Misfit


enormously effects the consequences soon to


be brought on the family. As the Misfit’s


accomplices escort the rest of the family to the


woods, the grandmother exclaims that the


Misfit should pray. She then makes clear the


importance of prayer. She tells him over and


over that if he would pray, Jesus would help


him. She keeps repeating herself telling the


Misfit that she knows he is a good man.


These short, desperate comments show the


grandmother’s realization of death. O’Connor


gives a role similar to that of Satan to the Misfit


(Drake 4). But while engaging in


conversation with the grandmother, this Misfit


portrays his own foreshadowing when the


grandmother asks him why he was sent to the


penitentiary for the first time. He speaks about


how he was put in jail for killing his father.


The problem he has with the situation lies that


he continues to deny that he committed the


crime. Even though the government holds


proof, he believes he did not do it, therefore,


he believes he was “buried alive.” He


describes the jail cell where he stayed,


explaining how everywhere he looked, there


was a wall. This description shows the


Misfit’s “vision of the world” from a different


point of view (Jones 887).


When the Misfit’s men come back from


murdering Bailey and the others, he brings the


Misfit Bailey’s shirt. When the grandmother


sees the shirt on the Misfit, she recognizes the


article of clothing as her son’s, and realizes


that the Misfit is also her child through God. In


order for her to act as a true Christian, she


must accept him and forgive him (Brown 1).


She looks at him and exclaims, “Why you’re


one of my babies. You’re one of my own


children” (O’Connor 40). When questioned


about this statement, O’Connor explains it as


the grandmother’s moment of grace (Dowell


6). The Misfit replies to her outburst by


shooting her three times in the chest, bringing


the long awaited tragedy, the death of the


grandmother, to a reality.


Flannery O’Connor uses strong imagery and


symbolism to foreshadow the tragic events


that occur at the end of “A Good Man is Hard to


Find.” She first gives her readers a taste of


the ending by informing them of the evil ways


of the mass murderer, the Misfit. She then


proceeds to foreshadow many upcoming


events through an epigraph, characterization,


attention to details, sequence of events, and


dialogue. But although informative in her


writing, O’Connor remains careful not to give


away the surprise ending too soon. On


examination of the story’s details, readers can


easily ascertain the ubiquitous sign posting of


the tragic denouement of the nameless family.





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