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


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


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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