In literature, forests have a bad reputation. Little Red Riding Hood gets tricked by a wolf in a forest. Dante starts his descent into hell wandering around in a forest. The Forbidden Forest near Hogwarts gives Harry Potter almost nothing but trouble. Forests are full of creepy fungi, jagged rock, twisted branches, and deceptive little critters. To read almost any book is to understand how purely evil forests are. This is also the case in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” where the forest is where all except the grandmother is taken to get shot. It seems like only good thing to have come out of forests is the Black Forest Cake, when you first start reading. Symbolism and irony are two literary devices that are used commonly throughout the story.
We know that the family begins in Atlanta and that they travel a few hours south to the town of Toombsboro. Here, the grandmother persuaded her son to take a detour onto a dirt road. After continuing on this road they run off the road and land in a ditch. The ditch is nearly ten feet below the road and lies between the road and a ‘tall and dark and deep’ forest. There is forest on the other side of the road too, so the forest ‘looms’ over the scene on both sides. This part of the story is like a staged play: the site of the action doesn’t move, the ditch is “the stage”, and the forest is ‘backstage,’ where characters are taken. We only learn what is happening from the noises we hear, which are usually screams or gunshots.
As for the time, the era of the story is never explicitly defined, but given the cars and the mention of Gone With the Wind (published as a book in 1936 and released as a movie in 1939), we can guess it’s the 1940’s or later. Since there is no mention of a war going on, and the grandmother says that ‘the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money’ (44), it is almost certainly after WWII. Since O’Connor wrote this story in 1953, I think we can place it in the late 40’s or early 50’s. We know that the family leaves their home in the morning, and that they leave Red Sammy in the ‘hot afternoon”. We do not actually know how late it is when they land in the ditch. The grandmother says it is a beautiful day, but we know from The Misfit that the sun is nowhere to be seen.
The story is told in the third person and it centers singularly on the grandmother. She is the character we are told the most about, by far. She is also the only character whose point of view we can access directly. We get to hear her thoughts and feelings, although we never get too much detail. We are usually given a direct, short summary that leaves a lot of room for imagination on the part of the reader. That there is room for interpretation with regard to the grandmother’s inner thoughts continues to be a subject of debate. The only other character who is given comparable attention is The Misfit. We only learn about him through the grandmother’s perspective. After the grandmother is killed, though, there is a brief switch to The Misfit’s perspective, although we do not get any further into his head.
You know, if we were wicked killers running from the police we would not choose to drive in a “big, black, battered hearse-like automobile.” (70). Nothing symbolizes menacing death like hearse. Although, this is the kind of automobile Misfit & Co. chose to ride around Georgia in. One that looks as if it should be carrying a coffin to a funeral. It is excellent imagery for the story, but quite dumb if you are trying to stay incognito in real life.