Southern Gothic Style in ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’

Flannery O’Connor was an American novelist, short story writer, and a religious woman from Georgia. She was known to write in a Southern Gothic style, being filled with grotesque characters and violence. “Critics also noted her skills, as a tragic writer; her combination of tragedy and comedy; her emphasis on violence, catharsis, and salvation; her focus on death, irony, and violence; as well as her avoidance of Southern nostalgia” (Evans, pg. 55). During O’Connor’s career she published two books of short stories: “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in 1955, and in 1965 “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” According to the text, Flannery O’Connor states, “ “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” she explained, is grotesque the way a child’s drawing is. The child “doesn’t intend to distort but set down exactly what he sees”” (O’Connor, pg. 374). “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a short story developed around a theme of good verses evil. Flannery O’Connor uses situational irony to show the reader that the grandmother is not who she thinks she is and unfortunately faces the truth about herself and who she really is.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a short story that is told in the third person, however its main focus is on the grandmother. During the story we are able to hear and feel the thoughts of the grandmother. Besides the grandmother the only other person we are able to get feelings or thoughts from is the convict the Misfit. When can only learn about the Misfit through the grandmother viewpoint, until she is eventually killed and only then is the reader able to see the Misfit’s perspective.

Flannery O’Connor’s, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, illustrates a family and their confrontation with a band of corrupt, unlawful men that had escaped from prison. The family was on a planned trip to Florida for a family get away. The family consisted of the grandmother, Bailey (the grandmothers son and father), the grandson John Wesley, the granddaughter June Star, and their mother and baby. The family was aware of the escapee (the Misfit), however, the family was unbothered by the situation and planned to go onward with the family trip.

While on the journey to Florida the family makes an unneeded turn down a desolated and dangerous road, all because of a mistake made by the grandmother. Driving down the unsafe road, the family cat suddenly attacks the father driving, causes the family to have an accident. The family needed help. O’Connor writes, “Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if the occupants were watching them” (O’Connor, pg. 383). The family has unexpectedly ran into the band of get ways, and the Misfit.

The Misfit and his two companions take Bailey and his son deep into the woods where gun shots could be heard off in the distance. “Bailey Boy!” the grandmother cried out (O’Connor, 386). The situation then takes a dramatic turn. The grandmother begins speaking to the Misfit in order to have her life spared. She tries to convince the criminal that pray with help him on a path to righteousness. That only angers the man and has the remaining three family members taken into the woods, where death awaits them. The grandmother begs the Misfit to pray, only looking to save herself. The Misfit has had enough. When she reaches out for his arm he shoots her three times, having his partners dump her lifeless body into the woods with the rest of the family.

Flannery O’Connor created many symbols and motifs in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. According to Jennifer Bouchard, “The aptly named character of The Misfit serves  as a symbol both of evil as well as a symbol of  the villain’s inability to fit into society” (Bouchard, para. 5). The Misfit himself wasn’t the only other misfit throughout the short story, the family was also a bunch of misfits. The family was collectively extremely ungrateful and neglected all others feelings. The children are disrespectful, the mother is careless, and the grandmother’s only concern is herself and her happiness. They have no concern about life and what its actual meaning or purpose is.

The family vacation is also symbolic. The grandmother in the beginning of the story states several times that she wanted to go to up North to Tennessee, not down South to Florida. This is where Flannery O’Connor symbolism comes from her religious background. Going South to Florida seals the families fate not only in the real world but possibly in the afterlife as well. The family did no good on earth while they were here, so they possibly went down South after death. The Tower (Red Sam’s BBQ), a dinner where the family made a stop at, could also symbolize hell in their future as it mirrors a place of purgatory.

In O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” she also uses symbolism in the characters. The grandmother, the main character, symbolizes almost as Christ and the Antichrist. In the beginning of the story the grandmother warns her family about he prisoner and pleads them no to go on the journey to Florida, however, no one listens. The grandmother warns the family not because she is truly concerned about running into the convict but because she really does not want to travel to Florida, but Tennessee.

When on the road the family stops at a place called The Towers, Red Sam’s BBQ diner. The grandmother and her family are about to receive a warning they should have read into a bit deeper. Red Sam’s wife told the family, “Is isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you can trust, and I don’t count nobody out of that, not nobody” (O’Connor, pg. 379). In the end it was the grandmother who tried to “save” them but ended up leading them down the road to death. She went from being the savior in the family to the Antichrist and killing them all because of her selfishness.

Flannery O’Connor litters her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” with irony for the reader. The reader is able to notice this irony right in the beginning of the story. The grandmother in the beginning of the story states “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did” (O’Connor, pg. 374). As the reader continues the story, the grandmother takes her family down that deadly road and eventually leads them to their death.

O’Connor use of foreshadowing is one of the stories most used literary devices. The reader is able to notice the foreshadowing from things characters express to images painted in the short story. In the beginning of the story, the grandmother, who does not want to go on this trip, dresses in her Sundays best before her travels. O’Connor writes, “the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. He collar and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet” (O’Connor, pg. 376). The author is using strong foreshadowing imagery predicting that the grandmother is dressed for her own funeral.

“In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor, pg. 376). When the family is out on the drive to Florida, they just so happen to also pass a cotton field that contained five or six graves in the middle of it. This just so happens to be foreshadowing the families death as well, the same number of family members in that car. Red Sam’s wife warns the family to not trust anybody, and the grandmother states that she would never put her family in any danger. Ironically the family decided to take a trip down that deadly road in a town called Toombsboro, the towns name itself foreshadowing. When the family has the accident off the dirt road, the family notices a car approaching them. The car creeps up onto the family slowly, like a hearse, foreshadowing the actions to come. Everything that the family encounters on this trip creates a darkness.

Darkness is mentioned throughout the story. There is symbolism and imagery even in the weather during “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The sky is described to be cloudless and sunless. Not only does the Misfit mention this before he murders the entire family but it is also mentioned after the grandmother had been killed, “the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky” (O’Connor, pg. 390). The sky is described to be like an emptiness, mirroring the families situation. They are in the middle of nowhere with no help. The emptiness of the sky also mirrors the Misfit and his empty, hollow inside. However, when the author mentions that the grandmother looks into the cloudless empty sky it mentions that she is smiling. This use of imagery could propose that the grandmother had finally found her peace.

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the grandmother sees herself in a different light that what the reader is able to see. She sees her self as a honest, and proper southern lady. The reader sees a whole different person. The grandmother is not a proper southern lady by any means. The grandmother is not only passes judgment on everyone around her, but is also a liar, hypocrite, and extremely selfish person. The reader catches this when she sneaks her cat into the car for the family trip, lies to the children, and did not fess up that she had made huge mistake about going down the wrong road. Her biggest flaw in herself was that she believed that there was an absence of goodness in people in the world. She is all that is evil in the world. When the Misfit has his men murder her entire family, not once did she ask the killers to spare her child’s life, nor her grandchildren’s lives. However, being the selfish person that she is, she begged and pleaded that they spare her own life, because she was a lady. She tries to manipulate the Misfit by telling him that she knows he is a good man even after he killed every single person in his family. Unfortunately for her, he does not care. At this moment the grandmother finally realize all the wrong she has done in her life. She is impaired like everyone else.

Situational irony occurs when a development in a story is the opposite of what the reader expects. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” situational irony develops when the Misfit becomes the source of the grandmother finally seeing who she really is as a person. The reader is only able to see this for a brief second. The grandmother is able to let go of her selfishness and try to speak and reach out to the serial killer. When the grandmother is shot to death she dies with a smile on her face. O’Connor wants the reader to understand that the grandmother, even though she had done so much wrong in her life, was truly happy in the end knowing that she had become a better woman before she had past. She had become a better, understanding woman for a spilt second before she meets her fate.