Considering the elements of setting (place and time period), the general environment of the characters such as (religious, mental, moral, etc.) and that a writer often uses setting to exert a subtle influence on the reader's perceptions and to create an atmosphere or a mood, what details does O'Connor provide with her setting that contribute to the reader's understanding of character, mood and atmosphere in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?
Placing her narratives in the "Christ-haunted South" that has already had "its fall," O'Connor employs the elements of Southern Gothic to create atmosphere and mood and moral ambiguity. Certainly, the mention of the environment through which the family drives. For instance, as the family drives through the state,
They passed a large cotton field with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it...."That was the old family burying ground. That belonged to the plantation."
Later, after the grandmother has napped, she recalls an old plantation that she had visited in the area they are driving. Wishing to visit this place, she fabricated a tale of secret panels and silver being hidden when Sherman came through during the Civil War.
This mention of plantations and graveyards and the "hearse-like " automobile acts as foreshadowing for the destruction of the grandmother's family, In a similar fashion, the grandmother's foolish pretentions and religious sanctimony foreshadow her crisis of faith in her confrontation with The Misfit.
Additionally, there is an element of magical realism in the Southern Gothic story of O'Connor. Professor Matthew Strecher explains magical realism as
what happens when a highly detailed setting [that] is invaded by something too strange to believe.
Indeed, the arrival of The Misfit, a man older than the two others with him who has
...hair beginning to gray and he wore silver-rimmed spectacle that gave him a scholarly look. He had a long creased face and didn't have on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that were too tight for him and was holding a black hat and a gun.
casts sinster mystery and a pall over the scene. Of course, the abandoned road adds to the danger of the scene; the further action is "too strange to believe."
The first character to take note of is the grandmother--her attitude along with the way others treat her (including her young grandchildren) make her out to be an untrustworthy person. She sets the first tone for this text. However, as our story continues, the reader realizes that Flannery O'Connor is creating a story that has a gothic element to it--however, this gothic element has a distinctly Southern twist to it. She focuses on very odd characters (like the couple that run the restaurant) and even more odd events (the cat escaping and clawing at the father). Also take into consideration descriptions of their surroundings--"They passed a large cotton field with five or fix graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island". O'Connor's details listed above are dark and forboding ones.