Flannery O'Connor's short story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," is an example of Southern Gothic fiction. In fact, O'Connor is closely associated with this literary movement. Francis Russell Hart describes this genre as…
...fiction evocative of a sublime and picturesque landscape … depict(ing) a world in ruins...
These stories give the audience a chance to "vicariously experience horrifying realities." O'Connor's story is one of these.
A common aspect of the gothic story includes, among others, a "good versus evil polarity in the characters," which is seen in "A Good Man is Hard to Find," but…
...Southern Gothic fiction focuses largely on themes of terror, death, and social interaction.
Social interaction is first seen in the disrespectful behavior of the grandchildren toward their grandmother, for which the children are not corrected by their parents. When the grandmother suggests they not go to Florida on their trip because a depraved killer (the Misfit) is on the loose (foreshadowing), the grandson is belligerent. His name, John Wesley, is ironic in that this is the name of the man who is noted for founding the Methodist movement, but the boy is barely civil let alone Christ-like. The child's response is, "If you don't want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay home?" June star, his sister, is not much better. They further demonstrate their rudeness at Red Sammy's.
We see the aspect of social interaction again as John Wesley complains about the state of Georgia (their home state) and Tennessee. The grandmother stands up for the two places, but George Wesley considers Tennessee a "hillbilly dumping ground" and Georgia not much better. His father's mother says,
In my time…children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right then."
Ironically, contradicting everything she has just said, she sees a black child on the side of the road and makes a racial comment, which she thinks nothing of—but it shows that her idea of doing "right" is skewed:
Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!…Wouldn't that make a picture, now?
The occupants of the backseat turn and look; the child waves, and June Star notes he had no pants. The grandmother explains that "little n***rs in the country" don't have as much as they do. But without feeling sad about this, she declares that if she could paint she would paint a picture of it, as if this poverty was worth saving on canvas. She hasn't a clue.
The parents are oblivious, and perhaps they are as much to blame as the grandmother for what happens. When the children have a tantrum in wanting to go "the house with the secret panel," the dad gives in, saying...
This is the only time we are going to stop for anything like this.
This is quite true, and foreshadowing. They will never again stop for anything, for soon after the accident, a "black, battered hearse-like automobile" (this is more foreshadowing) heads toward them, with three men inside.
Another element of the Southern Gothic is terror; we feel it when the grandmother foolishly announces the one man's identity:
"You're the Misfit!" she said. "I recognized you at once!"
"Yes'm" the man said…, "but it would have been better for all of you, lady, you hadn't of reckernized me."
Death is inferred when the Misfit speaks of how they got new clothes after escaping from jail:
We borrowed these from some folks we met.
We can be sure they weren't borrowed, but that they are dead.
The term "gothic" often implies writing that is dark, bizarre, even grotesque. Often darkness is mixed with humor in gothic writing.
A mild example of the gothic occurs in the section of the story in which the family passes a small graveyard containing just enough graves to hold them all. This is an example of gothic foreshadowing, since it implies the eventual deaths of the characters.
Another example of the gothic occurs when the family have an accident and are plunged into a ditch that plainly resembles a grave.
Yet another example of the gothic involves the ways O'Connor uses the forest, after the accident, as a dark and threatening symbol of death.
The slow, steady executions of the family members, after the arrival of the Misfit, provide another example of O'Connor's gothic tendencies.
Finally, the Misfit himself is perhaps the most gothic element of all in this story. He is a calm, courteous, thoughtful symbol of the inevitability of death.