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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor
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In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor, does the writer make any unusual creative use of word choice, word order, or sentence structure? Is the story’s tone intimate? distant? ironic? How does the tone advance the writer’s purpose? Does the style emphasize the sound and rhythm of language? For example, does the writer use alliteration and assonance? repetition and parallelism? What do such techniques add to the story? Does the story make any historical, literary, or biblical allusions? What do these allusions contribute to the story?

The narrative tone is intimate, focused on the grandmother's minute-by-minute responses to the family's vacation. The style uses literary devices such as simile to make the scenes come alive. Dialogue lends both a realistic and comic note to the story. O'Connor uses allusion, such as to Christ's descent into hell and a popular television show of the time, to put common people in uncommon situations. There are two shifts in tone: from comic to horror-filled tragedy and then back again to redemption and grace.

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The tone of the story is intimate, focused particularly on the the responses, minute by minute, of the grandmother to the family's vacation.

While beginning with a comic style (to hear how audiences who had never heard the story initially responded, you could listen to a recording of O'Connor reading...

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The tone of the story is intimate, focused particularly on the the responses, minute by minute, of the grandmother to the family's vacation.

While beginning with a comic style (to hear how audiences who had never heard the story initially responded, you could listen to a recording of O'Connor reading it aloud), O'Connor uses literary devices such as simile to make her scenes come alive. For example, she describes the mother as follows, saying her

face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears.

O'Connor uses dialogue to lend both a realistic and a comic note to the story. The dialogue of John Wesley, when he says he'd smack The Misfit's face, foreshadows how, on a much more serious scale, The Misfit himself deals with conflict (i.e., through violence).

June's dialogue is punctuated with slang, such as when she says of her grandmother,

She wouldn't stay at home for a million bucks.

June also alludes to a popular television show in which an ordinary housewife is made to feel special (like a queen) when she says the grandmother wouldn't miss the family vacation even to be queen for a day.

The grandmother and Red Sammy allude to the United States's policy of giving large amounts of money to rebuild European nations after World War II when they complain of foreign spending as ruining the country.

These allusions show the family to be ordinary, parochial, and unsophisticated middle-class Americans.

One of the most startling turns O'Connor makes in this story is to take a comic, light-hearted family vacation tale and suddenly turn it into a grotesque horror story. She underscores this with imagery, such as the grandmother being in a ditch with The Misfit, that alludes to the Christ story—in this case, the descent into hell. O'Connor's genius, however, is her ability the meld the horror genre with a story of redemption and grace.

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The tone of the story is both distant and ironic. One of the most interesting choices that O'Connor makes is to call the grandmother "the grandmother" rather than by her name. This puts the story at a distance, as if it is a fairy tale or parable.

Irony plays a major role in the story. The grandmother is so paranoid about something dangerous or bad happening that the reader and the other members of the family simply disregard her comments or thoughts about dying. This is ironic because the grandmother's original prediction about running into the Misfit actually comes true. This is ironic because the reader and the family have other expectations. It seems more likely that the grandmother is going to be taught a lesson about manipulating and worrying, when actually her worrying proves to be legitimate. Further irony ensues when the Misfit threatens them because the grandmother recognizes him. Her worrying places them in more danger rather than saves them.

In description of the grandmother, O'Connor uses subtle alliteration: "collars and cuffs," "pinned a purple," "straw sailor," and so on. This use of alliteration emphasizes the grandmother's propriety and desire to look elegant.

The grandmother makes an allusion to an old novel, Gone With the Wind, when she jokes with the kids. This lighthearted comment about a very dark story gives the reader a clearer picture of the grandmother's way of thinking. This and the grandmother's unkind descriptions of African Americans show her racist tendencies. The allusion also connects the story to the world of the reader. If the reader is familiar with Gone With the Wind, they will have an easier time feeling like they understand the grandmother.

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One element of style used is the simile.  A simile is an indirect comparison that brings an image to the reader’s mind, such as grandmother’s “big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus.”  Another element is very specific details, such as the fact that “they left Atlanta at eight forty-five with the mileage on the car at 55890.”  In each case, these elements add a note of realism to the story by making it very descriptive. 

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