How does Flannery O'Connor mix humor with horror/disgust in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Through characterization Flannery O'Connor creates humor as she depicts comedic characters with regional dialects and ridiculous physical appearances.  For instance, Bailey's wife is described as having a face 

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

 O'Connor lightly ridicules some of her Southern characters, too, such as the little girl whose name is June Star and the man the grandmother should have married, Mr. Teagarden, whose initials were E.A.T. and the black boy read them on a watermelon mistaking them for directions.  The owner of Sammy's Famous Barbecue is, indeed, laughable with his monkey in the chinaberry tree and his khaki trousers that sit low on his hips with his stomach hanging over them "like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt."  O'Connor's depiction of his manner of speech is simply hilarious as he sits down at a table near the grandmother's family and emits "a combination sigh and yodel."  And, his regional dialect is also humorous:

"Yes'm, I suppose so," Red Sam said as if he were struck with this answer.

Certainly, O'Connor continues to have fun with the character of June Star who rudely tells Red Sam's wife who says something many would say in her region as something meant to be a compliment to a cute child,

"Would you like to come be my little girl?"

"No, I certainly wouldn't," June Star said.  "I wouldn't live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks!" and she ran back to the table.

Nor does June Star lose her headstrong attitude even when confronted by the Misfit and his friends.  She talks back to them, asking them, "What are you telling US what to do for?" and after Hiram is told to hold her hand and lead her off, she says, "I don't want to hold hands with him....He reminds me of a pig."  

Even the two men and the Misfit are somewhat comical in appearance:

One was a fat boy in black trousers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed on the front of it.  He moved around on the right side of them and stood staring, his mouth partly open in a kind of loose grin.  The other had on khaki pants and a blue striped coat and a gray hat pulled down very low, hiding most of his face....

The driver...was an older man that the other two.  His hair was just beginning to gray and he wore silver-rimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look.  He...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.

At the same time, however, there is a certain black humor, a dark comedic quality, to the description of the three men, especially later when the Misfit dons Bailey's Florida shirt and the grandmother murmurs, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!"

Also, there is a blending of humor with horror in certain instances as in the incongruity of the tone of O'Connor's description of the grandmother's desperate cry to her son who is being taken off to be shot:

There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called, "Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!" as if her heart would break.

Likewise, the Misfit's callous remark to throw the grandmother where "you thrown the others" juxtaposed with his gentleness of picking up the cat that rubs itself against his leg is horrifically funny.  Indeed, the story develops from light to very dark humor.

Read the study guide:
A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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