How does the story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" fit into the Southern Gothic genre?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a fine example of Southern Gothic literature because it reunites the elements that withstand this genre from the rest.

1. Southern traditional location- The story takes place in Georgia during a family trip to Florida, the grandmother insisting upon stopping in Tennessee. This brings with it the opportunity for the Southern Goth author to expand upon the descriptors that are salient in the setting such as the Blue Mountains, the hills of the South, the flora and the fauna of the locale.

2. Civil War and Southern history- the memory of antebellum homes, the grandmother's insistence in seeing the "secret panel" home, the remembrance of a better time, and of how great the South once was. There is also the use of the "negro" epithet which is a direct characterization often attributed to Old South folk.

3. Black humor/irony- the ironic events in the story lead to a deadly tragedy. However, there is a lot of enigmatic and conflicting dialogue which frames the somewhat pathetic begging of the grandmother.

4. Tragedy- the end of the story is that the family is murdered in the woods by a most-wanted criminal dubbed "The Misfit". The inevitability of their fates, the fact that it was by coincidence that they crossed paths with this mentally-ill criminal, and the grave mistake of the grandmother in remembering at the last minute that the detour that she wants to take was the wrong one all compile to show how we are all prone to tragedy and death. One decision can ruin everything. Life is fickle and does not always have a happy ending.

5. Eccentricism- the grandmother, June Star, The Misfit, and even Bailey, all show traits of eccentric and stubborn behavior. The manner in which the diner's owner also acts denotes O'Connor's insistence in making her characters stand out by quirks and habits that the reader will find strange, to a point. Yet, this is the enigma that is produced in Southern Goth, and the reason why this particular story exhudes the traits of the genre almost entirely.

Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" showcases some of the darker elements of Southern Gothic literature. This is the kind of short story that a film director might use as inspiration for a horror movie: an evil criminal, called the Misfit, and his pals murder an innocent family who has just experienced a car accident. To make matters worse, he shoots the parents, the children and baby all in cold blood in front of the grandmother, and then when she tries to appeal to his moral compass to save her own life, he shoots her in the chest and mocks her to his friends. All of this tragedy happened because the family took a wrong turn on the road, a mistake anyone could make at any point, which only makes the story more chilling. O'Connor writes this story in a matter-of-fact tone that emphasizes the grotesqueness of this whole scene.

Southern Gothic literature in general does not shy away from horror and violence; in fact, such dark elements put the "Gothic" in Southern Gothic literature. The Southern writers who embraced this style of writing had a certain familiarity with the dark side of human nature as a direct result of the Southern experience during the Civil War. The South lost the war, and, as a culture, it pretty much collapsed after the war, and times were desperate; these Southern writers expressed the black moods of a whole culture in their literary works, and Flannery O'Connor is no exception to this rule.

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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