How does the setting function as more than mere backdrop in "A Good Man is Hard to Find"?
How does the setting affect the story and the characters? What changes does setting bring to the characters lives?
The setting of the murders is significant as well. Here the family goes off the main highway, down a dirt road which is "hilly and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on dangerous embankments. All at once they would be on a hill . . .then the next minute,they would be in a red depression with the dust-coated trees looking down on them." They are looking for a house that the grandmother remembers, but after the accident she remembers it was in fact in a different state altogether. They are, in short, lost. The "dirt road" signifies the primitiveness of the surroundings; they are away from civilization where rules would otherwise apply. Here, with no rules, they meet the Misfit, a man who does not play by any rules. The "red depression with the dust-coated trees looking down on them" seems to suggest their smallness in the universe, in that nature cuts them down to size so that they can no longer think of themselves as people with control over their destiny. The grandmother dies in a ditch, with "her face smiling up at the cloudless sky," an ironic portrayal of her gruesome death, for in death she becomes innocent and childlike, and the "cloudless sky" suggests this.
Georgia, where the story is set, was filled with racial tension at the time of this story. The grandmother's beliefs toward African Americans typify the beliefs of many white Southerners during this period of time. The regional particularities of Southern speech is evident in the conversation between the grandmother and the Misfit, depicting the black humor of the dialogue. O'Connor herself observed about the Southerner: She "is usually tolerant of those weaknesses that proceed from innocence, and . . . knows that a taste for self-preservation can be readily combined with the missionary spirit." O'Connor was aware of the hypocrisy that sometimes accompanies religious faith, but she also knew that this pettiness was at worst a venial sin. O'Connor noted that the grandmother "lacked comprehension, but that she had a good heart."
The fact that the setting is in Georgia at such a racially-charged period of time makes it more than just a backdrop. This setting is needed for the story to take place and for the characters to be believable.