What are the literary devices in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

There are a great many literary devices used in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." Perhaps three of the most significant are foreshadowing, which helps to establish a rather ominous mood; epiphany, which allows the grandmother to really understand the Misfit's humanity; and irony, which ends the story on a bittersweet note. The grandmother has developed an understanding of what it really means to be "good," but it is too little and too late.

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Allusion and irony are the two significant literary devices employed by Flannery O'Connor in "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Allusions are references to other works, historical figures, or historical events within a text. One of the earliest ones in this story is when the grandmother refers to Gone...

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Allusion and irony are the two significant literary devices employed by Flannery O'Connor in "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Allusions are references to other works, historical figures, or historical events within a text. One of the earliest ones in this story is when the grandmother refers to Gone with the Wind, a novel about the American South before, during, and after the Civil War. The reference reveals that she has romanticized notions about the South and her place in it as a "lady." However, the bigger allusions are to the New Testament, which the Misfit discusses when he has the grandmother and her family cornered. He refers specifically to the story in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, a reference meant to evoke the grandmother's (and possibly the Misfit's own) spiritual rebirth.

Irony might play an even bigger role than allusion, though it does tie in with the story's references to the New Testament. The ironic part about "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is that the grandmother achieves spiritual transformation through her encounter with a violent criminal. She is someone who fancies herself as a "lady" and a good person, despite her flaws: she does not take responsibility for her mistakes, she is a snob, and she holds racist opinions. However, when she meets the Misfit, she begins to pity and then identify with him. She sees him as one of her children rather than as a monster totally unlike her at all. From O'Connor's Catholic perspective, she is essentially realizing that all people are sinners and deserving of compassion.

The irony is that the grandmother only comes to this moment of grace before she is shot to death— she is unable to make use of it in life or with her own loved ones, who have also been killed. When the Misfit tells his partners in crime that the grandmother "would have been a good woman ... if there had been someone to shoot her every minute of her life," he means that the grandmother only could have come to her major transformation under such duress and not in her ordinary life. O'Connor is similarly suggesting that God and grace tend to be found in life's most horrific and vulnerable moments rather than in the respectable, civilized world the grandmother reveres.

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The story relies on imagery to help convey the emphasis the grandmother places on outer appearances. As they prepare for a trip, she wants to make sure she looks like a lady:

The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet.

The author takes time to include the many details of the grandmother's appearance because these details are important to the grandmother. She will later try to convince the Misfit that he shouldn't kill her because she "can just look at [him] and tell" that he's a "good man at heart."

The Misfit uses an allusion to a New Testament story in John 11. These verses contain the story of Jesus's visit to the tomb of Lazarus; four days after his entombment, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. This is what the Misfit is referring to when he says, "Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead."

The author also uses a colloquial dialect to characterize the Misfit as an ordinary (and even ironically polite) man. When the grandmother tells the Misfit that maybe he had been imprisoned unfairly, he replies,

“Nome,” he said. “It wasn’t no mistake. They had the papers on me.”

The way the Misfit speaks also establishes a contrast between himself and the grandmother. He makes no pretense about who he really is and realizes that he is not a perfect man.

The story also makes use of irony. One example of situational irony is that the grandmother tells Bailey that they shouldn't travel to Florida so that they won't cross paths with the Misfit. Yet in the car, it is the grandmother who convinces them to take the road which ultimately puts them right in the Misfit's path.

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"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" uses many literary devices. Certainly, the story makes use of foreshadowing, a device in which the writer provides early hints of something which is to happen later in the story. In the very first paragraph, in fact, much is made of "The Misfit," an escaped criminal who is on the loose in the area in which the family plans to vacation. The grandmother warns her son, Bailey, saying that she "wouldn't take [her] children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it." Later, of course, the family absolutely does have a run-in with The Misfit and his gang, and it ends tragically for them.

When Bailey does not respond to his mother's warning,

she wheeled around then and faced the children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose 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.

Bailey's wife's face is compared, via simile, to a cabbage, and the points of her green kerchief are compared, via another simile, to rabbit's ears. These are hardly flattering comparisons; rather, they make the mother sound rather simple and stupid, at least in the grandmother's eyes. In another simile, the grandmother's "big black valise" is described as looking "like the head of a hippopotamus." This makes her and her luggage seem quite cumbersome and heavy, as though she is a lot of trouble for her family to bring along and deal with.

In the end, a simile is used to compare the grandmother to an innocent child: "her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky." Before she dies, she has an epiphanya sudden realization of truth—and she glimpses the shared humanity between her and The Misfit. In a moment of terrible irony, he shoots her just as she has this realization. He was more comfortable dealing with her when she looked down on him, as that is what he is used to. When she reaches to touch his face and sees him as a fellow human being, however, it makes him too uncomfortable, and this defies expectation.

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