What elements give the story its "gothic" quality?

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Gothic qualities are those we associate with things we normally repress, particularly our awareness of death. The Gothic often has an eerie, unreal, dream-like (or nightmare-like) quality: what we experience in Gothic literature are situations out of the ordinary—strange situations where horror is usually unveiled. The Gothic is also associated with the unheimlich, the German word for unhomelike or unfamiliar: Gothic occurs when the familiar is made suddenly strange or eerie, as in a haunted house, which is both familiar as a house and unfamiliar as a frightening and creepy environment.

Most of the Gothic qualities in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" occur after the car flips into the ditch and the family has its encounter with the Misfit and his gang. Up until this point, it seems to be simply another zany, comic tale about difficult-but-ultimately-ordinary family members going on a car vacation in the U.S. in the 1950s. However, O'Connor foreshadows the darkness to come by having the grandmother early in the story mention—and even warn against—the Misfit who is loose from prison. She also discusses the Misfit with Red Sammy at a diner where they stop for lunch.

Gothic elements at the end include the eerie, foreboding, and isolated setting the family finds themselves in after they exit the flipped car and look around. We can easily imagine this as the setting for a horror movie:

Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming slowly as if the occupants were watching them.

A further Gothic detail, which foreshadows death, is the:

big black battered hearse-like automobile. There were three men in it.

The Misfit himself is a frightening figure who appears both human and inhuman as has no expression. He looks:

with a steady expressionless gaze to where they were sitting

The guns the three men carry also reinforce the idea that we have left the everyday world of family vacations and are in a far more frightening place.

The grandmother's nightmarish rejection of reality, as if she can't quite grasp what is going on, also adds to the Gothic feeling of the story's end. She watches (as if in a fog) as the men drag away Bailey and Bobby Lee to woods and then hears that:

There was a pistol shot from the woods, followed closely by another. Then silence.

The horror of her son's and grandson's murder is made all the more unreal by the calm conversation the Misfit is carrying on with her as all this is going on.

The grandmother enters a distorted world of horror that jolts her out of the complacency of her everyday life—but in this story, the horror allows God's grace to enter her heart.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

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