What is the grotesque element of "A Good Man is Hard To Find"?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In her 1960 essay, "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction," O'Connor defines the literary grotesque as follows:

In these grotesque works, we find that the writer has made alive some experience which we are not accustomed to observe every day, or which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life.

In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," the experience we are not accustomed to observing in every day life is the encounter with a mass murderer and his gang. We are also not used to hearing gunfire in the distance that means a gang is murdering an ordinary family, including two children, nor are we used to seeing a man coldly shoot and kill an old woman.

This murderous encounter is both extraordinary and repellent. O'Connor highlights its strangeness by creating a scenario that is entirely ordinary up until the moment the car flips over and the family is confronted by the Misfit and his gang. Before that, the reader simply confronts a 1950s nuclear family and their grandmother taking a road trip vacation. The kids whine and are rude, the grandmother complains about how much worse everything has gotten since the good old days, and the family stops to eat at a roadside diner. The grandmother and the diner owner complain about the state of the world. They also  talk about the news, including the Misfit. Like most average Americans, the grandmother doesn't really expect to have any contact with a killer written about in the newspaper. 

When the Misfit appears, the family's whole world turns upside down. The Misfit himself, who finds no pleasure in life except being mean, and has no qualms about murdering people, is the most grotesque character in the story, although the difficult grandmother can also be called grotesque. As O'Connor says about her grotesque figures:

Even though the writer who produces grotesque fiction may not consider his characters any more freakish than ordinary fallen man usually is, his audience is going to; and it is going to ask him–or more often, tell him–why he has chosen to bring such maimed souls alive.

In O'Connor's case, the Misfit and the grandmother both point to the mysterious ways that God's grace can be revealed in the world. 

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" contains many grotesque elements in which ordinary things are distorted so that they become disgusting. For example, there is a great deal of physical grotesqueness, including the description of Red Sam at the barbecue restaurant: "His khaki trousers reached just to his hip bones and his stomach hung over them like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt." Even the monkey in the tree outside the restaurant is grotesque in nature, as he catches fleas between his teeth and eats them.

The attitude of the main characters is also grotesque. For example, when the grandmother passes a poor African-American child on the road without any pants, she calls him a "pickaninny" and says that the boy would make a good picture. She fails to have any sympathy for the child. The characters seem devoid of moral responsibility. The woman in the restaurant says "that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money." In other words, she feels no responsibility for the United States to take care of Europe, which at the time the story was written was suffering from the after-effects of World War II.

The story ends with grotesque forms of violence, as the family encounters the Misfit who is at large, and he and his partner wind up killing them all. Even after the grandmother hears her family being shot, she keeps telling the Misfit that he is a good man—another example of a grotesque twisting of the truth. In the end, her praise doesn't help her, and she winds up dead, like her family. In the ultimate expression of moral depravity, the Misfit says, ""She would of been a good woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." Even the words "good man" and "good woman" are distorted in this story, as they clearly don't signify that a person is good but instead is grotesquely bad.

mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Physically grotesque is the violence that is in the story; an entire family is brutally murdered.  It graphically describes the begging, pleading grandmother at the end being shot three times in the chest.  Pretty violent.

Morally grotesque is the nature of some of the characters:  The Misfit, Hiram, and Bobby Lee.  Less obvious though is the morally unlikable grandmother character, who whines and complains, sets the family off their beaten path to satisfy her whims, spouts class prejudiceness and racism, and seems only concerned about saving herself.

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find

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