What are the main structural elements in "A Good man is Hard to Find"?

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mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is fiction, a short story.  As such, it can be analyzed, or dissected, into structural elements according to mainly plot, character, and figurative language.

What you must know, though, is that O'Connor is a comic writer and a religious writer.  Many readers are confused by her structure: she seems to be making fun of religion.  Rest assured, she is not.  In fact, O'Connor is a very serious religious writer who uses caricatures (exaggerated characters) like The Misfit and the grandmother to expose the relationships between good and evil, nihilism and revelation, and hypocrisy and salvation.  In the end, all of her characters look flat, grotesque, and evil, but--as readers--we have to imply that O'Connor means just the opposite of them.

So, structural elements:

Flat, static characters: the Misfit, the grandmother.  They are both religiously confused: the Misfit is a nihilist, and the Grandmother is a self-righteous Christian.  They change at the very end by touching each other and realizing their lack of spirituality but not enough to be categorized as dynamic or round.

Exposition: family readies for the trip

Foreshadowing: the news about the Misfit

Rising Action: grandmother realizes the home she's looking for is in Tennessee and not Florida

Turning Point: the accident involving the cat; grandmother recognizes the Misfit

Falling Action: the family is escorted to the woods

Resolution / Climax: the family is shot, one by one.  The grandmother pleads with the Misfit, but to no avail.  Each character exposes the others' hypocrisy

Symbolism: the Misfit (archetype of evil); the gun; the inability to find one's home (spiritual home); the car; Jesus; the woods

Situational Irony: the grandmother is looking for the wrong house in the wrong state; the family wrecks and is rescued by the Misfit; the grandmother thinks the Misfit is "saved," and the Misfit thinks that the grandmother is "not saved"

Verbal Irony: just about everything the Misfit and the grandmother says:

Misfit: "Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead and He shouldn't have done it.  He shown everything off balance."

Grandmother: "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!"

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When we consider the "structural elements" of a text, it the plot that we are thinking about and the way that the author has structured the plot elements to reinforce the message that they are trying to communicate. You can consider the structural elements therefore by trying to map out the normal plot diagram of this story.

The exposition clearly starts as the grandmother manipulates her son into going to Tennessee by talking about the fear of the Misfit. We are introduced to the main characters and the central external conflicts in this family.

The rising action is developed as the family start their holiday journey and the grandmother shows herself to be more and more irritating, selfish and very unaware of her own faults.

The climax comes when they meet the Misfit, and one by one the family members are killed, with finally the Grandmother being shot.

The resolution comes after the Misfit has shot the Grandmother when the Misfit says that the Grandmother could have been a good woman if she could have been shot "every minute of her life."

You will want to consider now how these structural elements of the plot relate to the two central themes of this excellent short story - the definition of a "good man" and how grace is received by the unlikeliest of individuals.

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