dotted outline of a black cat sitting within a basket in front of an older woman wearing a sundress

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor
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What type of sentence structure does Flannery O'Connor use to affect the pacing of "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"?

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O'Connor keeps the pacing slow, and thus keeps the reader in the moment by using complex sentences in which two or more independent clauses are linked, such as

Bailley didn't look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children's mother, a young woman in slacks,...

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O'Connor keeps the pacing slow, and thus keeps the reader in the moment by using complex sentences in which two or more independent clauses are linked, such as

Bailley didn't look up from his reading so 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.

Another example would be:

She had her big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it.

And she uses compound, complex sentences that include more than one independent clause and a dependent clause:

She didn't intend for the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of the gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself.

This slows us down, and in these examples, captures the cadence of the grandmother's thoughts. Later, O'Connor will similarly capture the more abrupt cadence of Big Sammy's speech without putting what he says in quotations.

Not only does this technique slow the reader down and keep her concentrating on whatever part of the story she is in, when O'Connor, now and then breaks up the threatened monotony of too many long sentences with a short one, it arrests us and catches our attention:

The two boys also had guns.

That short sentence slams us with its pointed ominousness.

This technique of long sentences is effective because, although there is foreshadowing, the first-time reader is caught by surprise when the story turns suddenly from a seemingly comic 1950s all-American family vacation tale to something much darker. We are kept fixed in the moment.

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In this short story, Flannery O'Connor uses the simple or compound sentence with subject-verb-object construction almost exclusively. (Compound sentences join two simple sentences together with a conjunction such as "and" or "but.") Many of her sentences start with the word "he" or "she." This gives the story a trudging pace that feels like one is soldiering on with each sentence. Very little lyrical quality adorns the sentence structure. Most sentences are short and to the point. They do not meander, weave, or explore the intricacies of ideas. Rather, they state actions, thoughts, and ideas in a straightforward, businesslike fashion. Since the story is written primarily from the grandmother's point of view, the pacing reinforces the type of woman she is. She is one who does not overthink things; indeed, she acts on impulse and seems to think about consequences later, and even then she is reluctant to admit a mistake. So the pace of the sentence structure that keeps forging ahead without slowing down reflects the grandmother's personality that unfortunately keeps propelling herself and her family to its inevitable doom.

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