Write an argumentative essay of at least 500 words that discusses Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"
from one of the following critical perspectives:Formalist, Psychological, Cultural, Gender (masculine or feminist), or Deconstructionist.
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In the simplest terms, formalist critics are concerned with the “complex unity” of a literary text. In other words, they are interested in how each part of a literary work contributes toward, and fits into, some greater harmonious whole. For a formalist critic, a great work of art is one in which each detail of the work is like one piece in a complex puzzle, in which all the pieces ultimately cohere.
Flannery O’Connor herself was highly sympathetic to formalism and strongly connected to various leading formalists. It is not surprising, then, that “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is almost a textbook example of the kind of story a formalist would admire. In particular, this story displays the kind of foreshadowing and irony that formalists (with their interests in double meanings) particularly valued.
To write your essay, you may want to consider discussing all the various ways in which the opening paragraph of the story is relevant to the rest of the work. Here are some possible questions to consider:
- In what ways does the grandmother seem (or not seem) to be a truly “grand mother” by the end of the story?
- Why is it ironic that she does not want to go to Florida, especially in light of her behavior the next morning?
- Why is it ironic that the grandmother wants to make contact with distant family members? With whom does she really need to connect? In what senses does she indeed make a connection with a distant family member at the end of the story?
- In light of events at the very end of the story, how is it ironic that Bailey is described in the first paragraph as the grandmother’s “only boy”?
- How is it typical of Bailey that he is reading the sports section of a newspaper rather than something more substantial or thought-provoking?
- How does O’Connor’s own story differ from the kind of reading material that seems to interest Bailey?
- How does the grandmother’s very first statement to Bailey exemplify her general personality?
- How is the grandmother’s second statement relevant to the rest of the story?
- How are the final two sentences the grandmother speaks in the first paragraph ironic?
- How does the grandmother’s reference to her “conscience” foreshadow her final statement in the story?
For a formalist, each work of art is at least as unique as any human being. A good formalist essay will try to determine how each part of a work contributes to the effects (and effectiveness) of the whole. For this reason, formalists prize “close reading” – the detailed, sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word analysis of literary texts.
Evans, Robert C. “‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’: ‘Clichés, Superficial Story-Telling, and the Dark Humor of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”’ ” Dark Humor. Ed. Harold Bloom and Blake Hobby. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2010. 139-148.
For examples of students doing “close reading,” follow this link: http://www.ambrosebierce.org/evans.html
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