Common Theme Found in Three Stories Research Paper

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killer and his victim has been one of the most enduring topics throughout horror and suspense fiction, and it is this relationship which ties together three ostensibly distinct stories: Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." In each case, the majority of the story consists of the killer talking to his victim(s), some of whom are unaware of their fate at the beginning of the conversation, but who gradually come to realize the killer's true intention. The relationship which develops between killer and victim (however brief) in each story reveals something about how killers are treated by society, as people, and within society, as characters and archetypes. Considering how each of these stories intersect and diverge in their treatment of the relationship between killer and victim will serve to demonstrate how each story interprets and comments upon popular notions of notoriety, morality, and inevitability.

Flannery O'Connor's story is the ideal starting point for considering the relationship between killer and victim, because it actually duplicates the relationship between killer and victim in order to suggest that morality is a function of society, and furthermore, that societal influence is so strong that it can actually predetermine behavior to the point that it appears inevitable. In a somewhat telling move, the first relationship that appears in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is not between killer and victim, but rather mother and son, because the story opens with a disagreement between "the grandmother" and her son Bailey. The grandmother wants to visit "some of her connections in east Tennessee" while her son is determined to take the family on a vacation to Florida, and it is this oppositional relationship that mirrors the eventual relationship between the grandmother and her killer, the escaped convict who calls himself The Misfit (O'Connor 404). The two relationships are linked, because although The Misfit is ultimately the one who kills the grandmother, it is Bailey's decision to ignore the grandmother's concerns about the Misfit that leads to her eventual death. Recognizing that the relationship between killer and victim in this story is based upon the initial relationship between mother and son is important, because the grandmother's interactions with The Misfit increasingly take on the air of a mother talking to her rebellious son.

When the grandmother first sees The Misfit, she has "the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life," and indeed, after her initial shock at recognizing him as The Misfit, she immediately begins talking to him as if she knows him (O'Connor 407). She tells him that she just knows that he is "a good man," and does not "look a bit like [he has] common blood" (O'Connor 407). She continues on, and although she is pleading for her life, her actual dialogue is that of a mother concerned for her son; upon hearing about The Misfit's youth, the grandmother tells him to "think how wonderful it would be to settle down and live a comfortable life," as if The Misfit has merely lost his way, and just before she dies, she literally says "why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" (O'Connor 408, 413). The grandmother cannot interact with The Misfit in any way other than a mother would interact with her son, and it forces the reader to consider what the story is saying about upbringing. Furthermore, this consideration must extend to both the immediate family and society in general, because while the grandmother's dialogue is couched in the terms of a mother talking to her son, The Misfit's replies are directed not specifically at the grandmother, but rather the society that gave birth to him.

The Misfit takes each of the grandmother's statements as an opportunity to reflect on his own past and his place within society, and he does so from the position of a rebellious son, questioning the received wisdom of his societal parentage. He refutes the grandmother's entreaties for him to pray, saying "I don't want no hep, […] I'm doing all right by myself," and recognizes the inequality inherent in human society, claiming that he always signs things now so that "you'll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you'll have something to prove you ain't been treated right" (O'Connor 409, 410). In this way, The Misfit represents a son abandoned by the very same social institutions the grandmother cherishes, such as "good blood" and Christianity, because these institutions, far from encouraging him to become the "good man" hoped for in the title, only serve to reveal the meaninglessness inherent in life due to the fact that all meaning, regardless of whether or not it claims for itself the imprint of divinity, is ultimately the result of human cultural production.

The Misfit recognizes that he is "ain't a good man," but he also "ain't the worst in the world neither," and thus his animosity is aimed at the society that raised and encouraged him to become the man that he is, aware that there is "no real pleasure in life" but unable to effectively attack the social institutions which make this the case (O'Connor, 408, 413). This is why he immediately shoots the grandmother just after she calls him one of her children; the grandmother can only treat him like a son, and he can react to a parental figure the only way he knows how. In this way, the story seems to suggest that the relationship between killer and victim is not entirely one-sided, because the victim will always, to some degree, be culpable in the larger social structure that created the killer in the first place (it is worth pointing out that this is not to suggest that O'Connor is "blaming the victim," but rather placing some of the killer's blame on society at large).

Where O'Connor's story frames the killer/victim relationship in terms of mother and son, Joyce Carol Oates' short story deals with the relationship between a teenage girl and a slightly older man, and uses this relationship to demonstrate how the notoriety surrounding killers is actually part of their power. Oates' story follows Connie, a fifteen-year-old girl who has "a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right" (Oates 225). Once again, when she sees her eventual (implied) killer, "his face was a familiar face, somehow," even though she has only seen him once before, but where the grandmother's glimmer of recognition is of a mother recognizing what might be a long-lost son, Connie's recognition stems from something else, and it is this recognition that encompasses the story's statement regarding the way in which killers are glamorized within society (Oates 230).

Connie likes the way the killer, Arnold Friend, is dressed, "which was the way all of them dressed: tight faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots, a belt pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pull-over shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard muscles of his arms and shoulders" (Oates 230). When he takes off his reflective sunglasses, "his eyes [are] like chips of broken glass that catch the light in an amiable way" (Oates 231). The image of Arnold Friend is not so much a description of a singular person, but rather a character type, and Oates does this in order to draw the reader's attention to the fact that the killer, and in fact any killer, is a kind of celebrity, if only for the fact that they by definition buck the standards and traditions of society; in fact, Oates bases the character of Arnold Friend on the real-life Charles Schmid, the so-called "Pied Piper of Tuscon" who murdered at least three girls, and "had been someone to admire and emulate […] with mean, 'beautiful' eyes and an interesting way of talking" (Moser 19). The comparisons extend beyond Arnold Friend's appearance. For example, they both drove a gold-painted car, and it served as a means of enticing their respective victims; Schmid "cruised in a golden car, looking for the action," while Connie's disinterested, aloof manner is finally broken when she laughs at what is written on Arnold Friend's car where the fender is broken "DONE BY A CRAZY WOMAN DRIVER" (Moser 23, Oates 230). The connection is not of mere biographical interest, but rather helps to explain the ending of the story, in which Connie is seemingly enchanted into going with Arnold to her implied death.

Connie's fascination gradually gives way to terror, but this terror cannot overcome the power Arnold has already been imbued with. As Connie is sitting, stunned, on…[continue]

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