Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor. Specifically, it will focus on the use of comedy/humor, foreshadowing, and irony in the work. Flannery O'Connor is one of the South's most well-known writers, and nearly all of her works, including this short story, take place in Southern locales. Her work embodies the Southern lifestyle, which includes close family ties, attention to family roots, and a more laid-back and relaxed way of looking at the world. In this short story, the matriarch of the family is The Grandmother, and she plays a key role in the story and in the story's outcome. Her impetus sets the family out on their adventure and leads to the inevitable conclusion. This is a story with humor, irony, and a heavy sense of foreboding, and yet it is enjoyable, if predictable, to the very end. O'Connor is a master of characterization, and here, her characters endear themselves to the reader and make the story more interesting and more unusual. It is not a happy story, but it is a memorable story, and this is one of the things that can make a story great and stay in the mind of the reader long after they finish it and close the book.
(Mary) Flannery O'Connor was born in Georgia to a family of dedicated Roman Catholics. She began writing at an early age, and got her Master's degree in writing from Iowa State University in 1947. She wrote throughout her life and one several awards, including the O. Henry prize three times, and many other awards and recognitions. She died in 1964 from complications of the disease lupus, and many critics call her the best short story writer in American history (Votteler 333-334). "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is extremely representative of the kind of fiction she wrote, as critics has said her stories routinely depict "a rural domestic situation featuring a parent and child who are suddenly invaded by an often criminal or perverse outsider, a distorted Christ figure who serves as the agent of grace" (Votteler 333). This could exactly describe this short story and O'Connor's writing at the same time. She also invented unique and rich characters that the reader comes to care about. Critic Votteler continues, "O'Connor also infused her fiction with the local color and rich comic detail of her Southern milieu, particularly through Southern dialect, which she recorded with a keen ear" (Votteler 333). Thus, her writing represents the people and landscape of the South, and makes the reader feel as if they have known these people all their lives, just as she did.
O'Connor uses several literary devices in this short story. One of the first to greet the reader is the use of foreshadowing. The Grandmother influences where the family is going on vacation by scaring them with tales of The Misfit, the convict who has broken out of jail and is probably heading to Florida. This is where the rest of the family wants to go, but she urges them to go to Tennessee instead, and ultimately seals their fate. Already, the reader has an uneasy feeling about The Misfit, and it is easy to tell that eventually, the family is going to run into him, or he would not appear as a concern so early in the story. The Misfit continues to turn up throughout the story in conversations and in the background of each character's mind, and so, it is clear when the story reaches a climax, The Misfit will be at the center of it. It seems inevitable from the very beginning of the story that the family is heading toward an important and unavoidable fate, and that indicates O'Connor's skill at foreshadowing. It is subtle, but it is always there, and the reader senses tenseness to the story because of it.
Humor is also an important device in O'Connor's literature. One critic, Thomas Votteler, notes, "Moreover, her stories are relates with such ironic detachment and mordant humor that some consider them to be existentialist or even nihilistic in outlook" (Votteler 333). In this story, humor is subtle, but it is certainly there. If there was no humor, the story might have turned out much blacker and darker than it is already. The humor lightens up the story and gives depth to the characters. It also shows that O'Connor had a decidedly dark overview of humankind. By making the reader laugh, she could make the story darker and somehow more demonic, as critic Thomas Merton notes. He writes her work is "Humorous, yes, but also uncanny, inexplicable, demonic, so you could never laugh at it as if you understood. Because if you pretended to understand, you, too, would find yourself among her demons practicing contempt" (Merton 341). Her characters are humorous, but in a dark way, and some, like The Misfit, are funny and very frightening at the same time. His conversation with the Grandmother at the end of the story brings a smile to the reader at the same time horrible things are happening, and this is how O'Connor masterfully uses humor and darkness at the same time. The story would not be the same if it did not have these humorous and poignant moments woven through it. O'Connor knew this, and knew if she wrote a strictly dark and ironic piece it would not be nearly as chilling as one that seemed lighter at first glance. This is one of the reasons so many critics praised her work. She was a master at weaving in literary devices so carefully that most readers would not really recognize them, but would appreciate the results.
Finally, O'Connor's work is often ironic, and that is certainly true of this story. She uses irony to make the story even more dramatic and interesting, and to show the very humanness of her characters. Another critic, Robert Drake, said of her work, "Presumably, then, what makes Miss O'Connor's stories good and at times brilliant is that, in her own way, she often does seem to have man's number -- and the world's" (Drake 348). She clearly shows that she "has man's number" in this story, and uses irony to make it even more clear. For example, the entire plot of the story is ironic in that the family, had they gone to Florida instead of Tennessee, probably would have never run into The Misfit and his cronies, and so, would have enjoyed their vacation and come home safe and sound. It is also incredibly ironic that the Grandmother makes the family look for a house she remembers, and the dirt road they take leads to the wrong house, but to The Misfit and his men. The reason these ironies work in the story is that O'Connor really does have "man's number." She knows people are impetuous, selfish, and self-adsorbed, and the family certainly embodies these qualities. The grandmother is selfish to a strong degree, and wills the family to do what she wants. She is impetuous when she sends the family on a wild goose chase for a house that seems to exist only in her mind, and she is willful because she always wants her own way. These are some of the worst traits in humankind, but many people have them, and O'Connor uses them to create ironic situations in this story. She does indeed have the world's number -- and it is that man is often his own worst enemy.
In conclusion, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is a quintessential O'Connor look at families and life in the South. She uses many literary devices to pull the reader into the story and keep them turning the pages until the outcome, as shocking as it is. O'Connor's work paints vivid portraits…