A Rose is not a Rose: Irony in Two Selected Short Stories Essay

A Rose is not a Rose: Irony in Two Selected Short Stories

            Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” both contain irony in their titles.  However, in the use of irony in other parts of the stories, “A Rose for Emily” is more symbolic, while “A Good Man is Hard to Find” focuses more on the conflict of intentions to what actually happens, therefore, they are more concrete.

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The grandmother from “A Good Man is Hard to Find” does not want to go to Florida because she wants “to visit some connections in east Tennessee (O’Connor 631)” although she reasons to her son Bailey that it is because the criminal named “Misfit” may be there, and it is best to avoid that kind of trouble.  In the end, it is she who leads the whole family to Misfit and to their deaths by requesting to stop by a dirt road which seems familiar to her (O’Connor 636).  When she realizes too late that “the house she had remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee (O’Connor 637)”, she is too embarrassed to confess her mistake.  The murder has already been foreshadowed by the grandmother’s statement: “I wouldn’t take my children to any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it.  I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did” (O’Connor 631).   She said she “wouldn’t” but she ends up doing the exact opposite thing, an example of situational irony.

The title “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is in itself ironic.  Most of the times, this statement is used when referring to finding a man who can be good enough to become a husband.  In this case, however, Red Sam, the owner of the filling station/dance hall the family has come in to eat, is referring to the lack of trustworthy men during their times (O’Connor 635).   If a good man is hard to find, a bad man is easy to find in this story.  The family has just been talking about Misfit, and ends up meeting the fugitive, when it has been their intention to keep away from the man.  It is also ironic that Misfit turns out not to be a completely evil man.  When Misfit is about to shoot the grandmother his “face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry” (O’Connor 642) He and his men do not wish the family harm but the family has found out where they are hiding, so he feels that there is “real pleasure (O’Connor 642)” in what they have done to the family.

“A Rose for Emily” incorporates irony in its use of title but it does not talk about a real rose as compared to “A Good Man is Hard to Find” which may have meant differently, but still involves a real man.   There is no rose for Emily.  Her father does not allow her to have any suitors because “the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were” and so “none of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily” (Faulkner 294).  The rose is symbolic for something else.  Usually roses are given by suitors to the woman they are wooing.  They are kept to be cherished by either putting them into water or pressing the dried petals into scrap books.  “What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshift, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay” (Faulkner 298) Emily has tried to do this with both her father and her sweetheart Homer Barron: she tried to keep them after their deaths, like dried petals of roses kept after they have wilted.

“A thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights, upon the dressing table, upon the delicate array of crystal and the man’s toilet things backed with tarnished silver, silver so tarnished the monogram was obscured” (Faulkner 298).

The description of the room where Homer has been found may also suggest that Homer is indeed that rose for Emily.  He is placed in a precious looking place, preserved to be cherished.

            Irony other than what the rose stands for also exists in “A Rose for Emily.”  When Emily buys the arsenic, she does not say for what purpose she needs the poison.  However, the druggist decides to mark the bottle “For Rats” (Faulkner 295-6).  This is ironic, because the reader can imply that the arsenic is intended to be used to poison Homer.  Whether Emily thinks of Homer as a “rat” per se is not mentioned.

            Both “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “A Rose for Emily” make use of irony in their titles.  A person who has not read either of the two may have a different expectation in terms of the plot.  “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “A Rose for Emily” may actually be both mistaken for romantic short stories.  However, both stories involve murder.  “A Rose for Emily” is told by a third person narrator who is part of the gossipy neighborhood.  So, even with the story’s darker elements, it manages to be humorous in some instances, e.g - A Rose is not a Rose: Irony in Two Selected Short Stories Essay introduction. when four men have to break into Emily’s lawn “like burglars” in order to “sprinkle lime” that will eliminate odors emanating from the place (Faulkner 294).  They have done this in order to prevent offending Miss Emily (Faulkner 294).  The secretive way in which they tackled their mission is ironic because it is Miss Emily who has something to hide.  The tone in which the story is told is also very light, therefore told in an ironic tone.  “A Good Man is Hard to Find” also makes use of a very light tone which belies what happens in the end.

            As a conclusion, the two stories have many similar uses of irony but differ in the more symbolic irony in “A Rose for Emily” in which a rose is not a rose at all.  In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” there may be irony in the title, but the interpretation is more accessible.

Works Cited:

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short

            Fiction.  Boston, Massachusetts: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 292-298

O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The Story and Its Writer: An

Introduction to Short Fiction. Massachusetts: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 631-642.


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