Irony in Flannery O’ Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is Actually Easy to Find
Perhaps one of the most resounding names in American literature is the name of Flannery O’ Connor. And as a testament to her success, her works are still being appreciated since she had released it for the public’s literary consumption. Some of her works are even considered as staple study materials in literature classes. And because of the success and popularity of her works, Flannery O’ Connor is generally regarded as great writer.
Of course her success as a writer is not without basis, this has definitely something to do with her writing style. In her 1955 masterpiece, also one of her best known work, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, she had displayed tremendous control over a highly-regarded writing device, irony. In many respects, Flannery O’ Connor’s use of irony in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is very evident, therefore not hard to find.
But before we traverse further in the exploration of the topic, perhaps a quick review of the definition of the word “irony” would be of some help. A set definition of irony would give us a guided trajectory and would likely keep this paper intact. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary provides a very useful definition for this discussion. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the term “irony” as the use of words as an expression of something other than the literal meaning, oftentimes the opposite meaning (The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
Even from the tile alone, Flannery O’ Connor’s exceptional use of irony is immediately suggested. Although it appears that the title “A Good Man is Hard to Find” would like to communicate to the readers that finding a “good” man would be difficult, the author may have wanted to tell us the opposite. It would be easy for us to find a good man, it is just a matter of outlook. The negative outlook in life is best expressed by the character of the grandmother, who is arguably selfish all throughout the course of the narrative.
The dilemma that had fueled the narrative also holds much irony. The plot of the “A Good Man is Hard to Find” was basically ignited by the grandmother’s refusal to agree with the family’s decision to go to Florida, instead she strongly suggested that they should go to Tennessee. As a ploy to make the family agree to her want to go to Tennessee, she then tells them that there is a criminal loose along the way to Florida (O’ Connor 56).
The author had used this particular event as a foreshadowing of the things to come, particularly the tension-filled meeting of the family with the Misfit, a cold-blooded killer. As the plot develops, the family, along with the grandmother would meet the Misfit. In some profound sense, the selfish lie that the grandmother uttered had become a bitter truth. Regardless of whether what the grandmother had uttered is a lie or a genuine foresight, there is still a literary “kick” from the situation. The irony in this particular situation could send chills to the spine. It is like a statement that even seemingly innocent lies could cause an individual his or her own demise.
It is important to note that the family and the grandmother had a very good reason to be extremely afraid of the Misfit. Aside from the fact that he is an escaped criminal, if the Misfit leaves them alive, they could tell the police of him and cause his capture. As a consequence of the situation, the Misfit also had a very good reason to kill the family and the grandmother. The irony of this particular situation is just so intricately and at the same time beautifully designed by the author.
During the high-tension middle portion of the plot, the whole family along with the grandmother was under the threat of being brutally murdered by the Misfit. And in an attempt to save her life, the grandmother had devised an ingenious plan to save herself. The grandmother would repeatedly address the Misfit as “good man” in many instances within the story. The grandmother would tell the Misfit that she knows he is a good man and he “had come from nice people.” (O’ Connor 50)
The irony of that scene could be immediately viewed as insulting, especially for the Misfit. He had already put the family under the threat of being murdered and now the grandmother is telling him that he is a good man? During the initial parts of the narrative, the grandmother says that she would not risk bringing her grandchildren near a person like the Misfit. The irony just grabs the readers to turn the pages more. It appears that the character of the grandmother is full of unpleasant ironies that make her easily a detestable character.
Moreover, the Misfit had just come out of jail. He already knows what to expect of how the society would treat someone like him. There is no need to hide the truth of his situation behind a shroud of seemingly good-willed irony. This had just angered the Misfit more because it is very probable that he was deeply insulted by being called a “good man”. The grandmother’s devise of using irony to save herself had just made the situation worse for her and the family.
During the high-tensioned points in the plot, there would be an instance that the grandmother would seemingly utter a prayer of desperation “Jesus, Jesus” (O’ Connor 49) But the narrator would comment of the grandmother’s quasi-prayer “finally she found herself saying “Jesus. Jesus,”” meaning Jesus would help you but the way she was saying it, it sounded as is she might be cursing” (O’ Connor 49).
The irony that the grandmother had displayed in that particular situation would definitely make the readers scratch their heads. Even in the moment of desperation, the grandmother would still throw in ironic lines. The grandmother was in a sense putting the name of Jesus in vain. It was like the grandmother did not mean her request for help. It was more like she was blaming Jesus for what had transpired.
From here we could already infer that the grandmother is incapable of being true to herself. That is why she is constantly using ironies to express herself.
And of course, the irony in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is not solely focused on the character of the grandmother. As one of the major themes of the story, ironies are interspersed throughout the whole course of the plot.
There was a scene where the children had all sat down on a “board table nest to the nickelodeon.” And to kick start the entertainment, mother of the children “put a dime in the machine” (O’ Connor 36)
The irony in this particular situation is understandably hard to locate at the first reading. If the word “nickelodeon”, not the cartoon channel, is unfamiliar, the reader might want to check its definition first. Basically, a nickelodeon is an apparatus that functions something like the more familiar jukebox machine. It would be important to note that a nickelodeon would only play a song once someone had put a nickel on it, thus the name. Interestingly, the mother of the children had put a dime on the nickelodeon, and it had started to play a melody.
The irony of that particular situation is that something had worked even though there is something wrong in the procedure of using it. Although it could still be argued that this could be a lapse on the part of the author, it is just very unlikely. A writer of such caliber as Flannery O’ Connor would not commit such novice mistakes. The “nickelodeon part”, though small, is more likely to be intentional. That is just the author’s design to reiterate the major theme of the story which is irony.
There is also another interesting irony in the “nickelodeon part” of the story. After the mother had put a “dime” on the nickelodeon, the melody that was played was entitled “The Tennessee Waltz.” Also during that part, the grandmother had said that “that tune [The Tennessee Waltz] always made her dance” (O’ Connor 36) During this part, they were already in their way to Florida.
The irony in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is definitely not hard to find. The unforgettable use of irony of the grandmother reinforces her retention into the minds of the readers. Moreover, there are so many instances in the story, even in the title that could only be described as ironic.
Bandy, Stephen. ‘One of my Babies’: The Misfit and the Grandmother. Retrieved 28 May 2008
Desmond, John. FLANNERY O’CONNOR’S MISFIT AND THE MYSTERY OF EVIL.
Retrieved 28 May 2008 <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3777/is_200401/ai_n9397988>
Flannery O’Connor. A Good Man is Hard to Find. NJ: Rutgers University Press. 1993
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 28 May 2008 < http://www.merriam-
Thomas R. Arp. Perrine’s Story and Structure. CA: Thomson Wadsworth. 2005
Cite this Irony in Flannery O’ Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is Actually Easy to Find
Irony in Flannery O’ Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is Actually Easy to Find. (2016, Oct 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/irony-in-flannery-o-connors-a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-is-actually-easy-to-find/