The Genre of Southern Gothic in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” Essay
“When you cross the sweeping drama of romance with the macabre isolation of small town life-and then throw in a touch of Southern whimsy-you’ve cooked up a collection of American literature absolutely unique in time, place, and sentiment, Southern gothic. ” Southern gothic comes from the genre of gothic fiction, and has some type of supernatural or unusual events in it. It is characterized as having a grotesque quality yet still having enough good in it to keep readers interested.
The short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Mary Flannery O’Connor, is often considered a perfect example of Southern gothic writing.
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, O’Connor has characters typical of Southern gothic. Characters in this genre are “riddled with many broken bodies, and even more broken souls”. It contemplates innocence, and whether or not anyone really is ever innocent. The grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a religious woman who goes to church every sunday and on the surface appears to be completely innocent.
However, in reality she is completely self-centered, racist, and a bigot. She believes that whether or not a person is good is based on where they came from, what their parents are like, and their social standing in the community, not on their actions. Throughout the story it becomes apparent that she does not think before she acts and she takes pleasure in other people’s suffering. “The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. ‘You’re The Misfit! ‘ she said. I recognized you at once’”(O’Connor 1037) The grandmother said this without thinking about what she was saying and caused the families death. Her actions show that she likes to gossip and wanted to let everyone know that she was well informed on the situation. “Did you read about that criminal, the Misfit, that’s escaped? ” (O’Connor 1034) The grandmother brings this up right away when they stop for food at Red Sammy’s, wanting to gossip about it and appear knowledgeable. The Misfit is another important character who appears completely bad but may have more morals than the grandmother.
He questions himself and his religious beliefs, only truly believing what he sees. “‘I wasn’t there so I can’t say He didn’t’ The Misfit said. ‘I wish I had of been there,’ he said hitting the ground with his fist. ‘It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had been there I would of known. ” (O’Connor 1041) The Misfit finds a lesson in all of his actions and is consistent in his morality, unlike the grandmother. He commits crimes, though does so believing that they are right and they do not matter.
The main characters all come in contact with one another when the grandmother and her family are driving for a vacation in Florida, they get in a car accident and encounter the Misfit. They live in Georgia and the day before they left the grandmother was reading about the Misfit and trying to talk the family into going to Tennessee instead so that they would not chance being around him. The grandmother really wants to go to Tennessee to see her friends, but the dramatic irony of them actually meeting the Misfit and the situation they get in, is another typical characteristic of Southern writing.
The situational irony of the grandmother becoming a good, enlightened person after the short conversation she has with the Misfit in the story also shows how it is in the genre of southern gothic. She reaches out to him, after realizing that she is a sinner, and tries to redeem herself. She dies with a smile on her face because she became a good person before it was too late. “‘She would have been a good woman,’ The Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life. ’”
Within the ironic situations there are also the usual grotesque qualities of Southern gothic in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. The Misfit was in prison for murdering his father and has escaped. However he cannot remember why he was in jail in the first place. “I forgot what I done, lady. I set there, trying to remember what it was I done and I ain’t recalled it to this day. Oncet in a while, I would think it was coming to me, but it never come. ” (O’Connor 1039) He escapes from prison because he does not believe that he killed his father because he says his father was a good man and he loved him.
Another example of the grotesque is the killing of the family while the grandmother and the Misfit are talking. The grandmother does not even appear to care that the family is being killed except when her son dies, she shouts his name. This causes her to become frantic and try talking the Misfit out of killing her. The Misfit’s escape, the murders of the family, and the eventual murder of the grandmother are all representations of southern gothic. In contrast with the grotesque “the drama of romance” is another attribute of Southern Gothic.
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” this quality is not at first apparent. However, romance can mean “a strong, sometimes short-lived attachment, fascination, or enthusiasm for something,” or “a mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic, or strangely beautiful. ” The relationship between the grandmother and The Misfit has a sort of romance to it, though not the typical sort between a couple in love. They make a connection with each other and through out their conversation their morals and beliefs are realized.
It seems that their conversation is important and fascinating to the both of them because it is continuous even while the other members of the family are being murdered. The dialogue only breaks when The Misfit orders the killings and when the grandmother shouts for her son. This short relationship leads to the grandmothers self-actualization and allows her to die peacefully. Southern gothic often uses all of these qualities of the genre to demonstrate a different or deeper meaning to the story, that is not obvious or literal.
O’Connor does this in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, by using the characters and the situation to show that most people are sinners and that redemption can be obtained through faith. She was a very religious Catholic woman and used this story as a type of religious propaganda disguised as a short story to show her readers the power of God and faith in a persons life. “In my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. She wants her stories to help people find God and become more spiritually connected to other people. O’Connor said “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic. ” “A Good Man is Hard to Find” has all of the aspects common to Southern gothic, from the characters to the grotesque nature of the story to the hidden romance. The irony in the plot foreshadows the ending of the story giving readers a very good idea of what is going to happen next.