Saturday, 15 October 2011

A good man is hard to find

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Family trips can be fun, however, they can also become frightening and sometimes dangerous experiences. For example, many years ago on a camping trip with my family, I wondered off into the woods and became disoriented. Without knowing where I was or how to return to familiar surroundings, I felt trapped and began to panic. Alone in the dark woods I was filled with feelings of isolation and fear. Similarly, in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, the deserted road that Bailey’s family turns onto is ominous. O’Connor uses this setting along with dialog and foreshadowing to impart to the reader that the family is, in a way, facing their own impending doom, trapped in the back country of Georgia.

There are two specific elements to the setting that O’Connor uses to create a sense of apprehension and despair. First, she reveals the family’s remote location by describing the deep, dark woods on both sides of a long and windy dirt road, which “looked as if no one had traveled on it in months” (Rogers & Jacobs 40). From this depiction of the setting, the reader becomes aware that the family is completely on their own, miles away from the nearest town, or farm. Second, O’Connor uses the accident to render the family immobile. Without any way to go for help, the family is now also stranded, which serves to intensify the already apprehensive tone. The complete isolation of Bailey’s family and their inability to seek help leaves the family vulnerable to whomever might happen along the road.

O’Connor’s use of dialog continues to build suspense and a sense of foreboding. Before the family even starts on their trip to Florida, the grandmother says “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida” (46 Roberts &Jacobs) Her speech alerts the reader to the fact that the family is headed in the same direction as an escaped convict. The grandmother continues, “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it” (Roberts & Jacobs 46). This warning, although dismissed by her family, suggests to the reader that the trip is ill-advised. Further on in the story, the grandmother makes the mistake of revealing to The Misfit that she recognizes him. He replies, “it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t of reckernized me” (Roberts & Jacobs 4). The Misfit’s threatening words directly imply that the family is certainly doomed.

O’Connor uses foreshadowing to increase the reader’s sense of fear for the safety of the family. She does this by developing highly suggestive images in the text. The grandmother is described as wearing, “a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collar and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet” (Roberts & Jacobs 47). Furthermore, she explains that she is dressed up so that, “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once she was a lady” (Roberts & Jacobs 47). In her finest attire, and having already predicted her own death., it is easy for the reader to imagine that the grandmother is dressed up for her own funeral. Another image that is used to foreshadow the family’s untimely end is the “old family burying ground…with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it” (Roberts & Jacobs 48) that is pointed out by the grandmother. The direct correlation between the number of graves and the number of members in Bailey’s family is at once both eerie and unmistakable. The combination of these two morbid images enhance the reader’s fear for the family’s survival.

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In “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”, O’Connor uses several techniques to create, increase, and maintain a sense of horror and impending doom in her tale of one family’s hapless journey. With her creative use of setting, dialogue and foreshadowing, she is able to enhance the ominous way in which her story unfolds. Isolating the family with no place to run and no one around to hear them scream, she plays on the popular fear of being accosted by a madman in the middle of nowhere. Drawing on the reader’s own experiences of isolation and vulnerability in this way, O’Connor is able to intensify the emotional impact of her suspenseful and disturbing short-story.

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