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Ora Dohman

Michael Modahl

Engl. 201

January 28, 2020

Literary Elements Essay for “A Good Man is Hard to Find”

Flannery O’Conner is a southern gothic writer from the 1950s who is famous for her short story

collection. The purpose of this essay is to observe the literary elements that Flannery O’Conner used in

her short story, “A Good Man is hard to find.” The essay will focus on four different areas of literary

elements. The first being the Plot in the structure of Freytag’s Pyramid. The next three elements are

characterization, theme, and literary devices.

The first element of the short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find is Freytag’s pyramid. Freytag’s

pyramid is a plot structure of a story that contains five parts, exposition, rising action, climax, falling

action, and resolution. First comes the Exposition. This begins when the grandmother attempts to

manipulate her son, Bailey, into going to East Tennessee. She does this by talking about a criminal,

known as the Misfit, which escaped from the State Penitentiary. In this scene we are introduced do the

main characters and the central external conflicts in the family.

Second, comes the rising action. This starts to develop when the family leaves for their journey.

In this scene, the grandmother starts to show more of her flawed personality traits. This is where she

becomes more of a selfish, unaware, and irritable person.

Third comes the climax. This is when the family meets the Misfit and his gang. One by one the

Misfit orders his henchmen to take the family back into the wooded area and kills them. As each of the

family members is killed the tension begins to build with each one, leaving the grandmother for last. She

begins to beg for her life, even though her entire family is dead and she should be grieving the loss of

them.
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Fourth is the falling action. This comes when the Grandmother believes she has gotten to the

Misfit, and that he will spare her life, in a burst of sensitivity and unselfishness cries out, “Why you are

one of my babies. Your one of my children.” She said this all while touching the shoulder of the Misfit.

This in return, causes the Misfit to “spring back as if a snake has bitten him,” and shoot her three times

through the chest. This is the most suspenseful part of the story.

Lastly, we encounter the resolution. This starts after the death of the family, we see the Misfit and

his two henchmen come back together after disposing of the bodies. The Misfit states that the

grandmother “Would have been a good woman, there had been somebody there to shoot her every minute

of her life.” After a short conversation between Bobby Lee and the Misfit here Bobby Lee states that

killing is fun, the Misfit replies, “there is no pleasure in life” this statement contradicted what he said

earlier in the story. The author wanted to show the changes that the characters made. First the

grandmother and then the Misfit to follow. Because of their dialogue, the grandmother, right before her

death, showed some true unselfish sensitivity to the Misfit before he shoots her. The Misfit now realizes

that killing is not as fun as he stated earlier when he said that there is, “No pleasure but meanness.”

The second element of the short story is characterization. Characterization is a step-by-step

process that is used to highlight and explain the details about a character in a story. In “A Good Man is

Hard to Find,” there are six characters that Flannery O’Conner discussed in detail, The Grandmother, The

Misfit, Bailey, The Children’s Mother, June Star, and John Wesley.

The first character that we encounter is The Grandmother. She is judgmental and selfish. She

longs for a time when she thinks things were better. This sentiment is expressed when she speaks with

Red Sammy Butts. She lives with her son, Bailey, and his family and is often critical of them. While she

makes some attempts to engage with the family, they show little interest and little respect for her. Her

judgments of them leave them uninterested in her and her opinions. When the family is approached by

The Misfit, the grandmother is concerned about her safety and shows little care for Bailey and his family.

The grandmother performs one genuine act of concern in the story, and it is her last action.
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Second is the Misfit. He is a violent, escaped convict. He is a man of contradictions. Despite his

background, he blushes from embarrassment when Bailey uses foul language. While instructing Hiram

and Bobby Lee to take family members away to be killed, he apologizes for not wearing a shirt. He

compliments his parents, yet he killed his father. He acknowledges killing his father, but he does not take

complete responsibility for his actions. He compares himself to Jesus but says he does not believe. He

gets into a soul-searching philosophical discussion with the grandmother, but after shooting her he says

she could have been a good woman if she were threatened with death every minute of her life.

Third, we have Bailey. He, the grandmother's son, is frustrated. He says little to the other

characters including his children. He is not interested in what they want and only gives in to visit the

plantation because he can't stand their whining. He is a follower and shows no original thought. Bailey

tries to talk to The Misfit and his gang but is unsuccessful. He shows interest in his mother only when he

is being taken away and then seems to hope that she will somehow make things better. When disaster

strikes he is in over his head and does nothing to save his family.

Fourth is the children's mother. She hardly speaks in the story. She is not given a name, to signify

that her only purpose is to look after the children. In contrast to the grandmother and Bailey, she is

selfless. Her life revolves around her children. She is particularly concerned about the baby and is always

holding him. When she realizes her husband and older son have been killed, she chooses death.

The fifth is June Star. She is a rude little girl and is ready to say anything to anybody. Her

rudeness is on full display in exchanges with her grandmother, Red Sammy Butts's wife, and The Misfit.

When The Misfit orders the family around, she speaks up. She does not respect her elders or recognize the

severity of the situation. Like her brother, she longs for adventure and cheers the accident, but she is

disappointed when no one dies.

Finally, there is John Wesley. He is a precocious young boy who is interested in adventure. He

feels bored and is excited when the grandmother suggests visiting the plantation because of the secret

panel that hides riches. He is neither intimidated nor particularly interested in adults. He can be obnoxious

and violent: he fights with his sister and ferociously kicks Bailey's car seat.
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The third element is the theme of the story. Flannery O’Conner fills her stories with multiple

different themes. In this story, in particular, there are three different themes, Salvation through Faith,

Breakdown in Values, and Disbelief Breeds Wrongdoing. The essay will only talk about one of the three

themes, Salvation through Faith.

In this theme, anyone can become righteous and gain redemption, no matter the gravity of his or

her wrongdoing, by humbly accepting Christ and placing faith in Him. When the grandmother reaches out

and touches The Misfit, calling him one of her children, she achieves forgiveness for her sins including

her self-centered ways, her racism, and her lying since her selfless act signals her contrite acceptance of

Christ. Having received the grace of God, she becomes the “good man” who is hard to find. The Misfit,

on the other hand, continues to reject Christ. However, the grandmother’s insights and attempts to fire his

faith have loosened the hold of his unbelief, thereby casting in doubt the validity of his pleasure to kill. As

a result, he tells Bobby Lee at the end of the story, there’s “no real pleasure in life.”

The fourth and final element of the story is Literary Devices. O’Conner uses many different

literary devices in her story. I as the writer of the essay have chosen to explain the two that I found the

most prevalent, Foreshadowing and Imagery. Foreshadowing is when a writer gives an advance hint of

what is going to happen later in the story. Imagery is the process of using figurative language to represent

objects’ actions, and idea in a way that it appeals to the reader's senses.

The author sneaks foreshadowing into the story words and passages that foreshadow the tragic

developments on the dirt road. The reference to The Misfit by Bailey's mother in paragraph 1 raises the

possibility that Bailey and his family will encounter The Misfit. Bailey's mother again foreshadows later

developments when she dresses for the trip in her finest clothes so that "in case of an accident, anyone

seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.” When the grandmother

observes at the Tower restaurant that people aren't as nice they once were, the owner's wife says she

thinks the world is so bad that everyone is false and faithless: "It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s

that you can trust.”


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The author puts imagery into the story firth when the Grandmothers’ clothes are described. The

grandmother dresses in finery that reflect her image of herself as a lady. The few items of clothing that

described are her white gloves, the white violets on her blue straw hat, the white dot in the print on her

navy blue dress, and her white organdy collar and cuffs. As the car travels out of the Atlanta area, she

calls attention to the blue granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway; the brilliant

red clay banks slightly streaked with purple, the various crops that made rows of green lace-work on the

ground, and lastly when the trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled.

This essay served the purpose of explaining the literary elements that Flannery O’Conner used in

her short story, “A Good Man is hard to find.” The elements that the essay discussed were; the plot in the

structure of Freytag’s Pyramid, characterization, theme, and literary devices. Overall, O’Conner’s short

stories are loaded with literary elements and this essay only brushed the surface of those.

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