SOURCE: "A Reasonable Use of the Unreasonable," in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969, pp. 107-14.
[In the following lecture given at Hollins College, Virginia, on October 14, 1963, O'Connor discusses the function of violence in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find. "]
Last fall I received a letter from a student who said she would be "graciously appreciative" if I would tell her "just what enlightenment" I expected her to get from each of my stories. I suspect she had a paper to write. I wrote her back to forget about the enlightenment and just try to enjoy them. I knew that was the most unsatisfactory answer I could have given because, of course, she didn't want to enjoy them, she just wanted to figure them out.
In most English classes the short story has become a kind of literary specimen to be dissected. Every time a story of mine appears in a Freshman anthology, I have a vision of it, with its little organs laid open, like a frog in a bottle.
I realize that a certain amount of this what-is-the-significance has to go on, but I think something has gone wrong in the process when, for so many students, the story becomes simply a problem to be solved, something which you evaporate to get Instant Enlightenment.
A story really isn't any good unless it successfully resists paraphrase, unless it hangs on and expands in the mind. Properly, you analyze to enjoy, but it's equally true that to analyze with any discrimination, you have to have enjoyed already, and I think that the best reason to hear a story read is that it should stimulate that primary enjoyment.
I don't have any pretensions to being an Aeschylus or Sophocles and providing you in this story with a cathartic experience out of your mythic background, though this story I'm going to read certainly calls up a good deal of the South's mythic background, and it should elicit from you a degree of pity and terror, even though its way of being serious is a comic one. I do think, though, that like the Greeks you should know what is going to happen in this story so that any element of suspense in it will be transferred from its surface to its interior.
I would be most happy if you had already read it, happier still if you knew it well, but since experience has taught me to keep my expectations along these lines modest, I'll tell you that this is the story of a family of six which, on its way driving to Florida, gets wiped out by an escaped convict who calls himself the Misfit. The family is made up of the Grandmother and her son, Bailey, and his children, John Wesley and June Star and the baby, and there is also the cat and the children's mother. The cat is named Pitty Sing, and the Grandmother is taking him with them, hidden in a basket.
Now I think it behooves me to try to establish with you the basis on which reason operates in this story. Much of my fiction takes its character from a reasonable use of the unreasonable, though the reasonableness of my use of it may not always be apparent. The assumptions that underlie this use of it, however, are those of the central Christian mysteries. These are assumptions to which a large part of the modern audience takes exception. About this I can only say that there are perhaps other ways than my own in which this story could be read, but none other by which it could have been written. Belief, in my own case anyway, is the engine that makes perception operate.
The heroine of this story, the Grandmother, is in the most significant position life offers the Christian. She is facing death. And to all appearances she, like the rest of us, is not too well prepared for it. She would like to see the event postponed. Indefinitely.
I've talked to a number of teachers who use this story in class and who tell their students that the Grandmother is evil, that in fact, she's a witch, even down to the cat. One of these teachers told me that his students, and particularly his Southern students, resisted this interpretation with a certain bemused vigor, and he didn't understand why. I had to tell him that they...
Symbolism in A Good Man is Hard to Find Essay
1027 Words5 Pages
The short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” by Flannery O’Connor, is bombarded with symbolism. In short stories symbolism is the literary element that helps the reader depict the picture and actions in their own minds. Whether it be from characters’ names or the designs on the characters’ shirts, every detail in this story has a purpose. Flannery O’Connor was known for her strong religious background, Catholicism, and used her faith as the underlying message in her works. In the story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” there are a couple of things that can be traced directly to Christianity. The little boy, John Wesley, symbolizes the religious denomination of Methodism. John Wesley, along with his brother Charles Wesley, founded the…show more content…
For example, the first time death is symbolized in this story is when the family passes a graveyard. “They passed a large cotton field with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island. ‘Look at the graveyard!’ the grandmother said, pointing it out. ‘That was the old FAMILY burying grounds.’” (99). O’Connor purposely mentions the specific number of graves, one grave for each person in the car. She also mentions that it was a “family” burying ground. This symbolism foreshadows that the family will soon face death. When the family is driving through the town, the grandmother remembers the old plantation is called “Toombsboro”. This plantation’s name is brought up to remind the reader of death. Toombsboro sounds like the tomb, symbolizing the family will soon face their tombs. Another description that is given to symbolize the deaths is that of the Misfits car. “It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile” (103). A hearse is a vehicle designed to carry coffins for funerals. This description also foreshadows the death of the family before the Misfit arrives. Lastly, the “woods, tall and dark and deep” (105) represent the family’s death. The woods symbolize the unknown and fear we have for death, which is considered dark and deep. The Grandmother stood in front of the woods reminding us that death is always near and behind us. Just like the woods, death can be a scary thing