The Use Of Irony And Characterization In “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”
Since the very beginning, humanity has been in a struggle between good and evil. Many believe that evil and good are separate and distinct. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the author, Flannery O’Conner, combats this notion and shades the struggle in a different light. By her use of irony and characterization, O’Conner conveys that good men are not easy to come across and that good and evil are separate.
To demonstrate the theme, O’Conner utilizes situational and dramatic irony. An instance of situational irony in the short story is when Bailey “turned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shocked even the children,” in response to which The Misfit comforts the grandmother and says, “don’t you get upset. Sometimes a man says things he don’t mean. I don’t reckon he meant to talk to you thataway” (O’Conner 10). This event highlights the irony of a hardened criminal comforting an old lady after she was insulted by her own son, making for a sequence that the reader does not expect and blurring the lines between good and evil even further. Dramatic irony is a situation in literature where the reader knows information that the character fails to realize. One instance of this type of irony in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is shown in how the grandmother views herself. The grandmother is obsessed with her looks and dresses for this road trip with “a navy blue dress with small white dot in the print,” stating that in case an accident occurs, “anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Conner 2). She sees herself as an elegant, proper, and wise southern lady, but O’Conner quickly shows the reader that the grandmother is far from a good person, as she excessively lies and repeatedly judges and discriminates against people of color, ultimately proving the notion that good and bad are distinctly separate wrong.
Characterization plays a major role in conveying the theme to the reader. A character’s traits and personality and how that character changes throughout a story very often show a message the author tries to push. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” O’Conner uses characterization heavily. A good example of O’Conner utilizing characterization, is the family. Society as a whole views family as a source of goodness, while the family in this story is far from it. One family member whose true colors are shown is the grandmother. For instance, after the family had the accident, the grandma told The Misfit, “We turned over twice!” to which he corrects the grandmother saying, “Once … We seen it happen” (O’Conner 9). This event shows The Misfit, a hardened criminal, calling out a religious old lady for lying. On top of being a liar, the grandmother is a racist. On the way to Florida, the grandmother kept making racist remarks and using derogatory terms. For example, when the children asked why the boy had no pants on, the grandma responded saying, “Little n******* in the country don’t have things like we do” (O’Conner 3). Another character, Bailey, is also characterized to show theme. Bailey frequently yells at his family and disrespects his mother. This is shown when the children are bugging him to stop at the plantation, to which he yells at them and screams, “Will you all shut up? … If you don’t shut up we won’t go anywhere” (O’Conner 6). This quote again proves the notion that this family is not innocent, further proving that good men are hard to find.
By using irony and characterization of the main characters, O’Conner demonstrates the struggle between good and evil that is present throughout the story. Rather than conforming to society’s view that good and evil are separate, the story conveys that both good and evil act simultaneously and concurrently, in the sense that everyone has a little of both. O’Conner also further disproves family as a source of goodness by showing the character traits of this racist and selfish family. All in all, the irony and characterization used in the story makes for a theme relevant throughout the course of human history.