"A Good Man Is Hard To Find": Symbolism in O'Connor's Short Story
Flannery O'Connor's use of symbolism in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" has become a widely discussed topic among literary scholars. The characters' journey becomes a vehicle for exploring deeper themes of morality, religion, and the human condition. Through the use of various symbols, such as The Tower, weather, and the grandma, O'Connor creates a haunting atmosphere that challenges readers to confront their own beliefs and values. Additionally, the characters themselves can be seen as symbolic representations of larger societal issues, such as the Misfit's role as a symbol for the dangers of the criminal justice system. To analyze "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" in terms of symbolism, this essay will delve into the intricate ways in which O'Connor uses symbolism to craft a multi-layered narrative that continues to captivate readers decades after its initial publication.
A symbol that is introduced in the story is the restaurant named “The Tower. ” After discussing tarot cards in class, more research on these cards was done. The Tower tarot card represents danger, crisis, destruction, and liberation. If the card was reversed, it would represent loss, warning of upcoming things, and change. The restaurant represents a warning for the future. Red Sammy mentions two men traveling, whom he allowed to fill up their gas tank for free. His wife continues and subtly hints to the family the Misfit could be close (O’Connor 142). “The Tower” restaurant also symbolizes destruction. This plays into the story when the entire family is murdered by the Misfit after the grandma identifies him. It can also symbolize crisis when the accident itself happens, which leads to their death. Liberation is presented after the grandma has been killed, and the Misfit speaks of her. He says, "She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor 153). The Misfit’s statement shows that even though her words didn’t change him, she showed compassion and liberated herself through showing that compassion.
The weather is something that is remarked about multiple times throughout “A Good Man is Hard to Find. ” After being identified, the Misfit discusses the sky, "Ain't a cloud in the sky," he remarked, looking up at it. "Don't see no sun but don't see no cloud neither” (O’Connor 147). Once again, the weather is mentioned in the text when the Misfit is describing his first time in the penitentiary and looks up at “the cloudless sky” (O’Connor 150). The weather is described as cloudless, without a sun two more times on the next two pages. It’s disturbing that it’s daytime and there’s no sun or clouds. An empty sky is never a good sign in any story, they have a reputation for being a bad sign. The sky is completely empty, it’s desolate. It represents the family’s situation at hand, they are trapped in the middle of nowhere after the car accident. The weather could also represent the Misfit himself. He claims he doesn’t remember the crimes he’s committed, so he signs everything and keeps it (O’Connor 151). The Misfit is an empty man. He has nobody in his life that’s family, he murders from people, and steals from people. Nobody can do as much harm as he has and not be empty on the inside.
The center of the short story is also a symbol, the grandma. She represents negative traits in people. They always want to fit in, are selfish, and self-conscious. Before the trip even begins, she tries changing the trip because she is scared of the Misfit’s whereabouts (O’Connor 137). The most amusing part of this is that she doesn’t have to go, the grandma just wants to be included. June star states, “She wouldn’t stay home for a million bucks, afraid she’d miss something. She has to go everywhere we go” (O’Connor 137). Once the trip begins, the grandma only shares stories of her past. The grandma tells of how she had been courted by a gentleman named Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden. She describes how he brought her a watermelon every Saturday afternoon with his initials cut into the fruit (O’Connor 140). The self-consciousness of the grandma is presented in the very beginning of the story. For a simple car ride, the grandma wears a dress with a hat and adorns white gloves. The text continued to state, “Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor 138). The grandma cared so much about how she looked, she made sure she was dressed for the occasion of her laying on a pavement and still looking pretty.
Through the use of symbolism within The Tower, the weather, and the grandma, a new depth is presented in “A Good Man is Hard to Find. ” The fictional story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is short, but still holds a significant amount of meaning. The use of symbolism helps add to this meaning and creates more interest within the reader. Looking deeper into these short stories, the reader can identify symbolism and see the story from a completely different aspect. O’Connor’s use of symbolism through The Tower restaurant, the weather, and the grandma, generated a new understanding of the story.