“A Good Man is Hard to Find”: Southern Gothic Elements

As of the late 1800’s, a new literary style had surfaced with increasing popularity. This style largely consumed much of the time through the mid 1900’s, and still continues with prevalence today. This style was known as Southern Gothic Literature, an extension of traditional gothic literature, with some American Southern twists. Southern Gothic Literature uses characteristics such as “… the presence of irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses; grotesque characters; dark humor, and an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation” (Bjerre), along with supernatural occurrences, unusual circumstances, conspiracies, and ironies to explore the dark adaptation of social and cultural values/ways of life within the American South. Some of the traditional ways of life examined in Southern Gothic Literature include, but are not limited to, racism, gender-roles/ patriarchy, slavery, etc. Southern Gothic literary works typically have similar plot pieces within them. Many of these stories incorporate violence, one way or another, whether it be through physical violence, or emotional violence. These stories also demonstrate an instance where there is noticeably something “off” in the world, either within the setting that the story takes place in, or within a person or a group of people. The traits of the characters in Southern Gothic stories are often repeated, and in doing so: some characteristics become the criteria for what makes a work Southern Gothic. Southern Gothic characters include those who are considered outsiders of society—such as those suffering from a disability, a peculiarity, etc. These outsiders and other characters in the story, like the antagonist, may also be based around American southern archetypes/stereotypes. Many, but not all, of the characters in Southern Gothic stories may be grouped into one of two groups. The first group being the broken. These people are the direct reflections of the cultural and societal ways of life that have become infectious and/or negative; these people may literally resemble brokenness through their physicality or more figuratively within their minds or souls. The second character group is the innocent. These characters are the heroes, the redeemers, the opposing factor in comparison to the broken. Throughout the division of short stories, the ability to label one as a Southern Gothic has become progressively easier, as the defining characteristics of these works have become unambiguous.

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Flannery O’Connor, among many others, was a successful author with an abundance of short stories. One of her more famous short stories— “A Good Man is Hard to Find” can be used as a prime example of Southern Gothic Literature. From the setting, to the storyline, to the characters, all of the key elements of a true Southern Gothic piece are present. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” tells the story of a family, consisting of a feisty grandmother, an overbearing father, an inattentive mother, and two rambunctious children, as they take a road trip to Florida. In the beginning there are complaints made regarding the trip, as the Grandmother wishes for everyone to stay home, being that there was a recent prison escapee, “The Misfit”, on the loose, heading to Florida. Not heading the Grandmother’s warning, the father, Bailey, forces his family on the trip anyway. With constant misbehavior from each individual along the way, the reader would think that the story cannot get any worse, until the family gets into a car-accident, leaving them stranded on the side of the road. The Misfit, and his two companions are the first to find the family, leading to their unfortunate ending, resulting in execution. At first glance, this dark, short story radiates some of the basic characteristics of Southern Gothic Literature. Firstly, the family is driving through the American South, as they mention some of the traits of Georgia: “She pointed out interesting details of the scenery: Stone Mountain; the blue granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway; the brilliant red clay banks…” (O’Connor, “A Good Man” 35). Next, with character analyzation, it could be inferred that the family represents brokenness. Within the family, the children continuously act disrespectfully without regard for others or for the consequences, while the parents take no responsibility to guide their children or to punish their wrongs. This family’s mindset is an example of a societal issue where they are set in the modern ways, in this case of parenting, which is one of the key factors in making a Southern Gothic story. The Misfit clearly plays an important role in the categorization of this story. As he is named “The Misfit” it is clear to see the Southern Gothic characteristics; one of the characteristics involves imprisonment and violence, while the Misfit is a prison escapee known for brutally murdering others. The Misfit and his companions also play the grotesque roll in the story as they are viewed in a negative light and are referred to as lesser than the rest, as the daughter exclaims while repulsed by the men “’He reminds me of a pig” (O’Connor, “A Good Man” 44). These odd, grotesque, violent, outsiders can also be known as “tricksters”, according to Melita Schaum: “… this view posits Trickster as the principle of necessary disruption when individuals or societies have become too rigid in their belies. When order threatens to become sterility—whether social or spiritual—the strange traveler arrives to shatter complacency…” (Schaum, 6). So as the tricksters, or the broken, come about the story, an opposing force, as earlier mentioned, is needed. In this instance, the Grandmother has been positioned to represent the “innocent” or this opposing force, according to Stephen Bandy as he explains “O’Connor is determined that the Grandmother shall be the Misfit’s savior, even though she may not seem so in the story” (Bandy, 109). To conclude, O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” completely models the basis of a Southern Gothic piece of literature, as all of the elements of good, evil, and the old south are included.

As Southern Gothic Literature became more popular, towards the end of the 1800’s and into the 1900’s, certain authors became increasingly well-known for their Southern Gothic works. Flannery O’Connor was capable of incorporating each and every Southern Gothic element into their works, while simultaneously developing a capturing plot that would continue to entertain audiences for decades, and even centuries. 

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"A Good Man Is Hard To Find": Southern Gothic Elements. (2021, Jul 11). Retrieved November 29, 2022 , from
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