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Free Study Guide: A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor - BookNotes

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LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The rural southern U.S. is the setting for this famous collection of short stories by one of the greatest practitioners of the form. She does not often give exact locations, state or town names, but most of these stories take place in a rural landscape and many--though not all--of the main characters are women. Other stories take place in small and mid-sized towns, at a college graduation, and in a city. The title story, O'Connor's most famous, takes place in a number of states, as a family travels by automobile towards a vacation. Though most of the stories are not time-dated, they generally take place in the nineteen forties and early fifties.



THEMES

Most of O'Connor's stories investigate and illuminate the moment of greatest desire and dread in a simple character's life. She has often been understood as a deeply Christian writer, interested in how the traditions of Christianity have played out in the southern U.S. in the lives of everyday people. She is a writer working in the tradition of "Southern Gothic": those writers who addressed the decline of the old south in the early to mid twentieth century (see Faulkner, Williams, and Welty). Southern Gothic tales are often tragic and colorful--sometimes awfully funny--and usually address the rural white-southerner's difficulty in maintaining a vision (often built on white-black racial divisions) of a society that is outdated. For many of her characters, their greatest desires (for security, for assurance, for their own "goodness") lead them to their worst nightmares.


MOOD

O'Connor's narrators are quite similar. They are omniscient and informed and a tiny bit wry--especially when depicting children, for example, as in the title story. The voice has a hint of the traditional story-teller in it, with unique phrasings and sharp descriptions. The narrator of each story spends a great deal of time depicting a character's thinking, often sympathetically. Also, the narrator tends to offer an exterior view, reporting on details as seen from a distance (both physical and psychological). In this sense, O'Connor's narrators are distinctly omniscient. The pattern does not vary a great deal: there is usually a main character who is depicted extensively, and possibly a major secondary character, and a small group of minor characters. The narrator may move in and out of focus, character by character, very quickly. The tone is usually piercing, expectant, and direct.



Flannery O'Connor - A Good Man Is Hard To Find Free Study Guide / Notes / Summary
Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor - BIOGRAPHY

Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah Georgia on March 25, 1925, to Regina and Edward Francis O'Connor. The family moved to her mother's hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, when Flannery was eleven, due to her father's illness--he had lupus, the same disease that Flannery died of twenty-eight years later. He died when she was fifteen. Flannery attended the Georgia State College for Women, in Milledgeville, and then went to graduate school in Iowa, at the State University in Iowa City--their renowned creative writing program.

The Germanium (1946) was her first published story, and in 1947 she won a prize for a draft of her first novel, Wise Blood, which was finally published to high acclaim in 1952. After Iowa, she spent several months at Yaddo, the writer's retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York. There she worked on he novel, and made literary friends. In the year leading to her first serious battle with lupus, in 1951, she lived in Connecticut, New York City, and at home in Georgia. She also spent time at "Andalusia," her families house in rural Georgia, where she found time to write and rest between bouts of illness.

Flannery's mother was a great help to her, and the two women lived together off and on for the rest of Flannery's life. In 1958 they went to Lourdes, in France, for a cure, but to no avail. Lupus continually gained the upper hand, and she died at a hospital in Milledgeville on August 3, 1964 at the age of 39. Some of her work was yet to published.


LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION

Flannery considered herself a "Catholic peculiarly possessed of the modern consciousness." Issues of religious belief are foremost in all her works. They are Georgia stories, of estrangement, epiphany, and she preferred to phrase it, "a moment of grace." Others termed her work the "mystery of personality"--especially applied to this collection, A Good Man is Hard to Find. The stories are of violence and ethical confusion, often featuring female main characters and important female secondary characters. Like her other work, there are reflections on the landscape, and a primitive, almost grotesque struggle for significance. Flannery herself considered her stories "comic," and claimed to laugh and laugh as she reread them.

She was a relentless re-writer, going over her stories again and again and refining them to perfection. She studied the New Critics of the forties, fifties, and sixties, especially Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. Their ideas on story structure influenced her tremendously, and her stories follow their beliefs: an objective narrator, a carefully chosen central image, "show, don't tell," drama, symbolism, precision of detail, emphasis on incident and dialogue, clear metaphorical patterns, and appropriate syntax. The dialogue in her stories is legendary for it's exact, colorful, and reverberating nature. Her point of view shifts are subtle and very well executed. All this is meant to contribute to a "unity of effect."

She is considered one of the great southern writers, joining Faulkner, Porter, Welty, McCullers, Spencer, and Roberts in this century alone. She is also often likened to the Southern Gothic writers--such as Erskine Caldwell, whose tales of the lower elements of society were dark and rife with the pain and suffering of debased minds. O'Connor's work is weird and wonderful, displaying an artful brevity that is breathtaking.

During her life and afterward, she won numerous awards, and published several books. The most well-know fictional works are the novels Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear it Away (1960), and the story collections A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965, published posthumously). She received several O'Henry short story awards, and grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. She was also awarded honorary doctorates, and a National Book Award in 1971 for a "complete stories"--which, of course, she never saw.


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