Free Study Guide: A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor - BookNotes|
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A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND: LITERARY ANALYSIS
The old man thought a hole had opened in his head, and he couldn't reach up to fill it with his finger, even. He saw the procession, and people in black kept picking up his hand and shaking it and putting it back. The stately music entered his head through the hole. The procession made a black pool in front of him, though he didn't know what the whole thing was about. Then one of the black robes was talking, about him, and he was wheeled forward and the boy bowed and bowed again. He wanted to think of the pretty girls, but words from the speech came to him, place names, people, familiar from the past, but not quite clear. The words pursued him, came after him like the black procession. Other black figures, music, more words. Stop, dammit! He couldn't get away from them, he tried to run, his past pursued him and he tried to get away, to look over the black to his future, and clutched his sword into the bones of his hand.
Sally received her scroll, finally, and glanced over at the old man, whose
eyes were wide and face fiercely set. As soon as it was all over, John
Wesley made a bee-line for the coke machine. She found him in line, waiting
with the corpse of the old man.
This is one of the simplest tales in the book, and one which contains the clearest example of a moment of transformation: the old man, suffering from a "hole in his head," confuses the past and the present and dies in panic while on stage. Sally does get her wish, but the consequences are awful. We don't see this part, but presumably when the death is discovered her triumph with turn to terribly embarrassed agony. The poor man, dying while on display!
O'Connor depicts Sally and the "General" in quick detail: she is an older student, reluctant, and prideful of a grandparent who is not what he is set up to represent. He becomes purely an object of other people's nostalgia. He knows this, resents it, and is unabashedly a dirty old man in a wheel chair. Sally is not budging either. It is only clear that she wants to use him as a type of revenge against the new order.
The title refers to the last encounter with the "enemy" for the
"General": the pomp and ceremony of a academic event, where
he is honored as living history, is his worst nightmare. The enemy is
both real, and in his imagination. It is a stroke of genius, on O'Connor's
part, to build a graduation ceremony around his death (instead of a standard
funeral), as this sort of ceremony is "death" to an old man
whose only pleasure is his costume and pretty girls.
The story touches on several dichotomies dear to O'Connor: past/present, history/moment, old/young, desire/fear. The past here literally comes after the old man, and it means something quite vague to Sally. The present moment, the ceremony, is a moment of glory for both of them, but not in the usual way. And it backfires on Sally.
The old man hates history, hates to have it imposed on him. He realizes it really doesn't have much to do with him. He prefers the young flesh of the moment, the pretty girls he can see and touch. The girls are much more real to him than events he can't remember, and which other people simply bend to their own desires.
John Wesley is very young, a BoyScout but mostly a boy. Of course he would
want a coke on a hot day, and be oblivious to the old man's distress.
Sally did not foresee this problem, and though her desires are satisfied,
so are her worst fears.
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. 09 May 2017