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Foreshadowing in ‘a Good Man Is Hard to Find’ by O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor(1925-1964) is one the most acclaimed American short story writers of the twentieth century. She was born in Savannah and brought up in Milledgeville, both in Georgia. With 31 stories and two novels to her credit, she died at the age of 39, almost 12 years after she was diagnosed of the blood disease, lupus. Many of her characters took shape at the Central State Hospital while she was under treatment for the disease. The ideas for her characters were undoubtedly adopted from real life experiences. Being a Southerner, she followed the southern gothic style of writing and depicted typical southerners in her stories. Though the themes for her works were mainly religious and theological, she often resorted to conveying them through extreme violence in the stories. She retained the suspense element in every story, however, she gave hints about evils that are to come in the narrations. She followed a policy of foreshadowing the violence in her works to relieve its effect in the readers. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the extent and examples of foreshadowing in the short story, ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’, which, like in most of her other works, are many.

Through the story, ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’, O’Connor narrates the cruel murder of a whole family by a criminal who is on the loose. The family which includes, the grandmother, her son Bailey, his wife and three children are killed when they on a vacation to Florida. From the beginning of the story, the author has used different methods to hint about the mishap, through dialogues and background in it.

The very first sentence is about the grandmother’s dislike to go to Florida on a vacation. The reason for it is that she wants to go to Tennessee instead. She says a criminal is on the loose in Florida and she wouldn’t want to take the children to such a place. The author conveniently makes the grandmother choose the Misfit as the reason for her dislike of the place, though at this point of time, she absolutely has no idea about her coming death at the hands of the same criminal. O’Connor does this to hint that this Misfit is going to play a major part in the later part of the story. The criminal who is just a name mentioned at the beginning turns out to be the reason for the twist in the story.

The grandmother keeps a bunch of white violets on the brim of her navy-blue straw sailor hat. She pins a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet on her dress. She justifies her act saying that if she meets with an accident and dies on the highway, people should recognize her as a lady. The purpose of this dialogue is to convey her arrogance to the readers. But it foreshadows the accident which they all meet with on their way to Florida. The accident neither kills nor hurts any of them seriously, but the following entry of the Misfit and his companions changes their fate. The grandmother accidentally recognizes him and he is forced to kill the family. Thus it can be said that their encounter with the Misfit was due to an accident and the grandmother’s recognizing him was another accident. These accidents led to their deaths, to mention the grandmother’s as she had predicted.

As they traveled to Florida, the family passes a cotton field with five or six graves and the grandmother says that was the old family burying ground. The number of graves mentioned in the story is five or six and this has been done purposefully to show the number of members in the grandmother’s family. There were six of them including the baby. Whether the baby was killed or not is not mentioned, and so the author does not specifically say how many graves they saw; instead she says five or six. When the children ask about the old plantation to which the burying ground belonged, the grandmother says, it has gone with the wind. The writer wants the readers to find the connotation in it. When the grandmother said that this was the old family burying ground, little did she know that soon they would all have a similar family graveyard.

While the family stops at Red sammy’s ‘The Tower’, the Tennessee Waltz is played on the nickelodeon and the grandmother comments that she feels like dancing whenever she listens to that tune. The Tennessee Waltz, deals with a man losing his beloved to his friend after he introduces her to him. Here, the grandmother is excited about its tune, but later on, she introduces the Misfit to the family as she announces that she recognized him. This makes the Misfit kill everyone in the family. The writer uses this particular song to show the significance of its lyrics in the last part of the story.

During the journey, the grandmother remembers about an old plantation that she visited as a young lady. She remembers that its location was somewhere outside the town, ‘Tombsboro.’ The writer intentionally names the town as Tombsboro, because the word tombs in it, again gives a hint to the readers about their future. The plural form is used to indicate the death of more than one person. Also, the grandmother says that the house had six white columns across the front. O’Connor repeatedly uses the number six along with the word tombs, to show the family is soon going to face something bad. When the grandmother compels Bailey to change their route towards the plantation, the writer means that she is responsible for their ill-fate.

When the children along with the grandmother pester Bailey to go to the plantation, he agrees on the condition that this is the one and only time he is going to allow such a thing. Bailey’s decision literally becomes true. No sooner, the family gets murdered by the criminal and his companions. That was the last time they could visit an old plantation or deviate from their route. Bailey’s dialogue hints that they are not going to get another opportunity to visit a place or change their route in between the journey. O’Connor has carefully conveyed the message the ending of the story is not going to be a very happy one.

After they had the accident, they were waiting for help when they saw a car coming from the distance. When the grandmother waved her hands to attract its occupants’ attention, it came on slowly and disappeared around a bend, but again came back. The car was black and battered, and it looked like a hearse. Black is the color of ill-fate and death. The car being black has a connection to it. O’Connor compares the vehicle to a hearse, because it moved very slowly. This is another hint that she provides. Hearse is a funeral vehicle which carries the dead, and here, the car carried death in the from of the three murderers.

The appearance of the man who came out of the car, gives the notion that he is probably not going to be of any good to the family. O’Connor says that he wore no shirt or under shirt, and had only very tight jeans on. He also carried a gun. This does not create a good impression about the man. The jeans appear like they are not his, instead stolen from someone else. The author gives an opportunity to the readers to guess that this is probably the Misfit and that something terrible is going to happen by the end of the story.

The instant the grandmother recognized the criminal, Bailey understood that he had put everyone in danger and he spoke something terrible to her which shocked everyone, including the children. At this point, the Misfit calls her a lady and says that men don’t often mean what they say and that her son must not have meant what he said. As he calls her a lady, the grandmother believes that he might not kill her. But at the end of the story, he kills her too. His dialogue that men don’t always mean what they is a warning O’Connor gives that he might kill her at the end of the story.

After his companion takes away Bailey and his son into the forest, the Misfit asks Bailey’s wife if she and her daughter would like to join her husband and son in the forest. From this sentence, it is almost evident that something dreadful has happened to Bailey and his son and that the same would soon happen to them too. Why the people are taken into the forest, makes the readers guess that his intention is to kill everyone in the family in the darkness of the forest. When he asks if she wants to join her husband, it is clear that the future of the wife and girl will be the same. As foreshadowed, soon they too are killed by his companion leaving the grandmother alone.

Even while the family’s ill-fate is foreshadowed at various stages in the story, O’Connor is careful not to break the suspense of the story, especially, the one that happens at the climax of it, which is the grandmother getting killed by the Misfit. She maintains this same effective style in most of her other stories too. Thus, O’Connor warns, yet thrills the readers through her works which are considered among the best in conveying powerful religious and theological messages.


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