Although prose is the genre that can be considered as rather easy material to be subjected to the structural criticism, in contrast to poetry, which does not stick to the structure and is quite a play on the form and style, there are some problems found in the analysis of some pieces of prose as well.
In spite if the fact that the stories written by an outstanding American writer Flannery O’Connor are each a structurally independent piece, there are certain similarities that can be found in some of her novels. The novels in question, namely the novels called “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People”.
In spite of the fact that the texts touch upon completely different aspects of people’s lives, they are strikingly similar when one takes a closer look at them. First of all, it is important to consider the elements of the abovementioned texts. Their diversity should not deceive, for they actually deal with one and the same topic.
The difference between then is not that big as it might have seen at first. The settings in the first novel, which depicts a country road and a family moving towards the destination unknown, with an ambush on their way and the bandits robbing and killing them, are tragic and making one think of the fragility of life and the danger that awaits for the travelers on their life journey.
The other story, which is supposed to make quite a different impression, has the settings unchanged – or, it should be said, they have been modified a little for the reader to get trapped into the split between the reality and the novel.
In fact, both stories unwind in the same environment. The road that the family in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is rather a symbol of the life path – or the road that we choose. In this respect O’Connor is practically following the footprints of O’Henry with his themes of crime and punishment. No wonder that she on the O’Henry award (Kirk 16) once, for the art of depicting the life as it is, without subdividing people into criminals and judges, or the poor and the rich, or the right and the wrong.
The idea of the wrong and the right is what following each piece of O’Connor’s prose. She is trying to convey the simple idea of people’s imperfection and the world being in fact a place where terrible mistakes and misconceptions occur often. And, it should be said that she manages to do it brilliantly.
Speaking of the characters that are involved in both pieces, it is needless to say that the pattern that the author has taken once is deliberately repeating itself in each of her stories. The critics go further in their suggestions about the ideas implemented in the story; for instance, Spivey suggests that O’Connor depicts the collapsing world in her story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”: “In the first and the last stories of A Good Man Is Hard to Find, O’Connor presented her profound visions of the destruction of paralyzed worlds” (124).
Spivey also thinks that O’Connor wants to create the impression of the fabricated views destruction in the story (125). Indeed, as the old lady in the story dies, the last ray of hope for the world to stay the way it used to be fades away, and the remaining of the past tat the family was is buried now.
The scenery of “Good Country People” takes a lot after the previous story, yet it lacks the idea of the journey that leads nowhere, while the previous novel was literally breathing with it. Here, everything is settled, but the author brings her readers again to the same atmosphere of the country that no longer exists – the old traditions of the American South that are slowly dying out.
What strikes most is O’Connor’s persistent attempt to depict the people who are painfully trying to keep the things that exist no longer and to revive the traditions and morals that have been left in the previous century. Their efforts have no result, yet they are resorting to the last hope of theirs, but they cannot understand that the old model of life that they are used to is something that will lead them into the abyss.
Speaking of the characters of the novels, it must be mentioned that, in spite of their diversity, they are still cast of the same piece of mould. Whenever the reader takes “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, or “Good Country People”, he or she will inevitably face the same ideas that are soaring in the air of the old South stories.
Actually, what differentiates O’Connor’s stories from the rest of the South American literature is that there are practically no good or bad characters. They are all bearing a piece of good and evil within, not to the same extent, of course, but O’Connor does not try to idealize any of them. She is following the trail of the history that can speak the truth better than anyone else can.
A youngster filled with the ideas of the new beautiful world that is waiting for the people. An old reminiscence of the past that has been buried long before he or she actually realized it, and a villain that breaks the hopes and lives of these people as he encounters them on his way – such a description can be applied to both stories, in fact. Although the plot is quite different in the mentioned stories, the cast of characters remains the same.
Indeed, the old lady in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is almost a copy of Mrs. Hopewell, the woman who is running a household and rents the room to her tenants. The both women embody everything that the old South possessed, the morals to adhere to, the reliability and the hope for the future. And they gradually change as their beliefs are turned into ashes.
The son of the old lady in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” can be considered a prototype of girl in the next story. With their shattered dreams and the new ideas that they think to have acquired on their own, while these concepts were carefully put into their consciousness by the propagandists of the new century ideals, they are equally tragic figures, since they have nothing to take as the cornerstone for their future life – these are only the stepping stones that they can find. Sad, but true, such is their story.
Speaking about the villains in the both stories, one could say that these are not the certain people, and these are not people at all, but the evil embodied into mere mortals. Again, O’Connor gives a hint to the broken ideas and dreams of the South that have given birth to all these reckless and dangerous people who know no mercy and do not hesitate to kill the one who will stand in their way.
However strange that might sound, the villains in the novels are used as the symbol of the changes that have been brought to the South. These are not people, but the fiery breath of the new that battles wit the old. As they say, it is no good to live in the time of changes.
The pattern of the elements that changes as O’Connor proceeds with telling the readers her story is rather unusual. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” the elements are interwoven so that the reader could feel the story float in the most natural way. It is peculiar that some of the critics notice the similarity between O’Connor’s prose and the Greek comedies (Scott 195):
Robert Donahoo argues that an examination of the form and mechanisms of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find“ reveals that the story is not merely idiosyncratically created, but patterned according to classical models developed by Dante and Aristophanes. He offers a reading of the story in its context and concludes that O’Connor’s description of the Grandmother’s “change” – from merely exhibiting good manners through words to showing love through action – conforms to the agon of Aristophanes’ comedies.
Such an idea seems rather logical. The pattern of changing from a quiet and humble human being into the raving and protesting creature is the idea that the novel is full of. However refined and elegant one’s manners might be, there comes the essence of a human when one’s life interests are being violated.
In comparison to this novel, the one called “Good Country People” implicates some other changes. The change described here is of rather different character and it signifies spiritual changes rather than the moral ones. The lead character, the girl named Hulga, is supposed to pass the change of her consciousness and come into the world reborn – but reborn and wounded again. Sad, but true is the fact that O’Connor does not let her characters to enjoy their victory in full – in fact, she does not even allow them to taste it.
Hulga, on the verge of breaking down her defense against men and giving herself at last to a suitor, finds herself relinquishing instead, all unwillingly, her wooden leg. It could be a painful scene, but in O’Connor’s hands it is timed to comic perfection, and with a biting edge of irony – turned against the girl. (Orvell 60)
The balance between the images and the events is perfect in the stories, yet there are certain elements of differentiation in the both novels. They are balanced into a perfect structure which amazes wit its harmony and the beauty within.
In spite of the fact that these re two separate stories, the images and the events of each coincide perfectly, and the novels seem rather close in the settings and the characters that they are telling about. The tightrope that they are leveled on is the writer’s skill to depict the life as it is, without trying to make it more attractive.
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” presents the set of images that is typical for the South states of the US, and the line drawn between the good and the bad seems completely blurred. In the meantime, this is the same what goes for the second novel, “Good Country People”, which creates the images of the people stuck so deep un their own beliefs that it becomes hard for them to acknowledge their own faults and desires, and this lead them to being no better than the strange man, a priest-impostor that was obsessed by the weird ideas and was trying to confuse Hulga.
After all, it was him to take off her “human bondage”, her glasses and her wooden leg, and made her see that there are some things that people have to face.
The reason for the girl to suggest him a runaway is not because she had fallen in love with him, and it can hardly be the gratitude for what he had done to her, for the first moments with out the support of the wooden leg and the spectacles that she was used to rely on were full of pain, but not the relief, – it was rather that she felt that together, it was not that scary to oppose the world full of misunderstanding and cruelty.
The images are fully corresponding to the events they are involved into, just as strange and needing crutches badly. The lame century was catching up with the runaways, and they hardly had any chance to escape, which the man understood pretty well, but which Hulga was unaware of. Poor thing, she had a lot of things to be disappointed about.
Next to them, there are the characters from the novel “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Full of irony that the author sheds on the people who thought that they could change the principles of the world, O’Connor at the same time feels sorry for the characters that are trying to match the on-coming era, but – alas! – it is absolutely in vain. The heroes of this story are a full match to the events that they get into, since the mishaps that occur to these people are just as absurd and ridiculous as those people themselves.
Nevertheless, there are certain links between these events in the two stories, as well as between the characters of the novels. These links provide a deep insight into the atmosphere of the South in the times of its changes, and makes it clear that the main problem of these days was the beliefs broken by the stamping foot treading mercilessly on the values and morals of the people of the old South.
This is what can be the basis for the similarities between the two novels. The South reborn with its traditions laid at rest was the subject of O’Connor’s irony and deep grief. The author could not but feel that the South was following the road that would inevitably lead it into a dead end. As Orvell put it,
One would certainly not want to underestimate O’Connor’s very real feelings about the South and about historical change in themselves. Her conservatism was strong but not unthinking. (16)
What makes the stories seem so similar and yet present two completely different views of the matter is her way of depicting the elements of the story. She weaves them into a pattern that is repeatedly telling about the morals and rules that the South has forgotten or turned its back on, and is trying to persuade that the new ideas bring even more suffering.
The similarity between the elements of the story is complete, and if there is something that cannot be hidden within, for it comes right up on the surface, crying for people to hear it. Although the ideas of the old South have been drowned, O’Connor still has the hope that people will change for better – or that they will change as far as they can.
Kirk, Connie A. Critical Companion to Flannery O’Connor. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2008. Print.
Orvell, Miles. Flannery O’Connor: An Introduction. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 1991. Print.
Scott, Neil R. Flannery O’Connor: An Annotated Guide to Criticism. Hopewell, NJ: Timberlane Books, 2002. Print.
Spivey, Ted R. Flannery O’Connor: The Woman, the Thinker, the Visionary. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997 Print.