Although the prose is the genre that is as a natural material for the structural criticism in contrast to poetry, there are some problems found in the analysis of some pieces of prose as well.
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Although the stories written by an outstanding American writer Flannery O’Connor are each a structurally independent piece, there are certain similarities in some of her novels. The novels in question are those called “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People.” Themes, characters, and settings of these two novels will be compared in this research paper.
Although the texts touch upon entirely different aspects of people’s lives, they are strikingly similar when one takes a closer look at them. First of all, it is essential to consider the elements of the abovementioned texts. Their diversity should not deceive, for they deal with the same topic.
Settings of “Good Country People” & “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
The difference between the settings of “Good Country People” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is not that big as it might have seen at first. The first novel 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. These settings are tragic and make one think of the fragility of life and the danger waiting for the travelers on their life journey.
The other text, 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.
Both stories unwind in the same environment. The road that the family in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is a symbol of the life path – or the way that we choose. In this respect, F.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 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. This is also a central “Good Country People” theme. The author is trying to convey the simple thesis of people’s imperfection and the world being, in fact, a place where terrible mistakes and misconceptions occur often. And she manages to do it brilliantly.
Characters in “Good Country People” & “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
Speaking of the characters involved in both pieces, one must admit that the pattern taken by the author once is deliberately repeating itself in each of her stories. The critics go further in their suggestions about the topics implemented in the story. For instance, Spivey suggests that Flannery 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 destruction of the fabricated view 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 fade away, and the remaining of the past that the family was is buried now.
Analysis of “Good Country People” shows that the scenery there takes a lot after the previous story. Yet it lacks the idea of the journey that leads nowhere, while the previous novel was breathing with it. Here, everything is ok, 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, one must mention that, in spite of their diversity, they are still cast of the same piece of mold. Whenever the reader takes “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” or “Good Country People,” the themes that he or she will inevitably face the are the same.
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 is filled with the ideas of the new beautiful world waiting for the people. An old reminiscence of the past buried long before he or she 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. Although the plot is quite different in the mentioned stories, the cast of characters in “Good Country People” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” remains the same.
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The old lady in the latter novel is almost a copy of Mrs. Hopewell, the woman who runs a household and rents the room to her tenants. 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 turn into ashes.
The son of the old lady in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” can be considered a prototype of the 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. 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 both stories, one could say that these are not certain people, and these are not people at all, but the evil embodied in 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 serve as the symbol of the changes brought to the South. These are not people, but the fiery breath of the new that battles with the old. As they say, it is bad to live in a time of change.
The pattern of the elements that change as O’Connor proceeds with telling the readers her story is rather unusual. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the parts are interwoven so that the reader could feel the story float most naturally. 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. He concludes that O’Connor’s description of the Grandmother’s “change” – from merely exhibiting nice 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 humble human being into the raving and protesting creature is the idea that the text of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find“ 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 other one implicates some other changes. The change described here is somewhat different, and it means spiritual changes rather than the moral ones. The lead character of “Good Country People”, named Hulga, is supposed to pass the transformation of her consciousness. The protagonist of the story comes into the world reborn and free – but 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.
What does Hulga learn about herself? Ready to break down her defense against men and give herself at last to a suitor, she 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)
Compare and Contrast
The balance between the images and the events is perfect in the stories, yet there are certain elements of differentiation in both novels. They construct a perfect structure that amazes wit its harmony and the beauty within.
Though these are two separate stories, the images and the events of each coincide perfectly. The characters and settings of “Good Country People” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” look similar. The novels seem rather close in the stories that they are telling. The tightrope that they are leveled on is the writer’s skill to depict life as it is, without trying to make it more attractive.
In summary, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” presents the images that are typical for the southern states of the US. he line drawn between the good and the bad seems blurred. In the meantime, this is the same as what goes for the second novel, “Good Country People.” Its characters are the people stuck so deeply in their own beliefs that it becomes hard for them to acknowledge their faults and desires. That makes them no better than the strange man, a priest-impostor that was obsessed with the weird ideas and was trying to confuse Hulga.
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 to 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 him. The first moments without the support of the wooden leg and the spectacles that she 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 in, 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 folk 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.
There are certain links between these events in the two stories, as well as between the characters of “Good Country People” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. These links provide a deep insight into the atmosphere of the South in the times of its changes and make 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 country folk of the old South.
In summary, 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 Orwell 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)
This research paper aimed to compare and contrast O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People.” The characters, settings, and themes of the novels feature similarities as well as differences. 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.