Essay about symbolism in A Good Man is Hard to Find

Flannery O'Connor's short story A Good Man is Hard to Find is rich in literary devices, making it a good essay topic. One of the devices O'Connor liked to use was symbolism. If you're writing about symbolism in this story here are a few things you could consider.

The Grandmother's Hat

The Grandmother is very clear about why she's wearing a hat; it's so that everyone she meets will know that she's a lady. Her conception of ladylike behaviour appears to be completely superficial and entirely related to her appearance. When the family leaves on the car journey she is careful to dress well so that in the event of an accident anyone who sees her body will also know that she is a lady.

When her son finally does have an accident the hat, the keystone of the Grandmother's self-image, is broken. As she talks to the Misfit and adjusts the hat the brim comes off in her hand; giving up, she drops it.

The Superiority of the Past

The Grandmother, Red Sammy from the diner and the Misfit all view the past as a time when a good man was easier to find. The Grandmother talks about her early life in Tennessee and the admirer who brought her watermelons. Red Sammy, complaining that he let two men cheat him out of a tankful of fuel, say that "These days you don't know who to trust" and is pleased when the Grandmother calls him a good man. Even the Misfit, the murderer, talks of what good people his parents were.

The Misfit's Glasses

The Misfit, for most of his time on stage, is portrayed as a calm and remorseless killer. His glasses are described as giving him a scholarly look, appropriate to the fact that he claims to have developed a moral code based on criminality and to live his life by it. After shooting the Grandmother, though, he removes his glasses to clean them. When his accomplices return from killing the rest of the family his eyes are described, without his glasses, as defenceless looking. Seeming to recant his earlier philosophy he declares that the Grandmother could have been a good woman and that there is no pleasure in killing. It's almost as if his glasses are his armour.

The story packs in a lot of content despite its short length. It's full of irony - the Grandmother claims she doesn't want to go to Florida because the escaped Misfit is believed to be heading there, but in diverting the family to Tennessee she unwittingly leads them straight to him. With its symbolism as well, it's possible to write a very interesting essay about it.

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