Use of Imagery in the Story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” By Flannery O’Connor


            The story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” uses imagery to describe vividly and provide the illusion of the whole journey and the intrigues that unfolded at the end of the story.The story, “AGood Man Is Hard to Find” by O’Connor, commences with the loud complain of the grandmother towards her son and his family’s plan to visit Georgia. The grandmother expresses great concern towards Misfit, a serial killer who escaped from the Federal Penitentiary and is out to terrorize the people. The story illustrates many themes and techniques, which are inherent throughout the story. One particular technique the author employed extensively is imagery. The following is an analysis of the O’Connor’s use of imagery and how it has been employed in the story.

Use of Imagery

            O’Connor depicts the idea of imagery early on in the story. The author describes the conversation between the grandmother and her son, Bailey, in a move to convince him to change his mind from travelling to Florida. The author clearly describes the mother’s sitting position, her movements in the chair and the movements of her son. Moreover, the author describes Bailey’s wife, her sitting position, the attire and her body shape.

“Bailey did not look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as cabbage and was tied to a head-kerchief that had two points on the top like a rabbit’s ears (O’Connor, 1982, pg. 3).”

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            The use of imagery is very significant as it portrays the theme of fear, as illustrated in Bailey’s behavior and the Grandmother’s determination to convince the family against going to Florida. The Grandmother’s fear is evidence in her use of the journal to assert her fears over Misfit. Moreover, the description of Bailey’s wife depicts innocence, as the woman did not have any position or any news regarding the presence of a gang in Florida.

            The technique of imagery in the beginning of the story, which depicts the appearance of the Grandmother, has another relevance of revealing the mother as a principled and righteous woman. The author further describes the trip to Florida by describing the dressing of the woman that reflects her as a woman. The striking descriptions are the finery that the woman wore; the white gloves, white dot in the print on her navy blue dress, her white organdy collar and scuffs and the white violets on her blue straw hat (O’Connor, 1982). The appearance of the Grandmother further portrays her as superior to the other members of the family. The author points that the Grandmother appearance would easily make her to be noticed as a woman in case she died in an accident. Perhaps the nature mimics the Grandmother’s attire. As the family travels out of Atlanta, the Grandmother recalls past experiences.

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“The blue granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway; the brilliant red clay banks slightly streaked with purple and the various crops that made rows of green lace-work on the ground. The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled (O’Connor, 1982), (Paragraph 13).”

            As the family travelled, the author gives us the images of life-vs.-death, which prepares the reader towards the eventual catastrophe that would later unfold. The Grandmother took the child, offering a glaring contrast between her old leathery and the baby’s bland face (O’Connor, 1982). Immediately, the family passes through an “old family burying ground” and the Grandmother points to the five or six graves, which equals to the number of the occupants in the car. Before passing the “old family burying round”, the author gives a description of the Stone Mountain. The character here is the Grandmother who narrates about the mountain, describing its outcropping, with trees that gave silver-white sunlight.

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            The images portrayed in the description of the “old family burying ground” and the Stone Mountain gave an illusion of death that Bailey and his family would later encounter. The old family ground has six graves, which was a premonition of the death that the six family members would later encounter at the hands of the Misfit. “Count them, six, six graves” (O’Connor, 1982). The family of Bailey had six members, that consisted of Bailey himself, his mother, wife and three kids. The silver-white light that the trees emitted is an imagery that associates with heaven. O’Connor further points that even the meanest of the trees sparkled under the illumination of the sunlight.

            In addition to the significance of the six trees, the description of the surrounding of the graves with fence is imagery. “They passed a large cotton field, with five or six graves, fenced in the middle of it, like a small island’’, (O’Connor, 1982).  The description of the “old family burying ground” as being like an Island is significant as it mirrors the fate of the family later when Misfit traps and surrounds them, just in a way that an Island is surrounded by water.

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            O’Connor employed the silver-light and the “meanest” as an imagery to help the reader decipher the association with heaven. Moreover, the “meanest” could have other significance in the story, depending on how one interprets the meaning of the term “meanest” as employed by the author.  The author uses the expression “meanest” to mean cruel or average, in apparent reference to the trees. The first case mirrors Misfit in his role when they captured and surrounded Bailey and his family. The second meaning would be as a representative of Bailey’s family during their predicament.

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            Further use of imagery is evident in the description of the monkey and his association to the chinaberry tree. The chinaberry tree is a plant that bears small yellow bead-like fruits and is common in the south. “A grey monkey about a foot high, chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered nearby. The monkey sprang back into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he saw the children jump out of the car and ran towards him”, (O’Connor, 1982, pg. 7). The presence of the monkey is the tree probably an image that was meant to create an illusion of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  The two children symbolize Adam and Eve, while the monkey symbolize the serpent in Eden, which tempts Adam and Eve, who in this case represent John Wesley and June Star.

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O’Connor employs a number of techniques in the story to foreshadow the tragic developments at the end of the story. Imagery has employed extensively by the author throughout the story. O’Connor begins the story by describing the conversation of Grandmother and Bailey’s family, depicting fear. Moreover, the author narrates, with vivid description of the conversation and behaviors of the characters throughout their journey. The description of the mountain and the six graves, offered an illusion of the death. The behavior of the children towards the monkey provided an illusion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which depicted deceit and death. The story ends as the illusions that were described finally come to happen when the family were killed by Misfit.

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