Flannery O'connor 'A Good Man Is Hard To Find'

Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" uses a variety of narrative techniques to create an intriguing story...

In "A Good Man Is Hard To Find", Flannery O'Connor uses a variety of narrative techniques to create an intriguing story. O'Connor writes from a third person narrator and tells the story from the perspective of the Grandmother. The point of view straddles the line between limited omniscience and total omniscience. According to Janet Burroughway, in her book, Writing Fiction, limited omniscience is when the narrator "interprets one character's actions and thoughts but we see the other's only externally" (226). Burroughway describes the total omniscient author as "God" (224). Burroughway gives us five advantages of total omniscience:

1) Objectively report what is happening;

2) Go into the mind of any character;

3) Interpret for us that character's appearance, speech, actions, and thoughts, even if the character cannot do so;

4) Move freely in time or space to give us a panoramic, telescopic, microscopic, or historical view, tell us what else has happened elsewhere or in the past or what will happen in the future;

5) Provide general reflections, judgements and truths. 225

O'Connor lets us know whose story this is in the first two lines, "The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind" (2148). O'Connor is not giving us any thoughts. She is giving us background information about what happens just before the story starts that only an omniscient or panoramic narrator would know. She does, however, limit the point of view to the grandmother and continues to do so in the next lines, "Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy" (2148). The only action we see is as it relates to the limited view of the grandmother, "Bailey didn't look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children's mother, a young woman in slacks . . ." (2148).

O'Connor continues to straddle between a total omniscient and limited omniscient narrator. "She didn't intend for the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of the gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn't like to arrive at a motel with a cat" (2149). She gives us a reason for the grandmother's behavior that could be interpreted as the grandmother's thoughts, but it reads more like a total omniscient narrator. If it is limited omniscience we would get some clue that it is her thoughts and not a narrative explanation. The paragraph would read something like this: She knew her son Bailey. . . And she didn't intend for the cat to be left alone. . .

O'Connor uses the same technique throughout the story making it difficult to exactly define the point of view of the story. There are other times where the story slips into total omniscience. "There was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the other side of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance. . ." (2154). The use of the pronoun "they" instead of "she" does not limit the point of view to the grandmother. The narrator is telling us what they all saw. They""the point of view of everyone in the car""is total omniscience not limited.

O'Connor's use of both totally omniscient and limited omniscient narrators telling a story from the grandmother's point of view is brilliant. It allows us to see the story as it unfolds, but limits it to the grandmother's view of the action. It is the grandmother who curses the family by warning about "The Misfit." It is the grandmother who gets the family lost, and eventually killed. Seeing the story from a panoramic god's eye view, without the grandmother's thoughts, allows us to interpret what is happening, while adding to the drama. We don't need to know the grandmother's thoughts. The narrator shows us everything we need to know and allows the reader to make their own conclusions about what the characters are thinking. Is there any doubt about what the grandmother was thinking when she heard the gun shot and then called, "Bailey Boy?" No thoughts are necessary. We know what she is thinking through her actions. O'Connor writes in a way that lets us know the character's thoughts, without her telling us.

In the end, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" could not be told from the grandmother's limited point of view. She is dead, and dead people have no actions or thoughts. What we get is a totally omniscient account of what happens immediately after her death. The effect O'Connor achieves could not have been accomplished by only using either a limited or total omniscient point of view. O'Connor meets Burroughway's definitions of both limited omniscient and total omniscient point of view. We see most of the action through the point of view of the grandmother, limited omniscience. We also get a panoramic view and an objective report of what is happening, total omniscience. The result is a story that is neither limited nor total omniscience, but a subtle mixture of both.

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