O’Connor and Faulkner

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Barn Burning” are both stories about dysfunctional families. The family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” – consisting of a grandma, a mom, a dad, two kids, and a baby – don’t really seem to care about each other all that much. The kids are rude, to each other and to the rest of the family. The mom doesn’t say much. The dad seems very annoyed throughout the whole thing. The grandmother is afraid of making him angry: after the car accident, she was “hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her all at once” (2781). When the Misfit’s henchmen are murdering her family, the grandma doesn’t seem to care, instead focusing on herself and the Misfit. The bond she seems to have quickly formed with the Misfit supersedes any bond she had with her family.

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The family in “Barn Burning” is even more dysfunctional. The young boy, Sarty, is constantly conflicted between family loyalty and justice. Should he listen to his conscience and tell the truth, or should he listen to his father and lie? His father, Abner, puts the poor kid in a terrible position by expecting him to lie to cover for his crimes. Sarty’s older brother seems to take his father’s side, and his sisters and mother don’t really say much. Another thing both families have in common is the lack of names for the characters. The grandma and the mom in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” are unnamed, as are the older brother and one of the sisters in “Barn Burning.” Does referring to these characters by their role in the family (grandma, children’s mother, older brother) suggest that this family role is more important than their individual identities? Hmm.

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The similarities between the Misfit and Abner Snopes are interesting. Both seem to be committing crime in response to being treated unfairly. In the Misfit’s case, he believes he has been punished unfairly: “I found out the crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it” (2785). It seems as though he continues to commit crime because he believes he will be punished anyway, so might as well do the crime. He has been doing it for so long that he seems almost obligated to kill people. In Abner’s case, he burns wealthy people’s barns as an act of rebellion and frustration. As a poor man, he believes he is being exploited by these wealthy people, so he responds by destroying part of the property that makes them wealthy. Ironically, however, by repeatedly committing this crime, he is making his family’s situation even worse. They must live on the run in order to escape the consequences of Abner’s actions.

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Social class also plays a role in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The grandma is concerned with looking like a lady: “Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her would know at once that she was a lady” (2776). Foreshadowing? The grandma also asserts her status as a dignified lady with her constant references to the past. Like most grandmas, she insists that the world is falling apart (“Kids these days can’t go one hour without their electronic devices! Back in my day I actually played outside!”). According to grandma, her youth was a much better time, when people treated each other with respect instead of shooting each other. Another indication of the family’s social class is given by June Star’s attitude toward The Tower. She obnoxiously declares that she “wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks!” (2778). She seems to consider herself above a place like The Tower.

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