... group two's analysis of Flannery O'Connor's short story.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Analysis of symbolism, foreshadowing, irony, and humor


The automobile
The automobile carries the family from place to place and is controlled by the people inside. It is essentially a shell, representing the body of a person, which carries the soul and mind.

The sky
In this story, the sky represents three variations of a single symbolic theme: that the sky represents a state of mind.

"When there was nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other two guess what shape it suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John Wesley said, no, an automobile, and June Star said he didn't play fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother."

At the beginning of the family's journey, the sky is full of clouds. If you picture the sky as a container of thought, then clouds would represent blockage of thought, misinterpreted meaning, and blindness. Just as the two children have their own perceptions of what the clouds really look like, so does the grandmother have her own perception of what goodness really is. There are "clouds" in her mind that prevent her from seeing the "sun" -- or the light of truth. She interprets the clouds in her mind as the real thing.

"[The Misfit] looked at the six of them huddled together in front of him and he seemed to be embarrassed as if he couldn't think of anything to say. 'Ain't a cloud in the sky,' he remarked, looking up at it. 'Don't see no sun but don't see no cloud neither.'"

When the family encounters the Misfit, the sky is devoid of everything. There are no clouds, and therefore no blindness of thought, but there is no light either, which means there is no truth. The state of the sky in this scene reflects the grandmother's own empty state of mind during trouble. There is no good or evil in her thoughts, no blindness and no sight. There is simply emptiness.
"Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky."

When the grandmother is shot by the Misfit, the sky is still empty, but this time it seems to signify peace instead of emptiness of thought. There are no "clouds" blocking the grandmother's sight, and it is not mentioned that there is no light, but perhaps there is some shining over the tops of the trees in the woods.

The old house
This symbolizes temptation. If you view the highway that the family is driving on as the “true path” of life, then when the Grandmother tells the children about the old plantation house with the secret treasure, she is really tempting them. The house is a temptation to her as well.

The dirt road
When the family turns off the highway (symbolizing the right path of life) onto the dirt road that was supposed to lead to the old plantation house, it symbolizes that the family has fallen onto the sinful path. The dirt road is described as being “hilly” and having sudden washes and curves. Similarly, the sinful path, although tempting and desirable, is more dangerous and hard to travel than one assumes.

However, by the end of the story, readers realize that the straight, easy road of life that the characters were on before they turned onto the dirt road was not the right path either. Spiritually, the family (especially the Grandmother, who professed to be a “good lady”) was heading the wrong way. Their views of Christianity, goodness, and grace were all mixed up. It is ironic that the Grandmother's encounter with the Misfit on the "sinful path" is what it took to lead her to God's grace.

The ditch
This symbolizes how the characters are spiritually stuck in a ditch. They cannot move forward in their faith, nor can they move back.

The woods
In the scene with the Misfit, the family members (except for the Grandmother) are taken to the woods and shot one-by-one. The woods, symbolizing death, reek of fear and the unknown. It is behind the Grandmother the entire time, just as death is always behind us. It can either consume us, as it did the rest of the family, or we can die in the light of God, as did the Grandmother.

The Grandmother’s death
“The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot [the grandmother] three times through the chest.” Here, the number of times the Misfit shot her might hold some symbolic meaning. Christ died on the cross and rose on the third day. The Grandmother was spiritually dead all her life, but after the third shot through her chest, she died physically and became alive spiritually. Perhaps this symbolizes that she rose like Christ – not as a mimic of Him, but as a believer does when they accept Him: they die and are born again.


The six graves
“They passed a large cotton field with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island.” It is fitting that the Grandmother should notice how many graves there are: There are six members in the family. There will be six graves to be dug for them after the story.

This is the name of the town that the family comes across. Its name implies death, foreshadowing the family’s own death.

The black hearse-like automobile driven by the Misfit
A hearse is the typical type of vehicle used to carry the coffin for a funeral. Its name implies death, and the Misfit, who is the bringer of death in this story, is the one driving it.


- The story starts out with a family going to take a summer vacation and ends up with all of them being murdered. Not something you would expect…

- The grandmother says that she “wouldn’t take [her] children in any direction with a criminal like [the Misfit] aloose in it. [She] couldn’t answer to her conscious if [she] did.” Ironically, this is exactly what she does when she tempts her family into visiting the old house.

- The grandmother dresses up nicely so that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.” It’s ironic that she really does end up dead, but she knows before her death that her definition of “goodness” or about being a lady cannot be defined by wealth or appearance.

- "Bailey and the children's mother and the baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at eight forty-five with the mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down because she thought it would be interesting to say how many miles they had been when they got back." These sentences are ironic because the family never gets back home.

- “But nobody’s killed” said June Star after the car accident on the dirt road. This is ironic because the whole family ends up dead by the end of the story.

- “Listen,” Bailey began, “we’re in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is!” Bailey thinks he realizes the predicament, but he really doesn’t, and neither does the entire family. O’Connor might be referring to the family’s religious state here – a part of them that they are each blind to, but that the audience can see (this can be considered dramatic irony).


This family is at once humorous and dislikeable. O’Connor skillfully depicts them without any bias or comment, letting the audience actually see them for who they really are. She does not flatter them nor does she condemn them. She simply describes their actions and thoughts.

The things that the Grandmother does at the beginning of the story are amusing. Her actions are very entertaining to read about, but are simultaneously revealing how self-centered and blind she is.

O’Connor uses humor in the story to reflect human nature’s oddity and pettiness.


Debra Bell said...


Your section on symbolism needed some support from the story to verify that the meaning you ascribed to these elements makes sense. The most convincing analysis was the clouds -- you gave great examples from the story to back up your interpretation. Great job on irony and foreshadowing. You show you had a good grasp on the deeper meaning of the storyl

Phil Leto IV said...

YOu should reference the young baby in all this. The baby is symbolism for purity, or to be clearer, untarnished purity.