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Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and Gabriel Marquez’s story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” are very different in nature, but share a common theme throughout. This theme is the depravity of humans, and in the context of this essay, that simply means that humans are imperfect and sinful and their actions reflect that. By examining a couple of similar elements of each story, it is possible to see how the authors used each of them to communicate this theme of human depravity. Elements like character and setting are used by O’Connor and Marquez to express this theme to their readers. Each of these writer do well to include many elements of fiction, but the two stated above will be analyzed in this essay to see how they are used to bring about the theme.
Flannery O’Connor is a twentieth century writer from America. She died early at the age of thirty-nine, but she still managed to publish a good amount of fiction works (Norton, 540). O’Connor’s story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, starts out with a family planning a vacation to Florida, and then it turns kind of dark at the end, which is hinted at by foreshadowing “The Misfit” that is on the loose, who escaped prison and was also headed to Florida. They encounter the Misfit after crashing their car, and it turns deadly after a strange conversation between the grandmother and the Misfit.
Gabriel Marquez is also a twentieth century writter. He is originally from Colombia, but eventually moved to Spain in 1967. Like O’Connor, he too wrote a lot of fiction, and he even won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 (Norton 406). Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is a story about an old man with enormous wings who seems like an angel and is taken in by a family. The couple, Pelayo and Elisenda, found him in their backyard and brought him in. They quickly notice this man is very intelligent and because of his wings he makes the couple lean towards thinking that he is an angel. Pelayo ends up locking him up. Eventually, word of this man gets out, and many people come to see the “Angel” to ask for miracles. People soon start to lose interest because the miracles they wanted did not happen, as well as a freak show that drew their attention away.
The characters in both stories are used by the authors to communicate the idea that humans are sinful, flawed, and crooked. In the story of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, we see a family who simply wanted to go on a nice vacation and it ended up being a horrific experience for them. On their trip, Red Sammy, a minor character, states that “a good man is hard to find”, hinting that the world is messed up and full of wicked people (Norton 547). Their experience on their trip and Red Sammy’s words simply reveal the theme of human depravity.
The character of the Misfit is violent and irrational. He is an escaped convict, which simply just adds to the fact that he is in the wrong. The Misfit is clearly evil and crooked. There are no other words for him and his act of murdering the family. However, although crooked and evil, the Misfit sought out spiritual and moral guidance, but his convictions are a lot different than a normal person like the grandmother. His convictions were strong and consistence, but not morally right to anyone but himself.
O’Connor contrasts the Misfit with the grandmother in the story. The grandmother also had convictions of her own, these being faith in Jesus. Her convictions, although conventionally moral, were weak, and she failed to consistently live them out. It is clearly seen that the Misfit is evil and crooked, but the grandmother is still sinful and flawed as well. The grandmother acted like she had it all together, but yet her convictions fail to stand up to the challenges brought forth by the Misfit. She is just another example of how humans are not perfect. Even when they seem to have it all together, they are still flawed.
In Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, we see an old man with wings who needs help and is taken in by a family. The characters that take him in are Pelayo and Elisenda. At first, Pelayo was kind to the man. He provided shelter for him and took care of him. However, this kindness was short lived, and Pelayo ended up locking the old man up in a chicken coop. Whether out of fear or some other reason, Pelayo’s action was simply wrong. It is inhuman to lock anyone up against their will, especially an old man who clearly needs help. Pelayo’s flaws do not stop there. He allowed and even charged admission for people to come look at the old man with wings. Anyone with common sense can see how wrong this is. Pelayo had to have been won over by greed to allow this terrible act to take place, which, again, goes to show the theme of human depravation. His character reveals the flaws and crookedness in all of humanity. He was just a normal person, but when tempted he failed, and it just shows how humans are capable of doing evil in pursuit of their own desires.
Pelayo’s wife, Elisenda, is in the same boat as Pelayo. She might not have been as involved with holding the old man as a prisoner and attraction, but she sat by and let it happen. Therefore, Elisenda is just as guilty as Pelayo for that action. She was mostly annoyed with him throughout the story, which is ironic because she was the one holding him captive and profiting off of him. The depravity of Elisenda is easily seen through her obliviousness to the fact that keeping the old man as a prisoner was wrong. As for both Pelayo and Elisenda, they did not even seem to have any conviction or guilt for their actions what so ever. The story only mentions Elisenda’s reaction, but it was a sigh of relief, not a realization of his wrong (Norton 441). Once again, this just goes to show how sinful and flawed humans are.
The setting of the stories help reveal the theme of human depravity in a different way than the characters do. The setting helps facilitate the action of the story and allows the characters to act and react based off what is around them. For example, in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, if the family had not been in Florida, then there would be no fear of running into the Misfit. Therefore, the theme of human depravity that O’Connor wanted to express through the Misfit could not occur.
The setting of the story continuously changes to allow for the action of the plot to unfold and for the theme to be developed. Looking at O’Connor’s story again allows us to see this occur. The setting moves from the grandparent’s house, to traveling in their car, to a diner, back to a car, and then to a wreck on the side of the road. Each of these settings allowed for different aspects of the theme to be revealed. For example, if they had not stopped at the diner, then the conversation with Sammy Red about the poor state the world was in would not have of taken place. This is how setting is used to communicate the theme to the readers. It is not a direct indication of the theme in this case, but it facilitates the portrayal of it.
In Marquez’s story of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, the theme is brought out in a different way by using the setting. In the story, the family that took in the old man is your normal family, with a normal house, with normal people around them. The setting is not supposed to be some crazy place magical place, but simply just an ordinary neighborhood. With a normal setting like this, it makes for a sharp contrast with the unusual old man and the inhuman actions of the family. Marquez’s contrast allows readers to see how normal people are flawed and can be evil at times, and it lets the theme of human depravity be clearly easily. If the setting was some unusual or magical place, then the readers would have a harder time seeing the wrong in the story.
O’Connor and Marquez both use elements of fiction in order to reveal and establish a theme throughout their stories. In particular, the use of character and setting in these two stories are used communicate the idea of human depravity. Without a good use of fictional elements, it would be hard for writers to clearly communicate themes and ideas throughout a story. However, both O’Connor’s and Marquez’s stories do well to communicate themes and ideas using these elements of fiction.
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