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Gothic Elements in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “The Lottery


Horrific, extraordinary, macabre, or supernatural occasions and “an atmosphere of mystery and suspense” are the essentials of the American Gothic category of literature (Phillips). The Southern Gothic sub-genre sets the events in the American South, makes extensive use of paradox, and includes eccentric, deeply flawed characters but who possess enough favorable attributes that the reader discovers herself empathizing in spite of herself. Unlike its parent genre, Southern Gothic is not concerned merely with thriller for its own sake “however to check out social issues and reveal the cultural character of the South” (“Southern Gothic”). The tragic short story “A Good Male Is Tough to Find,” by Flannery O’Connor, is typifies the Southern Gothic category. On the other hand, Shirley Jackson’s allegorical tale “The Lotto” includes most of these same elements, but the occasions do not take place in the South, negating its category as Southern Gothic. Furthermore, the most typical elements of American Gothic fiction: “ghostly legend [s] … prophecies, foreshadowing, and dreams … extremely charged emotions … damsels in distress … [and] romantic themes” (Phillips) are primarily missing in “The Lotto,” leading one to question if the American Gothic category is its precise taxonomy. This discrepancy might lead one to question the worth of fitting stories into recognized categories: one might assume that every operate in a genre will be alike and neglect or stop working to perceive aspects that do not fit the mold. However, by thoroughly preventing overgeneralization and setting aside prejudgments in order to examine components common to the category, as well as those that do not adhere, such classification can give supplemental insight into the text and frequently reveal much deeper significance.

“The Lotto” describes occasions that are well outside our daily experience however appear ordinary enough in the beginning. The action occurs on an enjoyable June day in the town square of a little town. The townspeople collect for a lottery that has actually been a yearly tradition for so long they have forgotten lots of elements of the ceremony. The reader discovers at the conclusion of the account that the “prize” for this lottery game is death by stoning, as the other villagers mercilessly stone the unfortunate winner, Tessie Hutchinson. While these events are doubtless dreadful, extraordinary, and macabre, the setting does little to develop suspense or mystery, though we are briefly in suspense when Mrs. Hutchinson objects the outcomes– plainly something is not typical about this lottery game. After the real nature of the lotto is exposed, it can be seen that there is some foreshadowing in the afraid habits of the townspeople whose “jokes were peaceful and … smiled instead of chuckled” and who “kept their range” from the black box (Jackson 573). Prior to the ending, we are not able to deduce the significance of this, and instead analyze these habits as anxious enjoyment. This façade keeps the reader oblivious of the genuine purpose of the ritual, and serves to much better show the senselessness of custom blindly followed. Jackson states about the setting: “I hoped by setting an especially ruthless ancient rite in today and in my own town [North Bennington, VT], to surprise the story’s readers” (qtd. in “Historical,” par. 1). The sense of normalcy drives house the suggestion to the reader that this could be taking place in any town, today, and their town might be next.

In contrast, “A Great Male Is Hard to Find” is a classic Southern Gothic story. Indeed, one critic represents O’Connor’s composing as, “biting and grotesquely comic satire of human arrogance and self-certainty” (“O’Connor’s A Great Man,” par. 14). The story tells the heartrending tale of a household holiday to Florida that ends in catastrophe. The grandmother manipulates the family into taking a side journey to see an old plantation, and they wreck the car on the way, leaving them stranded on a desolate dirt roadway. Before long, a left convict, The Misfit, occurs and massacres the entire family. The events the story explains are exceptionally horrific, remarkable, and macabre, and consistent with the category, the author utilizes foreshadowing to heighten thriller, and as we are not intentionally lulled into feeling all is typical (as in “The Lottery game”), it is much easier to acknowledge. The graveyard, with “five or 6 graves” (there were six member of the family), the town of “Toombsboro,” and the way the woods “gaped like a dark open mouth,” are a few examples of how O’Connor lets us know something terrible is about to take place (O’Connor 203; 205; 208).

The characters in “An Excellent Male Is Tough to Discover” also represent Southern Gothic design, because they are both eccentric and deeply flawed. We initially fulfill a character known just as “the granny,” and we instantly see her as a picky, self-righteous, and quarrelsome shrew. Despite her apparent high viewpoint of herself, she has no trouble telling a lie when it matches her, “‘There was a secret panel in this house,’ she said craftily, not telling the reality however wanting that she were” (O’Connor 205). The granny also tends to disparage her household rather than show love, and seems to yearn for wealth as well, telling June Star, “she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden,” because he had prospered from Coca-Cola stock (O’Connor 204). Another character that displays eccentricity is Red Sammy, owner of The Tower, who keeps a “gray monkey about a foot high, chained to a little chinaberry tree” as a family pet (O’Connor 204). His chauvinistic tendencies appear when he purchases his better half around like a slave, and like the granny, he just sees the flaws of others, “‘A great male is difficult to discover,’ Red Sammy stated. ‘Whatever is getting dreadful'” (O’Connor 205). The most peculiar character is The Misfit; even his nickname demonstrates how inadequately he suits society, and he is an excellent example of a grotesque character– certainly “cringe-inducing,” however at the exact same time, we see how he has a hard time within himself. When the grandma pleads with him to pray, we observe his rather strange view of religious beliefs, “‘Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead.’ The Misfit continued, ‘and He shouldn’t have actually done it. He tossed [sic] whatever off balance'” (O’Connor 211). His worry about courtesy– even while dedicating several murders, is another of his incongruent traits, “I’m sorry I don’t have on a shirt before you girls” (O’Connor 209).

On the other hand, the characters in “The Lottery” are comparatively typical. Jackson portrays characters such as Joe Summers, the wealthy civic leader of the town who administers the lottery, and Old Male Warner, who is the staunchest advocate of the lottery and custom, as practically stock characters to heighten the contrast of the horrifying reality of the lottery. This variation between the ostensibly ordinary citizens of the town and the unabashed cruelty that takes place makes evident that the occasions might happen anywhere. Then again, one character we see that is quite consistent with the American Gothic category is the “damsel in distress,” in Tessie Hutchinson; while not technically a damsel, she fills the role, although there is no brave knight prepared or able to rescue her, as the custom is of greater significance to the townspeople than individualism or heroism.

The attribute of abundant paradox is especially present in “The Lotto.” The entire plot is paradoxical, with the entire story line unfolding contrary to expectations. The picturesque depiction of the scene as “clear and bright, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day” with “flowers … blossoming profusely” and “highly green” lawn enhances this impression that things are normal and peaceful (Jackson 572). When the population starts to collect on the square, the men are “speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes” and the women are gossiping, everybody showing typical small-town behaviors that seem even more regular due to the fact that of the goal and separated style of the narrative (Jackson 573). In maybe the most ghoulish irony, we see Mrs. Delacroix, after talking amiably with Mrs. Hutchinson in the beginning, prompting her to “be a great sport,” when her household wins the lotto; later, when the stoning starts, she picks up a stone so huge she should use both hands, and even motivates others to “hurry” (Jackson 576-7). Verbal paradox is also used to additional strengthen the absurdity of organization when Mr. Summers asks if Mrs. Dunbar has a grown kid to draw for her despite the fact that “Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village understood the response … it was business of the official of the lotto to ask” (Jackson 575).

Consistent with Southern Gothic tradition, irony is pervasive in “An Excellent Man Is Difficult to Discover” also. Similar to the “The Lotto,” the story starts without any hint as to the events to come, the grandma even proclaiming it “a good day for driving” (O’Connor 203). Darker irony surfaces after the accident when June Star says with dissatisfaction, “However nobody’s killed,” which of course is true at that minute, however soon will not be (O’Connor 207). Another example of irony is the grandma herself, a lady that to external appearances has all of it together with her “white cotton gloves … navy blue straw sailor hat … and a navy blue dress” (O’Connor 202-3). Ironically, she dresses in this fashion so that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would understand at the same time that she was a girl” (O’Connor 203). As talked about earlier, the granny has no issue with relativistic morality. She is likewise the proximate reason for the family’s misery because of her persistence on the side journey; she then seals their fate when she blurts out that she acknowledges The Misfit, which is ironic in view of the fact that she had been admonishing the family about the danger of traveling with The Misfit “aloose [sic] (O’Connor 202). This contrast between how the grandma seems and how she in fact is makes her redemption at the end of the story, when she lastly shows sincere Christ-like love, all the more poignant.

In addition to the abundant paradox within both stories, the titles themselves are ironic also. The title of “The Lottery” has a positive undertone of an opportunity to win cash or prizes, however this Lottery awards only death. Upon checking out the title of “A Good Male Is Hard to Find,” our company believe that the story will have to do with discovering a good male, or possibly a man who becomes excellent in the course of the story. Ironically, it is a good lady we discover, which merely because of the influence of The Misfit, who is anything however a good guy. Each story uses irony perfectly and in various methods, and each definitely exemplifies this attribute of the American Gothic genre.

While both stories use a lot of the aspects of the Gothic literary tradition, clearly “A Good Guy Is Difficult to Discover” adheres much more carefully to the qualities of the American Gothic genre, and specifically, the Southern Gothic sub-genre. “The Lottery,” with its absence of a Southern setting and eccentric, flawed characters is certainly not Southern Gothic, and while it has few of the components usually seen in American Gothic fiction, its dreadful and macabre events and biting irony eliminate unpredictability regarding its category as such. In analyzing the Gothic parts of the stories, it becomes clear that in spite of being categorized in various ways, these stories have something in common; in truth, both stories are modern-day parables, as each consists of a hidden lesson, exposed by thorough analysis. “The Lotto” forces us to question the virtue of tradition, because of the indefensible outcome of the story. In a comparable way, “An Excellent Male Is Tough to Find” reveals us that above all it is not our outside appearance that makes us an excellent man or lady, but rather the love that we have for others.

Works Mentioned

“Historic Context: ‘The Lotto’.” CHECKING OUT Short Stories. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Finding Collection. Wind. Pellissippi State Tech. Comm. Coll. 4 July 2009 <

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