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Gothic Elements in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “The Lottery Robert Zenas Whipple III


Dreadful, remarkable, macabre, or supernatural occasions and “an environment of mystery and thriller” are the essentials of the American Gothic genre of literature (Phillips). The Southern Gothic sub-genre sets the events in the American South, makes substantial usage of paradox, and includes eccentric, deeply flawed characters but who have enough positive qualities that the reader discovers herself understanding regardless of herself. Unlike its moms and dad category, Southern Gothic is not worried simply with thriller for its own sake “however to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the South” (“Southern Gothic”). The terrible short story “A Great Male Is Tough to Discover,” by Flannery O’Connor, is epitomizes the Southern Gothic genre. On the other hand, Shirley Jackson’s allegorical tale “The Lottery game” includes the majority of these exact same components, but the occasions do not take place in the South, negating its category as Southern Gothic. In addition, the most typical aspects of American Gothic fiction: “ghostly legend [s] … omens, foreshadowing, and dreams … highly charged emotions … damsels in distress … [and] romantic styles” (Phillips) are mainly missing in “The Lottery game,” leading one to question if the American Gothic category is its precise taxonomy. This inconsistency might lead one to question the value of fitting stories into recognized categories: one might presume that every work in a category will be alike and disregard or stop working to view aspects that do not fit the mold. Nonetheless, by carefully avoiding overgeneralization and reserving preconceptions in order to take a look at elements common to the genre, along with those that do not conform, such classification can provide supplemental insight into the text and typically reveal deeper significance.

“The Lottery” explains occasions that are well outside our daily experience however appear ordinary enough at first. The action happens on a pleasant June day in the town square of a small village. The townspeople collect for a lottery game that has actually been a yearly custom for so long they have actually forgotten numerous aspects of the ceremony. The reader finds at the conclusion of the account that the “reward” for this lotto is death by stoning, as the other villagers mercilessly stone the unfortunate winner, Tessie Hutchinson. While these events are doubtless dreadful, remarkable, and macabre, the setting does little to create suspense or secret, though we are briefly in suspense when Mrs. Hutchinson protests the results– plainly something is not typical about this lottery. After the real nature of the lottery game is exposed, it can be seen that there is some foreshadowing in the afraid habits of the townspeople whose “jokes were quiet and … smiled rather than laughed” and who “kept their distance” from the black box (Jackson 573). Prior to the ending, we are unable to deduce the significance of this, and instead translate these habits as nervous excitement. This façade keeps the reader ignorant of the authentic purpose of the ritual, and serves to much better illustrate the senselessness of tradition 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 “Historic,” par. 1). The sense of normalcy drives home the tip to the reader that this might be taking place in any town, right now, and their town might be next.

On the other hand, “A Great Guy Is Tough to Discover” is a traditional Southern Gothic story. Certainly, one critic depicts O’Connor’s writing as, “biting and grotesquely comic satire of human arrogance and self-certainty” (“O’Connor’s A Good Man,” par. 14). The story tells the heartrending tale of a family holiday to Florida that ends in disaster. The granny controls the household into taking a side trip to see an old plantation, and they trash the automobile on the way, leaving them stranded on a desolate dirt road. Before long, a left convict, The Misfit, occurs and massacres the whole family. The events the story describes are incredibly dreadful, extraordinary, and macabre, and constant with the genre, the author utilizes foreshadowing to heighten thriller, and as we are not intentionally lulled into feeling all is normal (as in “The Lottery”), it is simpler to recognize. The graveyard, with “five or 6 graves” (there were six relative), 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 awful will take place (O’Connor 203; 205; 208).

The characters in “A Great Guy Is Hard to Find” likewise represent Southern Gothic style, in that they are both eccentric and deeply flawed. We initially meet a character understood only as “the grandma,” and we immediately see her as a picky, self-righteous, and quarrelsome shrew. Regardless of her apparent high opinion of herself, she has no trouble telling a lie when it suits her, “‘There was a secret panel in this house,’ she said craftily, not informing the fact but wishing that she were” (O’Connor 205). The grandma likewise has a tendency to disparage her household rather than reveal love, and appears to long for wealth also, informing June Star, “she would have succeeded to wed 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 are apparent when he purchases his spouse around like a servant, and like the grandma, he only sees the defects of others, “‘A great man is hard to find,’ Red Sammy said. ‘Whatever is getting awful'” (O’Connor 205). The most strange character is The Misfit; even his nickname demonstrates how improperly he fits into society, and he is an exceptional example of a grotesque character– definitely “cringe-inducing,” but at the same time, we see how he struggles within himself. When the granny pleads with him to hope, we observe his rather unusual view of religion, “‘Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead.’ The Misfit continued, ‘and He should not have done it. He thrown [sic] whatever off balance'” (O’Connor 211). His concern with courtesy– even while committing multiple murders, is another of his incongruent qualities, “I’m sorry I don’t have on a t-shirt prior to you girls” (O’Connor 209).

Conversely, the characters in “The Lottery game” are relatively regular. Jackson portrays characters such as Joe Summers, the rich civic leader of the town who administers the lottery, and Old Man Warner, who is the staunchest supporter of the lotto and tradition, as essentially stock characters to heighten the contrast of the terrible truth of the lottery game. This disparity in between the seemingly regular people of the village and the unabashed cruelty that ensues makes apparent that the events might happen anywhere. However, one character we see that is quite constant 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 ready or able to rescue her, as the custom is of greater importance to the townspeople than individualism or heroism.

The attribute of rich paradox is specifically present in “The Lotto.” The entire plot is paradoxical, with the entire story line unfolding contrary to expectations. The picturesque representation of the scene as “clear and warm, with the fresh heat of a full-summer day” with “flowers … blossoming a lot” and “richly green” grass advances this illusion that things are normal and relaxing (Jackson 572). When the populace begins to collect on the square, the guys are “speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes” and the females are gossiping, everybody displaying common small-town habits that seem even more typical due to the fact that of the objective and separated design of the narrative (Jackson 573). In maybe the most ghoulish irony, we see Mrs. Delacroix, after talking amiably with Mrs. Hutchinson in the start, advising her to “be a great sport,” when her family wins the lottery game; later, when the stoning begins, she picks up a stone so huge she need to utilize both hands, and even motivates others to “hurry up” (Jackson 576-7). Spoken paradox is also utilized to additional enhance the absurdity of institution when Mr. Summers asks if Mrs. Dunbar has a grown boy to draw for her even though “Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village understood the response … it was business of the authorities of the lotto to ask” (Jackson 575).

Consistent with Southern Gothic tradition, paradox is prevalent in “An Excellent Guy Is Tough to Discover” too. Comparable to the “The Lottery,” the story starts with no tip regarding the events to come, the granny even proclaiming it “a good day for driving” (O’Connor 203). Darker irony surface areas after the accident when June Star states with disappointment, “But no one’s eliminated,” which obviously holds true at that moment, however quickly will not be (O’Connor 207). Another example of irony is the granny herself, a female that to external looks has all of it together with her “white cotton gloves … navy blue straw sailor hat … and a navy blue dress” (O’Connor 202-3). Paradoxically, she dresses in this fashion so that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a woman” (O’Connor 203). As gone over previously, the granny has no issue with relativistic morality. She is also the near reason for the family’s misery because of her insistence on the side journey; she then seals their fate when she blurts out that she recognizes The Misfit, which is paradoxical in view of the truth that she had been advising the family about the danger of taking a trip with The Misfit “aloose [sic] (O’Connor 202). This contrast between how the granny appears and how she actually is makes her redemption at the end of the story, when she lastly shows sincere Christ-like love, even more poignant.

In addition to the numerous irony within both stories, the titles themselves are paradoxical also. The title of “The Lottery” has a favorable connotation of an opportunity to win money or prizes, however this Lottery awards only death. Upon reading the title of “An Excellent Man Is Tough to Discover,” we believe that the story will have to do with discovering a great man, or possibly a male who becomes excellent in the course of the story. Paradoxically, it is a good woman we discover, which simply due to the fact that of the influence of The Misfit, who is anything however a great guy. Each story utilizes irony perfectly and in various ways, and each definitely exhibits this characteristic of the American Gothic genre.

While both stories use many of the aspects of the Gothic literary tradition, clearly “A Great Man Is Hard to Discover” conforms far more closely to the attributes of the American Gothic category, and specifically, the Southern Gothic sub-genre. “The Lotto,” with its absence of a Southern setting and eccentric, problematic characters is definitely not Southern Gothic, and while it has few of the components typically seen in American Gothic fiction, its horrific and macabre occasions and biting paradox eliminate unpredictability as to its category as such. In analyzing the Gothic elements of the stories, it becomes clear that in spite of being classified in different ways, these stories have something in common; in fact, both stories are contemporary parables, as each includes a covert lesson, revealed by thorough analysis. “The Lotto” requires us to question the virtue of tradition, because of the indefensible outcome of the story. In a comparable way, “An Excellent Guy Is Difficult to Discover” reveals us that above all it is not our outward appearance that makes us a great guy or lady, however rather the love that we have for others.

Works Cited

“Historical Context: ‘The Lottery’.” CHECKING OUT Brief Stories. Detroit: Windstorm, 2003. Discovering Collection. Gale. Pellissippi State Tech. Comm. Coll. 4 July 2009 <

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