The Use of Grotesque in Literature

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Christine Ku

13 December 2010

ENGL-213, Pollack

The Use of Grotesque in Literature

While we can make some useful generalizations about the purposes to which the grotesque may be used, it is clear that the range of possible functions is very broad. Some instances of the grotesque serve no purpose at all apart from a purely ornamental or personal one; some have no function except the fulfillment of a whimsical and capricious desire to invent something bizarre and eccentric. In some works, satirical points are made through the use of the grotesque, while others have a comical twist about them. Using the technique of grotesque in art and literature allows the reader to be stimulated in finding new meanings towards the boundaries of normalcy that society has set in place. The use of grotesque allows the author to convey new meanings through the effects of disorder, contradiction and mystery. The authors Flannery O’Connor, Lewis Nordan and Eudora Welty in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, Wolf Whistle and “Lily Daw and the Three Ladies”, respectively, acknowledge that by using the strategy of grotesque and intertwining it with comedy, it brings an unreal quality to the rules in which society is living by, only to degrade the standard, principle of behavior.

In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, O’Connor uses the grotesque, which serves to bind the laughable and the seriousness together. The grandmother and the Misfit are two characters of the extreme. The grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is the story’s main character. Her religious epiphany at the end of the story provides the philosophical thrust behind the third-person narrative. By giving her no name other than grandmother and grouchy conversation that provides much of the story’s humor, Flannery O’Conner is able to paint her as a tragically comic caricature, which the reader can feel superior to. Grandmother is selfish and pushy, which can be seen clearly in her desire to see a childhood house, which is in the wrong state, and results in the family’s death at the end of the story. The Misfit on the other hand is an absurd, demented character, but he is also the character that we can relate to. We can relate to him, despite being a criminal because he seems more ‘normal’ and seems to have a connection with the audience in ways in which the grandmother does not. The grandmother can be seen comical due to her comments towards the Misfit when she is about to die. When grandmother deals with the Misfit, she appeals to his gentility. She keeps insisting that he is a good man, from good people: “You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!” (15). She continuously insists that she is a lady and should not be shot, yet her actions throughout the story make her seem to have an unladylike appearance. This unrefined personality can be seen again when grandmother realizes that she is at the end of her life, as each of her family members are murdered in the woods. She says to the Misfit, “Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the money I’ve got!” (21). It seems silly that the contents of her purse seem an unlikely ransom when the rest of her family has already been shot. Although the grandmother seems a bit ridiculous here, Dorothy Walters states in Flannery O’Connor that “Amusement is transformed to horror; and significantly, the reversal occurs so swiftly that we are often still laughing as the victims expire before our startled eyes. The grandmother is funny until she drops in her own blood” (31). O’Connor’s use of grotesquerie maintains a comic-tragic balance throughout her story; the disaster of the story serves as the central turning point, swinging the focus swiftly from the comic to the tragic. The Misfit, who O’Connor uses for the grotesque, could be seen as a messenger of God or an agent of grace. With this idea, grandmother’s final act of reaching out...
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