O’Connor’s deft dialog transitions
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” beleaguered Bailey and his wife take their young family, eight-year-old son John Wesley, daughter June Star, their small baby, and finally, Bailey’s mother on a road trip for vacation to Florida. The children are obnoxious, the grandmother is selfish and irritating to all, and Bailey just wants to get there. The grandmother convinces the children that they must visit a special house that has a secret panel and they begin haranguing their father to take a detour and he finally gives in just to get everybody to quiet down. Off the beaten path and lost, they have an accident and encounter a psychopathic killer, “The Misfit” and his two accomplices. What begins as a comic story suddenly becomes horrifying and violent as the family is systematically murdered by the three men. The last to die is the Grandmother, who desperately pleads and appeals to The Misfit for her life to the very end.
O’Connor’s story is told economically and she manages the pace of the action to move swiftly between main plot points without sacrificing the richness of the characterizations. She does this by deftly transitioning between direct and indirect dialogue.
In the beginning of the story, where the primary conflicts are between the members of the family, the dialog is mostly direct:
The children’s mother didn’t seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a stocky child with glasses, said “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?” He and the littler girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.
“She wouldn’t stay at home to be queen for a day,” June Star said without raising her yellow head.
“Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?” the grandmother asked.
“I’d smack his face,” John Wesley said.
“She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’s miss something. She has to go everywhere we go.”
“All right, Miss,” the grandmother said. “Just remember that the next time you want me to curl your hair.”
June Star said her hair was naturally curly.
The final line of that scene, “June Star said her hair was naturally curly,” is delivered indirectly, bringing that exchange and the scene to a clear but even conclusion. This allows for a smooth transition to the next paragraph where the action picks up the next day. Had it been delivered directly, the reader would have anticipated a response from the grandmother and the scene would have ended too abruptly. Continue reading