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Literary Devices in "Bliss" and a "Good Man is Hard to Find"

Updated on May 5, 2013

Both “Bliss” by Mansfield and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by O’Connor rely heavily on literary devices to portray their deeper meaning. On the surface, both short stories are fairly straightforward, however upon further analysis the reader grasps a much larger picture. While the author’s of both stories utilized literary devices, the outcome achieved by them was quite different for each of the stories. In “Bliss,” the reader may interpret only one general meaning for the story, where the devices help to build upon one idea. On the other hand, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” may be understood in many different ways, and its interpretation is left up to the reader. In both cases, an abundance of literary devices offer subtexts for the readers to expand upon for themselves.

The Metaphor of The Pear Tree

The pear tree is by far the most significant metaphor in “Bliss.” The first time the tree is mentioned by Bertha, she describes it as something that “…had not a single bud or a faded petal” (Mansfield 4). As the story progresses the reader eventually understands that the pear tree is symbolic of Bertha herself. Bertha is someone who is portrayed as ultimately happy, as if she has “…swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun” (Mansfield 1). The sun represents feelings of warmth and comfort embodied inside of Bertha, which is exactly how she feels about her life and herself. Perhaps that is why she sees the tree in such perfection, because as far as she is concerned her life could not be better. The reader perceives Bertha as someone that is a little naïve and someone with the innocence of a child. At the end of the story, even after Bertha finds out that her husband is cheating on her, she still doesn’t seem to have much of a reaction. This again, shows that she is as passive as a tree, and the things going on around her don’t really have any impact on her.

Misguidence and Foreshadowing

While the character of Bertha is understood quite easily, the grandmother from “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is fairly complex. She comes across as an annoying, pestering woman who talks a little more than the people around her would like. At the same time, the reader might sympathize with the grandmother because she just wants to feel important and interesting, and is maybe a little cynical due to her age, just like anyone else would be. Metaphors used in this story represent the misguided nature of the grandmother. For example, she dresses up with a hat and wears trimmed lace so that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (O’Connor 2). While the clothes reflect her pure intentions, it is questionable whether the grandmother actually tries to be a lady rather than just look like one. Also, the pessimistic and selfish nature of this thought further reveals the impudence of the grandmother.

Foreshadowing is used in both stories as a way to form an atmosphere of impending doom. In “Bliss” everything is going perfectly throughout the story, perhaps a little too perfectly. The first sign that something bad was to come was perhaps when Bertha noticed the cats. Cats, especially black ones, are commonly linked to misfortune. The scene with the cats also showed Bertha’s first bit of discomfort when “the sight of them, so intent and so quick, gave Bertha a curious shiver” (Mansfield 4). This was the first time in the story that Bertha felt anything sort of negative emotion, and perhaps to the reader indicated another dimension to her character. “I'm too happy–too happy!” (Mansfield 5). Bertha stated shortly after. The reader was reminded right after the scene with the cat that Bertha’s life was just bound for something bad to happen, as she went on to describe her loving husband, nice house, and adorable baby.

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” the foreshadowing is heavily based on the character of the Misfit. He is mentioned at first as a sort of urban legend by the grandma. Since the grandma is a little hungry for attention, it’s possible for the reader to just brush it off as another way for her to make herself seem more interesting. However, when the family arrives at Red Sammy’s, the woman working there states that she “…wouldn't be a bit surprised if he didn't attack this place right here” (O’Connor 5). It seems for a bit that perhaps The Misfit might just show up at the place after all, but for a further build-up of suspense he surely does not and the family goes ahead on its way to continue their road trip. The grandma also has a cat that she brings along for the trip, although it doesn’t really hold any strong implications of misfortune; at least not nearly as much as in “Bliss.” The cat did however indirectly cause the accident, as he jumped on to Bailey’s shoulder and startled him while he was driving. When grandma was thinking about looking like a lady in case there was an accident hints at the outcome of an accident as well, although it is sort of ironic that the accident wouldn’t have happened if not for the grandma leading Bailey down the dirt road, or even bringing the cat for that matter.

In “Bliss,” Bertha can also be held accountable for what happened, in a sense. She lives in a fabricated world; whereas quoted earlier she doesn’t even notice any imperfections with the tree. It seems as though she sees everything with an optimistic point of view. The pear tree again represents a larger allegorical representation of not only Bertha, but her life as well (including her husband). When Pearl Fulton arrived, she was described wearing “…all in silver, with a silver fillet binding her pale blonde hair…” (Mansfield 7). Pearl was also compared to the moon, and it was mentioned that the tree looked as if it were reaching to touch the moon. It is made clear that Bertha had some sort of an attraction to Pearl. When they are together it’s illustrated that they are “understanding each other perfectly, [like] creatures of another world, and wondering what they [are] to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that [burns] in their bosoms” (Mansfield 9). It isn’t explicit whether the attraction between them is sexual or not, but because of Pearl, Bertha certainly feels more of a sexual attraction towards her husband. It is even that “…for the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband…” (Mansfield 11). Likewise to Bertha, her husband Harry also feels an attraction to Pearl, which is made evident at the end of the story. The tree in a sense shows how the couple is together being pulled by Pearl. It’s a strange love triangle, since they both obviously have feelings for each other, and for Pearl. Pearl also has feelings for Harry, although it’s unclear if she ever had any sort of a romantic feelings for Bertha. It seems most plausible that Pearl is simply taking advantage of Bertha’s innocence. It certainly came off that way in the text, when Pearl would grab Bertha’s hand in a sort of controlling way.

While the allegory in “Bliss” was referred to the peacefulness of the tree in relation to the household, it was much more biblical in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The tree could really only be interpreted one way, but there is one scene in the latter story that is very controversial. Even when discussed in class, there were mixed opinions about the scene where the grandmother reaches out to touch the Misfit. One interpretation, and perhaps the most common one, is that she had achieved grace. The Misfit clarifies this when he says that the grandmother would have been a good woman “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor 13). By this he is implying that the grandmother, under fear, finally realized the equality of all beings and the true nature of life. In class however, most generally agreed that the grandma was yet again being selfish. After all, not once did she ask them to spare her grandchildren’s or children’s lives, she just cared about her own. She was simply trying to manipulate the Misfit in every way she could think of. When the Misfit indicated his religious outlook, it made sense for the grandmother to try to use that against him. The Misfit was clearly confused about Jesus and whether to follow the path or not, he mentioned that “if [he] had of been there [he] would of known and [he] wouldn't be like [he is] now” (O’Connor 12). Needless to say, this interpretation seems a little off-putting as it puts both the grandmother and the Misfit in the same boat. Was the grandmother really in need of saving?

The scene where the grandmother reaches out to the Misfit has strong religious connotations, but it can be taken without the religious context and simply that the grandmother failed at trying to save herself. It’s also arguable if the grandmother was the cause of the events that happened were really because of the grandmother or not; technically it was all a coincidence and could have happened to anyone. In Bertha’s case, there really isn’t much else that can be said. Even in class, the symbolism of the pear tree was fairly one-sided and widely accepted. Both stories have strong elements of literary devices. “Bliss” uses them to enforce one idea, whereas “A Good Man is Hard to Find” steers the reader in several directions.


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