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The Phoenix and the Good Man

Updated on August 7, 2015
Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie | Source

In literary works such as “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” we can always find at least one character to relate to. Even maybe the story itself is something we can relate to. In such stories we always find anything from symbolism to foreshadowing. These two stories whereas totally different in plot and character development it’s easy to compare and contrast two different literary elements. Now in Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, we see things like foreshadowing. “They passed a large cotton field with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island.” (Kennedy and Gioia 422) In Sherman Alexie’s story “This is What it Means...Arizona”, we find many forms of symbolism that lead to character development.

I’m going to travel to Spokane Falls one last time and toss these ashes into the water. And your father will rise like a salmon, leap over the bridge, over me, and find his way home...he will rise, Victor, he will rise. (519)

It may seem like something of a metaphor, but it really rests in symbolism which returns back to the title of the story. Both stories do have complex characters and provide a wonderful analytical way of thinking for the reader, in the sense that it definitely allows the reader to really think about how and why the characters take the path they choose.

Symbolism such as the Phoenix in “This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona” seems to be represented in Thomas and Victor’s history. It began with just a place that Victor needed to go when his father died. But when Thomas became a way for him to get there it changed. A Phoenix is a bird that rises from ashes. It’s supposed to represent a new beginning from an end. In this story it began when Victor’s father died. His ending led to a fresh beginning with Thomas. Even though we don’t actually know if they continued to talk, there’s hope at the end. It also represents our main character as a whole. The way he is coping with his father’s death as he learns new things about him. Almost in the same way the Misfit in O’Connor’s story begins to learn about himself through the woman he kills, “Although the Misfit’s voice is on the verge of breaking as he laments his absence at the miracles of Christ...he shoots her quickly, and, cleaning his glasses, restores his perspective on life...” (Kropf.) It’s an act of surprise, perhaps too close to the reality of what he might be in denial about, because although he seems very self-aware he also seems to be in denial about whatever happened to him in his past.

As for Thomas’ position in the town it goes back to something that Victor had felt. He had said he felt the sudden need for tradition. Thomas represents that. It’s the tradition of storytelling among their people, even if people don’t really care to listen;

On the plane ride to Phoenix, Thomas tells a woman sitting near him that he is "half magician on my mother's side and half clown on my father's." This description captures Thomas perfectly. He laughs at himself and plays the clown, but his storytelling is filled with magic, with elements of foretelling, magical insight, and pragmatic observations…” (Constantakis)

The storytelling is more of something they can hold onto from their ancestry. To Victor they’re important because he can look back on their time together, and even look ahead. He even got a better insight into what his father’s persona consisted of. To him it was almost as if Thomas had this sort of powerful insight into what really life contained. I think he almost admired him for it, for never letting anything get to him as well especially when he w so mean to him, ‘“Listen,” Victor said as they stopped in front of the trailer. “I never told you I was sorry for beating you up that time.”’(515) Thomas proceeds to say that it’s alright, they were kids then. He didn’t feel the need to hold a grudge.

When Thomas and Victor are driving through the desert they can see no form of life. But finally they come upon a jackrabbit and they become excited over seeing it, “Thomas and Victor were busy congratulating themselves on their discovery when the jackrabbit darted out into the road and under the wheels of the pickup.” (517) It suddenly became this instant melancholy moment. It symbolizes the emptiness, the total state of being alone out there in that desert and perhaps even shows how Victor felt about his father leaving. He felt responsible for his father leaving but now he and Thomas shared some of the blame in this rabbit dying.

In O’Connor’s story unlike Alexie’s it had darker tones and a much more foreshadowing, “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (421) The grandmother had dressed in her best clothes, telling the reader she would be prepared for anything sinister to come. Each piece of foreshadowing brings the reader closer to the end of the story, even though one is still shocked by outcome. Unlike Alexie’s story O’Connor uses foreshadowing to bring the reader closer to understanding the characters as they reach their demise. When discussing the state of society with Red Sam in the restaurant they conversed about the Misfit. Once again showing the reader they should anticipate the Misfits appearance, ‘“A good man is hard to find, “ Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.”’ (423) The grandmother had called Red Sam a good man. But then later she tries to tell the Misfit he was a good man too (of course she was just trying to save herself).

Both of these stories provide immense depth and detail through their literary devices, such as symbolism and foreshadowing. They contain both of each and allow the reader to further understand the stories as they unfold. However, both stories differ in how the approach of such devices are used. O’Conor uses hers to allow hints into the coming demise of an entire family and yet Alexie uses his to show character development (O’Connor does include that as well). Thomas and Victor leave each other, almost as brothers, where they should have been in the first place. The Misfit presents himself in various forms of foreshadowing as they pass the farm with the six graves, and his story in the newspaper. Both stories equal in fantastic plot structure, allow the reader to truly become either gripped in suspense or hopeful for renewed friendship.

Alexie, Sherman. “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”. Literature, An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Pearson. 2013. Print.

Kropf, C. R. "Theme and Setting in a Good Man Is Hard to Find." Renascence 177-180. Short Story Criticism. Ed. Margaret Haerens. Vol. 23. Detroit: Gale. Web. 1996.

O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. Literature, An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Pearson. 2013. Print.

Sara Constantakis."Overview: 'This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona'." Short Stories for Students. Vol. 36. Detroit: Gale.Web. 2013


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