[(essay date fall 2005) In the following essay, Edgecombe discusses allusions to William Shakespeare's King Lear and Robert Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."]
To avoid the melodramatic extravagance associated with The Castle of Otranto and its successors, many twentieth-century practitioners of the gothic embedded its statutory horrors in a matrix of ordinariness. Flannery O'Connor's short fiction bears witness to this tendency when, en route to their massacre by an escaped convict, the family in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" stops at a filling station to drink Coca-Cola and eat sandwiches. They are traveling to Toombsboro, a fact of the Georgia landscape onto which she has laughingly imposed an allegorical value, just as, a century before, Thomas Hood had turned the gazetteer data of Babbacombe Bay (in Devon) and Port Natal (in South Africa) into a parable about the inequalities of birth:
And one little craft is cast away, In its very first trip in Babbicome Bay While another rides safe at Port Natal. (565)
The gas station is itself a metaphor for O'Connor's domestication of the gothic, filling a medieval form (a tower) with the données of an unremarkable mid-century culture:
They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches. The Tower was a part stucco and part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man named Red Sammy Butts ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building and for miles up and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY'S FAMOUS BARBECUE. NONE LIKE FAMOUS RED SAMMY'S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH THE HAPPY LAUGH! A VETERAN! RED SAMMY'S YOUR MAN!(120-21)
Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet have drawn parallels between the pilgrimage in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and the antipilgrimage of the...