The Depravity of Humans Explored Through Elements of Fiction
Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and Gabriel Marquez’s story “A
Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” are very different in nature, but share a common theme
throughout. This theme is the depravity of humans, and in the context of this essay, that simply
means that humans are imperfect and sinful and their actions reflect that. By examining a
couple of similar elements of each story, it is possible to see how the authors used each of
them to communicate this theme of human depravity. Elements like character and setting are
used by O’Connor and Marquez to express this theme to their readers. Each of these writer do
well to include many elements of fiction, but the two stated above will be analyzed in this essay
to see how they are used to bring about the theme.
Flannery O’Connor is a twentieth century writer from America. She died early at the
age of thirty-nine, but she still managed to publish a good amount of fiction works (Norton,
540). O’Connor’s story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, starts out with a family planning a
vacation to Florida, and then it turns kind of dark at the end, which is hinted at by
foreshadowing “The Misfit” that is on the loose, who escaped prison and was also headed to
Florida. They encounter the Misfit after crashing their car, and it turns deadly after a strange
conversation between the grandmother and the Misfit.
Gabriel Marquez is also a twentieth century writter. He is originally from Colombia, but
eventually moved to Spain in 1967. Like O’Connor, he too wrote a lot of fiction, and he even
won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 (Norton 406). Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with
Enormous Wings” is a story about an old man with enormous wings who seems like an angel
and is taken in by a family. The couple, Pelayo and Elisenda, found him in their backyard and
brought him in. They quickly notice this man is very intelligent and because of his wings he
makes the couple lean towards thinking that he is an angel. Pelayo ends up locking him up.
Eventually, word of this man gets out, and many people come to see the “Angel” to ask for
miracles. People soon start to lose interest because the miracles they wanted did not happen,
as well as a freak show that drew their attention away.
The characters in both stories are used by the authors to communicate the idea
that humans are sinful, flawed, and crooked. In the story of “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, we
see a family who simply wanted to go on a nice vacation and it ended up being a horrific
experience for them. On their trip, Red Sammy, a minor character, states that “a good man is
hard to find”, hinting that the world is messed up and full of wicked people (Norton 547). Their
experience on their trip and Red Sammy’s words simply reveal the theme of human depravity.
The character of the Misfit is violent and irrational. He is an escaped convict, which
simply just adds to the fact that he is in the wrong. The Misfit is clearly evil and crooked. There
are no other words for him and his act of murdering the family. However, although crooked and
evil, the Misfit sought out spiritual and moral guidance, but his convictions are a lot different
than a normal person like the grandmother. His convictions were strong and consistence, but
not morally right to anyone but himself.
O’Connor contrasts the Misfit with the grandmother in the story. The grandmother also
had convictions of her own, these being faith in Jesus. Her convictions, although conventionally
moral, were weak, and she failed to consistently live them out. It is clearly seen that the Misfit
is evil and crooked, but the grandmother is still sinful and flawed as well. The grandmother
acted like she had it all together, but yet her convictions fail to stand up to the challenges
brought forth by the Misfit. She is just another example of how humans are not perfect. Even
when they seem to have it all together, they are still flawed.
In Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, we see an old man with wings
who needs help and is taken in by a family. The characters that take him in are Pelayo and
Elisenda. At first, Pelayo was kind to the man. He provided shelter for him and took care of him.
However, this kindness was short lived, and Pelayo ended up locking the old man up in a
chicken coop. Whether out of fear or some other reason, Pelayo’s action was simply wrong. It is
inhuman to lock anyone up against their will, especially an old man who clearly needs help.
Pelayo’s flaws do not stop there. He allowed and even charged admission for people to come
look at the old man with wings. Anyone with common sense can see how wrong this is. Pelayo
had to have been won over by greed to allow this terrible act to take place, which, again, goes
to show the theme of human depravation. His character reveals the flaws and crookedness in
all of humanity. He was just a normal person, but when tempted he failed, and it just shows
how humans are capable of doing evil in pursuit of their own desires.
Pelayo’s wife, Elisenda, is in the same boat as Pelayo. She might not have been as
involved with holding the old man as a prisoner and attraction, but she sat by and let it happen.
Therefore, Elisenda is just as guilty as Pelayo for that action. She was mostly annoyed with him
throughout the story, which is ironic because she was the one holding him captive and profiting
off of him. The depravity of Elisenda is easily seen through her obliviousness to the fact that
keeping the old man as a prisoner was wrong. As for both Pelayo and Elisenda, they did not
even seem to have any conviction or guilt for their actions what so ever. The story only
mentions Elisenda’s reaction, but it was a sigh of relief, not a realization of his wrong (Norton
441). Once again, this just goes to show how sinful and flawed humans are.
The setting of the stories help reveal the theme of human depravity in a different way
than the characters do. The setting helps facilitate the action of the story and allows the
characters to act and react based off what is around them. For example, in “A Good Man is
Hard to Find”, if the family had not been in Florida, then there would be no fear of running into
the Misfit. Therefore, the theme of human depravity that O’Connor wanted to express through
the Misfit could not occur.
The setting of the story continuously changes to allow for the action of the plot to
unfold and for the theme to be developed. Looking at O’Connor’s story again allows us to see
this occur. The setting moves from the grandparent’s house, to traveling in their car, to a diner,
back to a car, and then to a wreck on the side of the road. Each of these settings allowed for
different aspects of the theme to be revealed. For example, if they had not stopped at the
diner, then the conversation with Sammy Red about the poor state the world was in would not
have of taken place. This is how setting is used to communicate the theme to the readers. It is
not a direct indication of the theme in this case, but it facilitates the portrayal of it.
In Marquez’s story of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, the theme is brought out
in a different way by using the setting. In the story, the family that took in the old man is your
normal family, with a normal house, with normal people around them. The setting is not
supposed to be some crazy place magical place, but simply just an ordinary neighborhood. With
a normal setting like this, it makes for a sharp contrast with the unusual old man and the
inhuman actions of the family. Marquez’s contrast allows readers to see how normal people are
flawed and can be evil at times, and it lets the theme of human depravity be clearly easily. If the
setting was some unusual or magical place, then the readers would have a harder time seeing
the wrong in the story.
O’Connor and Marquez both use elements of fiction in order to reveal and establish a
theme throughout their stories. In particular, the use of character and setting in these two
stories are used communicate the idea of human depravity. Without a good use of fictional
elements, it would be hard for writers to clearly communicate themes and ideas throughout a
story. However, both O’Connor’s and Marquez’s stories do well to communicate themes and
ideas using these elements of fiction.
Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction To Literature. 11th ed. London, New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, 2013. Print.