A Stroke of Good Fortune by Flannery O’Connor
In A Stroke of Good Fortune by Flannery O’Connor we have the theme of struggle, discontent, denial, acceptance and change. Taken from her A Good Man is Hard to Find collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that O’Connor is delving into one of the main themes of the story, the theme of struggle. This is noticeable by the fact that the main protagonist, Ruby Hill, is standing at the bottom of the stairs of her apartment block and is unable to carry the groceries she has bought up to her apartment. There is also a sense of discontent at the beginning of the story, Ruby appears to be displeased that she is still living in the apartment block rather than in a new subdivision. She is also displeased with her brother Rufus. Despite having fought for his country in WWII, Ruby considers him to be lazy. Ruby’s longing to move to a subdivision may also be important s as O’Connor may be suggesting that, like a lot of Americans, after WWII, Ruby too wants to improve her life and prosper.
O’Connor also appears to be using symbolism in the story. It is notable that each flight of stairs has twenty eight steps and O’Connor by mentioning this may also be referencing the menstrual cycle. Ruby after all is pregnant. In some ways the stairs also act as symbolism for Ruby’s journey to acceptance. O’Connor also uses phallic symbolism in the story. Firstly when Ruby is resting on the stairs and sits on young Hartley Gilfeet’s toy pistol and secondly when the reader learns that Hartley’s father’s name is Rodman. Again this may be significant as it would further suggest that O’Connor is highlighting to the reader that Ruby is indeed pregnant, even is she is denying it. Other symbolism in the story might include the four cans of beans that Ruby has bought from the grocery store. It is possible that O’Connor is suggesting that the four cans could represent four people, Ruby, Bill, Rufus and a baby. It is also possible that O’Connor by giving Ruby the surname Hill, is also suggesting that she has a journey or struggle to overcome.
Mr Jerger is an important character in the story because he is different to Ruby. He likes to go walking in the neighbourhood (while Ruby doesn’t) and he likes to stop and talk to the children and ask them questions. Ruby on the other hand views children as though they lead to a certain death for a woman. She recalls how her mother had eight children and each one lead to her being closer to death (deader). In many ways Mr Jerger is open to life, accepting life on life’s terms, while Ruby appears to struggle, fighting against life. Another important character in the story is Ruby’s friend Laverne Watts. Laverne lives in the same apartment block as Ruby and while Ruby is struggling to make it up the stairs she stops and knocks on Laverne’s door. It is Laverne who tells Ruby that she is pregnant, something that angers Ruby. Ruby is also angered by Laverne because Laverne wants to see Rufus and ask him what he thinks of her new shoes (flirting). Despite not thinking much of her brother, Ruby still doesn’t want him involved with a woman like Laverne (ten years older than Rufus). Like Mr Jerger, Laverne also appears to accept life on life’s terms and like Mr Jerger she is content or at least appears to be, which again is in contrast to Ruby.
The turning point, or moment of realisation for Ruby occurs after she leaves Laverne’s apartment. As she is on the final flight of stairs (to her apartment) Ruby again sits down and it is while she is looking down at Mr Jerger on his landing, scolding Harry, that she recalls Harry’s nickname (Little Mister Good Fortune). It is at this point that Ruby is able to piece together Madame Zelda’s premonition. She becomes aware that the stroke of good fortune that Madame Zelda was referring to is not her moving to a subdivision but rather that she is pregnant.
It is also interesting that Ruby, on accepting that she is pregnant, is still a few steps away from her own landing. The fact that Ruby has not yet reached her landing may be significant as O’Connor might be suggesting that there is still more for Ruby to do. Even though she knows she is pregnant and appears to accept it, there may still be a need for some other change in Ruby’s life. What that may be is not explained by O’Connor and is left to the imagination of the reader. Though it is possible that Ruby may have to reconsider her idea that having a child will be the death of her. Just as America was striving for prosperity after WWII, Ruby now may need to realise that the prosperity she is to achieve is spiritual rather than physical.