The Great Powers of Silence and Speech, Freshman Writing Award Winning Essay by Jada McAvene

            Several famous works of writing explore the power of silence and speech in depth. Two that remain prominent are “Araby” by James Joyce and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. Both stories exemplify the power of silence because it shows that speaking words are not necessary to be understood. Further, those words are unnecessary to some people when they decide to sacrifice for something greater than themselves. The power of speech is also represented in both stories because the tone by which a person speaks alters how another person interprets the meaning, and the use of words can manipulate the decisions of other people.

            The mind is constantly bubbling with thoughts and feelings; outwardly speaking them is not always imperative to understanding. In James Joyce’s story “Araby,” there is an excellent example of the power of silence when the narrator states, “The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me” (133). Araby is the bazaar the boy wants to attend to get the girl from school a gift. He feels a calling from the bazaar to follow his heart and make her happy. The young boy in the story is overwhelmed with feelings for the girl, and for him, it is better to remain silent because he does not yet understand how to process these emotions; instead, he just feels them through the silence. No person in the story tells him that he should do this. It is all felt within his soul. Thus, justifying that profession of all words is not necessary for understanding. 

            Sacrifice is a challenging task, yet when it comes to loved ones, it becomes simple. In the works of Flannery O’Connor, critic Susan Srigley sees love as “rooted in self-sacrifice” (35). Specifically, in her work “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” The Misfit’s crew is asking the mother of the children if she would like to join her family in execution, and she simply says, “Yes, thank you” (O’Connor 157). The sacrifice is made for her children because she knows she needs to be with them, whether in Heaven or Earth. Since the Misfit decides to kill the entire family, the mother must settle between two options, and she chooses the one-off sacrificing herself. This self-sacrifice is rooted in O’Connor’s upbringing in the Catholic Church and is for the Kingdom of God (Srigley 35). So, at the spiritual level, words are not necessarily spoken but felt. The mother feels she knows what her fate is and does not put up a fight against her upcoming death; thus, she remains silent, and that is where she holds power over her own life.

            Somebody can interpret the tone in which one speaks in many ways, which is why it is essential to use context. However, the power one carries with the way one speaks has vast potential. For example, in the story “Araby,” the narrator states, “The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty” (Joyce 134). So, whether the lady is trying to act in a sense of authority toward the boy, her tone makes it come off this way. The power of style in speech, especially in this story, remains prominent throughout regular life. An example is in the modern day of cell phones and texting. The tone someone uses can easily misinterpret a message. Speech and tone are compelling; thus, choosing words wisely and being clear about conveying a message is essential.

            Speech can be influential in the sense of manipulation and swaying the mind of someone to get something beneficiary in return. Flannery O’Connor shows attempts of manipulation with her characters in the story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” when the grandmother states, “’Listen,’ she said, ‘you shouldn’t call yourself The Misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell’” (155). At this moment, the grandmother is very close to facing her death; however, she attempts to use her words to sway her fate because she believes that saying this will cause him to think he is a good man and should not kill her. It buys her a little time while she and The Misfit experience a moment of grace together. The moral of the story is that words are powerful and can be used to one’s advantage with the proper context and tone.

            Flannery O’Connor and James Joyce have several examples of the true power of silence and speech throughout their works of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Araby.” The emphasis is on four critical terms among the power of silence and speech: Understanding, sacrifice, interpretation, and manipulation. The power that silence holds is that speaking something is not vital to understanding and that within one’s soul decides the sacrifice, not spoken aloud. Interpretation of a message is what holds the power of speech and uses speech to manipulate or sway one’s decisions. In the end, it is up to each individual to use these powers wisely. These are available to anyone who wishes to obtain them, which is the incredible beauty of the power of silence and speech. 

Works Cited

Joyce, James. “Araby.” 1914. Literature: The Human Experience, edited by Richard
Abcarian, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen, 13th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2019, pp. 131-35. 

O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” 1953. Literature: The Human Experience, 
edited by Richard Abcarian, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen, 13th ed., Bedford/St. 
Martin’s, 2019, pp.147-59. 

Srigley, Susan. “The Violence of Love: Reflections on Self-Sacrifice through Flannery
O’Connor and Rene Girard.” Religion and Literature, vol. 39, no. 3, Autumn 2007, pp. 31-45. JSTOR,