This story first appeared in a journal in 1953 and then was published in a collection of stories in 1955, so it was written sometime in the early 1950s. Historically speaking, this story presents a glimpse into rural life in the early to mid 20th century. It depicts a reality in which people search for and sometimes find meaning in the ordinary details of life: sunsets, bare necessities, etc.
This story also reveals a struggle between redemption and perdition: a spiritual way of living versus an unethical one. Religion was a significant theme in O'Connor's work and this story is no different. Shiftlet ("shiftless") has a chance to redeem himself in helping this family, but his goal is materialistic: to obtain/steal the car. The old woman likewise falls from grace when she essentially buys the chance to marry off her daughter. Both characters seem to have a sense of religious philosophy (Christianity's Golden Rule), but they also are wheeling and dealing from the start.
If this says anything about the country at that time, note how these two people had very few choices in life, and thus resorted to schemes. This is also a time when some families were buying cars for the first time, a big deal. A car represented wealth and, more significantly for Shiftlet, a car meant freedom, freedom to move around (to be "mobile"), see the country and to escape the law. Also, the old woman bartered with Shifltet, a practice more common back then.