dotted outline of a black cat sitting within a basket in front of an older woman wearing a sundress

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

by Flannery O’Connor

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How do the grandmother and Red Sammy view the past in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

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Both Red Sammy and the grandmother share a nostalgia for the past.

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Red Sammy and the grandmother share a similarly narrow-minded view of the world. Inevitably, their dissatisfaction with the contemporary world leads them to a nostalgic romanticizing of the past, in which life was supposedly so much better. In the good old days, people were much nicer, too; at least, according to the grandmother. This is somewhat ironic as any past containing the grandmother will have had at least one not very nice person in it.

Most people have a tendency to look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles. But Red Sammy and the grandmother come from a very small world, a world largely cut off from the much bigger one outside. This leads to their blinkered outlook on life, and their unthinking willingness to blame Europe for all the world's problems. It also means that Red Sammy and the grandmother are both lousy judges of character, ominously so in the latter's case.

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According to the grandmother and Red Sammy, the past was better than the present day. Red Sammy says that everything in the world is going downhill and that people have become more dishonest. He says that he used to be able to be able to go away and leave his screen door unlatched but that he can't do that anymore. The grandmother agrees that you can no longer trust anybody.

The grandmother also goes on to blame the current state of affairs "entirely" on Europe. She says the Europeans think the Americans are made of money. Red Sammy agrees with her.

O'Connor is parodying people's (especially older people's) tendency to think the past was better and to look back to a "golden time" that never really existed. She also makes fun of the tendency to blame one's problems on others, as the grandmother does with "Europe." It is especially ironic since we still do this kind of scapegoating sixty years later, and since many people look back to the 1950s, when this story was written, as a better, more honest time.

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The grandmother and Red Sammy both agree that people have changed for the worse over the years. Red Sammy is feeling moody and pessimistic because he let two "young fellers" charge some gas for their old car and they never paid him. He says, "These days you don't know who to trust." It is Red Sammy who says, "A good man is hard to find. Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more."

The grandmother agrees. She says, "People are certainly not nice like they used to be." Her own rude and unruly grandchildren seem to be living examples of the fact that people are evolving in a bad direction with the passage of time.

Red Sammy seems to believe that people used to be more trustworthy, while the grandmother seems focused on the notion that people used to be more courteous.

This little exchange foreshadows the deadly encounter that the old woman and her family will soon have with the Misfit and his fellow fugitives. The story is somewhat reminiscent of Voltaire's Candide, in which the philosopher Pangloss keeps insisting that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, this in spite of the fact that everything is going wrong.

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