The Nostalgia of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Conner
Flannery O’ Conner’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a nostalgic reminiscence of an undefined American past, acting as a commentary of the increase of pessimism and untrustworthiness in a post-Great War era. The grandmother constantly reflects on the past. She blames the situation of the contemporary world on other entities, and her wistfulness for the days of her youth suggests that she believed that a “good man” was easier to come by long ago. Conversations between the protagonist–the grandmother — and the antagonist and supporting characters further suggests that pursuing goodness in the present day is arduous, problematic and even pointless, and one should “[…] live their whole life without asking about it” (8). Though there are more characters which inforce O’Conner’s theme of nostalgia, this analysis will focus on the main protagonist.
In the beginning, the grandmother does not want to visit Florida; rather she wants to visit some her connections in East Tennessee. Nostalgia comes in many forms, and the grandmother’s yearning to visit the people from her past fits perfectly with her reminiscence to polish the rusting steel of old relationships. During the car trip, she reflects on an old suitor, Edgar Allan Teagarden, who brought her a watermelon every weekend. Apart from the humour that stems from his initials — E.A.T — which he carved into every watermelon he brought her, the grandmother suspected that she could have married him. Describing him as a gentleman–a good man–who eventually became wealthy, she muses over how she would have “[…] done well to marry him” (3) because of his gentleness and other positive qualities.
Contrastingly, the grandmother takes every opportunity to judge the lack of goodness in the people of the world today, chastising John Wesly for not having more respect for Georgia: “‘In my time,’ said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, ‘children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else’” (2). However, she never turns this critical eye on herself to scrutinize her own hypocrisy, dishonesty, and selfishness. For example, the conscience that is invoked in her statement is conveniently ignored when she sneaks her cat into the car, lies to the children and chooses not to reveal the mistake she made about the location of the house. The grandmother is not a nostalgic remnant of a more favorable past; or — rather she is a key element of the present she abhors.
O’Conner’s narrative is an observation of how change comes fast, and looking in retrospect to the past can be counterproductive and hopeless. Her protagonist is a powerful reflection of this, acting as a both a reference to pleasant days perceived to be long gone and an unconscious personality for a present that is constantly ridiculed.