In the short stories The Three Day Blow by Ernest Hemingway, The Man who Shot Snapping Turtles by Edmund Wilson and A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor, certain cultural features described in the fiction persist in the United States of today.
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In The Three Day Blow the cultural element described that persists in American society concerns the fear of commitment that many men harbor and how that fear conflicts with their fear of being alone. In The Man who Shot Snapping Turtles, a cultural feature described in the story that still exists in American culture today is the belief that some of the animals created by God are more desirable than others.
In A Good Man is Hard to Find, the cultural feature that the story describes which continues today is the belief that the past represents a better version of American culture than the present, and that the current culture of American society is badly degraded from its former heyday.
The first story to be analyzed is The Three Day Blow by Ernest Hemingway. The Three Day Blow is the oldest of the three stories, first published 1925, yet this story describes a cultural feature very much alive in American society today – the fear of marriage and the conflict that arises in men when they must decide between getting married and staying alone.
Often the fear of being alone is greater than the fear of being married, thus marriage wins out; however the conflict never really dies. Hemingway illustrates the heart of this conflict at the end of the story, after Nick and Bill have had a lot to drink and have become more liberal with their truths.
Bill tells Nick that he was “very wise…to bust off that Marge business…It was the only thing to do. If you hadn’t, by now you’d be back home working trying to get enough money to get married….Once a man’s married he’s absolutely bitched, Bill went on. He hasn’t got anything more…He’s done for. You’ve seen the guys that get married…They get this sort of fat married look” (Hemingway 23).
This is the first mention we have heard of Nick’s former girlfriend, and in the face of Bill’s speech, the character Nick “said nothing” (Hemingway 24). Presumably Nick regrets not marrying the woman in question, not only because he is silent, but because “the liquor had all died out of him and left him alone” (Hemingway 24).
In this story Hemingway describes the cultural fear – from the point of view of males, however the feeling affects both genders – of commitment and the feeling of loneliness that many single people experience persists today.
The second story under analysis is The Man who Shot Snapping Turtles by Edmund Wilson. This short story was first published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1942, over 60 years ago, yet a significant cultural feature found in this story that still exists in American culture today is the understanding that some of God’s creatures are better than others.
In The Man who Shot Snapping Turtles Mr. Stryker makes a distinction between the ducks as desirable and the snapping turtles as undesirable, even though in cultural Christian understanding, God created both. “This time Mr. Stryker decided to do a better job. He came to see me again and startled me by holding forth in a vein that recalled the pulpit.
“If God has created the mallard,” he said, “A thing of beauty and grace, how can He allow these dirty filthy mud-turtles to prey upon His handiwork and destroy it?” (Wilson 257). The narrator responds that “the reptiles came before the birds. And they survive with the strength God gave them” (Wilson 257).
To which Mr. Stryker counters “how do we know that God isn’t getting old? How do we know that some of His lowest creatures aren’t beginning to get out of hand and clean up on the higher ones?” (Wilson 257).
We see this hierarchy applied to animals and perpetuated today in American society in the distinction made between so called undesirable creatures such as rats and roaches and so called beautiful and desirable creatures such as swans, horses or dogs.
The last story under discussion is A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor. A Good Man is Hard Find was published in 1955, however to this day some of the cultural aspects of American life that it describes are still in place. The most significant cultural aspect of this that is still relevant today is the belief that the American present is a degraded version of its past.
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The grandmother of A Good Man is Hard to Find represents the belief that Americans in the past treated each other better, had better manners and were more trustworthy. We see this belief illustrated in the section of the story when the grandmother and the owner of the diner, Red Sammy, have a conversation about how things used to be compared to how they are now.
“You can’t win, he said. You can’t win…and he wiped his sweating red face off with a gray handkerchief. These days you don’t know who to trust…Ain’t that the truth? A good man is hard to find, Red Sammy said. Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more. He and the grandmother discussed better times” (O’Connor 235).
Culturally, the understanding that the present has become worse than the past, and that morals have eroded over time, is still very prevalent in American society. Conversations such as the following between Red Sam and the grandmother could have been written today, rather than over 50 years ago.
“Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right. Listen, the grandmother almost screamed, I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!” (O’Connor 235).
The short stories The Three Day Blow by Ernest Hemingway, The Man who Shot Snapping Turtles by Edmund Wilson and A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor all contain certain cultural features that can still be found in the United States of today, even though each story was published in the last century.
In The Three Day Blow the cultural element described that persists in American society centers around fear of commitment; in The Man who Shot Snapping Turtles, the cultural feature we still see in the culture of the United States today is the hierarchal belief that some animals created by God are better than others.
In A Good Man is Hard to Find, the story describes a belief that the American past was infinitely better than its current manifestation, and that the present culture of American society is a shoddy version of a former glorious past.
Hemingway, Ernest. “The Three Day Blow.” 50 Great Short Stories. Ed. Milton Crane. New York: Random House, 1988. 16- 27. Print.
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” 50 Great Short Stories. Ed. Milton Crane. New York: Random House, 1988. 229-245. Print.
Wilson, Edmund. “The Man Who Shot Snapping Turtles.” 50 Great Short Stories. Ed. Milton Crane. New York: Random House, 1988. 254-267. Print.