Good Country PeopleThe short story, ?Good Country People?, written by Flannery O?Connor, is a story that captivates by usage of symbolism and theme. The story centers on the meaning of being a good person, in the sense of leading a Christian, pious life, worthy of salvation. In “Good Country People”, Hulga’s farce of strength and arrogance is peeled away when her leg, the symbol of her strength, is stolen revealing her true weakness and leaving her with nothing; hence O’Connor suggests when confronted with true nothingness, people who have a mechanical way of dealing with the world, often realize their lack of self. O?Connor contrasts mindless chatter about ?good country people? with questions about the true meaning of religious faith. There is also a class hierarchy formed that includes stereotypes about ?good country people? and literal and symbolic meanings of events, objects, and characters. O?Connor describes the story?s characters as distorted versions of humanity, and virtually none are sympathetic in the traditional nature of the hero or heroine with whom a reader might identify. ?Good Country People? is fraught with atheism, perversion, blasphemy, hypocrisy, deprivation, escapism, symbolism, disenchantment, anger, and enlightenment. ?Good Country People? illustrates that religious faith dictates how you perceive the world, people, surroundings, and can also cause corruption.
Two of the main characters, Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman, display how even the simplest people can corrupt. Mrs. Freeman, who is called ?good country people? (461) by Mrs. Hopewell, is corrupted by her ?fondness for the details of secret infections, hidden deformities, assaults upon children?and diseases,? (462) of which she ?preferred the lingering or incurable.? (462). Mrs. Freeman could hear of the story of how Hulga?s leg was ?literally blasted off,? and act as if it ?happened an hour ago? (463). Flannery O?Connor presents such an irony of a theme that can evolve in just one person by itself. Manly Pointer, or so-called the ?Bible salesman,? illustrates in himself that intelligence and corruptness preside together to make such a twist in plot that is not suspected. Being a Bible salesman, one would think Mr. Pointer would be true to the heart, a solid Christian who knows the Bible and would be the typical ?good country people.?
?Good Country People? is divided into four rather distinct sections which help emphasize the relationships between the four central characters. O?Connor?s selection of names for her characters helps to establish their significance in the story also. The name ?Hopewell? characterizes both the mother and her daughter because both women are individuals who simplistically believe that what is wanted can be had- although each of them is, in her own way, blind to the world as it really exists. Both women fail to see that the world is a mixture of good and evil. Because both women accept this false view of reality, each of them ?hopes well? to tailor that world to meet their own needs. This misperception leads them to assume that the world is much simpler than it actually is. By dividing the story into four loosely distinct sections, O?Connor is able to subtly establish parallels between the characters of Mrs. Freeman and Manley Pointer and between Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter, Hulga; while at the same time providing details which appear to emphasize the different facets of the four individual characters.
However, Flannery O?Connor uses dramatic irony and satire in ?Good Country People? to depict a story of vulnerability and power. The story unfolds with the seemingly foolish and inconsequential Mrs. Freeman talking about her two daughters and their obvious lack of morals. Mrs. Hopewell?s name suggests a life of hope for something more for the unhappy adult child, Joy. In Joy/Hulga, readers see her deformity as a symbol of spiritual weakness, and there is a foreshadowing with Mrs. Freeman?s special interest in the hidden deformities and assaults on children. O?Connor uses dramatic irony to show faults of others as they fail to see their own.
Mrs. Freeman?s name comments ironically on her status as a tenant farmer on Mrs. Hopewell?s property. Her significance is indicated by the story?s opening, which humorously compares her to ?a heavy truck? (460) in the way she understands life: in neutral, forward, or reverse. Mrs. Hopewell considers Mrs. Freeman a ?good country person,? and each woman responds to the other?s platitudes with statements such as ?I always said so myself.? (461) However, Mrs. Freeman also shares qualities with Manley Pointer.
Manley Pointer, a young misperceived country boy who sells bibles, is an illusion of appearance versus reality. Pointer is not his real name, it functions as a semi-obscene pun on one level, and it comes to point out, on another level, the depths to which humanity might descend if it follows only its ?manly? nature. Pointer is so heavily weighted down by his suitcase that he is lopsided and has to ?brace himself against the door facing? (464). This heaviness foreshadows a quality of falsehood that one carries that makes their mind, soul, and body heavy. Like Joy/Hulga, he is physically awkward, suggesting a lack of balance. His name, also a symbol, can be interpreted as humorous and ironic as his name was an invention of his mind. Misplaced faith in appearances is central to the themes of this story. Hulga?s manner of dress also contributes to the vast misunderstanding that exists between her and her mother. Mrs. Hopewell thinks that Hulga?s wearing ?a six-year-old skirt and a yellow sweat shirt with a faded cowboy on a horse embossed on it? (463) is idiotic, proof that despite Hulga?s Ph.D. and her name change, she is ?still a child? (463). Appearance and deception conflict with reality and truth, as Pointer assures Mrs. Hopewell that he is like her and can exchange generalizations about ?good country people? as readily as Mrs. Freeman. O?Connor reinforces her view of Mrs. Freeman as a manipulator of Mrs. Hopewell by giving her, Mrs. Freeman, attributes which parallel those of Manly Pointer. For instance, both Mrs. Freeman and Manly Pointer are seen as ?good country people? by Mrs. Hopewell; both have a morbid interest in Hulga?s wooden leg; both of them allow their ?victims? to form an erroneous view of ?good country people?; and finally, both Pointer and Mrs. Freeman are described as having steely eyes capable of penetrating Hulga?s fa?ade.
Hulga is a main character who goes through a complete change throughout the story. She changes her name to Hulga, an ?ugly? name, to reflect her feelings about her injured body and self, as the name is the opposite of her real name ?Joy.? The significance of Joy remaining conscious even though terribly injured as a child, indicates that Joy seems to have rejected her own body by choosing a life of intelligence and of the mind. As with her missing limb, Hulga?s ?weak heart? operates as a symbolic as well as literal affliction. Hulga closes her heart just as she rejects her body. Hulga?s mother, Mrs. Hopewell, convinced that Hulga would have ?been better if the child had not taken the PhD. degree? (463), has no comprehension of the one true meaning of life to her daughter: ?Such is after all the strictly scientific approach to Nothing. We know it by wishing to know nothing of Nothing.?(464) This quote references nihilistic philosophy, which denies the existence of any foundation for truth. In order for the reader to develop a degree of genuine sympathy for Hulga, O?Connor places her in an environment which would appall any sensitive person. Hulga is in constant contact with a vain but simple-minded mother and an apparently simple-minded but shrewd hired woman. Mrs. Hopewell survives in a self-made world of illusion, isolating herself from the world by mouthing artificial philosophies which only isolate her from her daughter who has a Ph.D. in philosophy. Hulga insists on believing that there is nothing behind, or beyond the surface world. She rejects belief in concepts such as religion and morality, and generally recognizes no authority.
The biblical quotation, Matthew 10:30, foreshadows the story?s ironic ending. Mrs. Hopewell prides herself in not being taken for a fool, but this boy seemed ?so sincere, so genuine and earnest.?(466) In a way, both literally and ironically, Pointer is a missionary, though not as Mrs. Hopewell believes. Furthermore, the seduction of Glynese foreshadows Pointer?s seduction of Hulga. Pointer plays up to each person?s expectations. Everyone thinks he is young, innocent, and wholesome, leading to Hulga?s fantasy about seducing him and having to deal with his remorse. But, despite her advanced academic degree, Hulga?s misguided thinking is apparent in her fantasy that she will mercilessly seduce the boy, and in her ?dabbing of Vapex?(trade name for nasal spray) (469) on her collar instead of perfume.
It seems that O?Connor sees the human heart as a pretty dark place where the ever-going turmoil of intellect versus corruptness is contained. The characters she uses in her story helps to support this statement. The realizations that O?Connor makes are all too real in this world, and she has a gift for getting the point across that there cannot really be such a thing as ?good country people.? Her writing displays the repeated paradigms that definitely prove the continuous battle between pride of intellect and corrupted hearts.
O?Connor uses her final paragraphs of the story to make clear the parallel which she established earlier between Hulga and her mother. Hulga has now undergone mortification, and Mrs. Hopewell appears to be facing a future revelation. The final irony in the story involves Mrs. Freeman?s response: ?Some can?t be that simple? I know I never could.? (473) Thus the reader is left with the impression that Mrs. Hopewell will also have to undergo an epiphanal experience which will destroy the confidence she has in her ability to control and to use Mrs. Freeman. ?At the end of the story, readers are left with indeterminacy with Joy/Hulga in the barn ?without a leg to stand on.?
O’Connor, Flannery. “Good Country People.” 2010. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Michael Meyer. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. 460-73. Print.