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Good Country People by O`Connor
Set in a tenant farm in Georgia, Good Country People is amasterpiece story that brings out the themes of nihilism, betrayal,redemption and grace. The story’s theme is represented by thecharacters’ names which are symbolic. The story’s main character,Joy, changes he name legally to Hulga which means an ugly thing.Hulga is a highly educated philosopher and does not believe thatanything exists beyond or below the earth surface. Her mother, namedMrs. Hopewell signifies that the world is simple and has no evil(Kirk 68). Her name can be interpreted as meaning hope well. It isevident that her and her daughter Hulga have a false belief that theworld is good and has no evil. Therefore, all that they do is hopewell from the world. It is clear from the reading that the two arealoof from the physical world and the world only exists in theirintellect.
Hulga and her mother are portrayed as being blind to the real worldand they believe that they can tailor the world to match theirdemands. In other words, the two have made the world to simple thatit really is (Giannone 107). Mrs. Hopewell believes that cliché canoperate as truth in her world. On the other hand, her daughterbelieves that she has total control for life and she asserts that theworld has no meaning. It is clear that she has a nihilistic belief,which only leads to ruin. Her nihilist belief about the non-existenceof anything leads to her misfortunes in life and she has beenportrayed as the tragic heroin of the story. Mrs. Freeman, who worksfor them, is also a recipient of Hulga’s mockery and sarcasm. Hulgais depicted as being rude to Mrs. Freeman. According to Hulga, shedoes not believe in anything and therefore she has no reason to bepolite to anyone (Kirk 78). Hulga is portrayed as being bitter withher life and constantly looks for appreciation and attention from hermother and Mrs. Freeman. Mrs. Freeman’s name is also symbolic. Thisis a name which is meant to assert that she a free man. However, sheis not really free since she works for Mrs. Hopewell. She is,however, associated with the kitchen and her ever presence in itsignifies she owns it. It is evident here that symbolism and ironyare used simultaneously with regard to Mrs. Freeman’s name.
The entire story revolves around these three women and a fourthcharacter who is a bible salesman, Manley Pointer. As the namesuggests, the man ultimately gives valuable lessons to Hulga. It isworth noting that Joy/Hulga is an atheist and also bears oneartificial leg (O`Connor 172). This makes her to allow her mother tokeep a bible in the house. She is in a constant outrage mood. It isapparent that she has a heart condition and therefore stays with hermother at home. It can be interpreted that the bitterness that Hulgaportrays is linked to her inability to move. She blames her motherand Mrs. Freeman for her misfortunes. It is abundantly clear thatHulga is seeking for acceptance and even asks her mother take her sheis (O`Connor 183). This brings out another character of her motherwho believes in one of her clichés that nothing is perfect. Herbelief appears to be wrong since she is unable to accept her daughterthe way she is.
The story brings out the contrast between Christianity and atheismintellect. According to philosopher Nietzsche, people should believein nothing. Hulga follow the footsteps of Nietzsche and even quoteshim in some of her books where she clearly asserts that she believesin nothing. It is evident that Nietzsche believes that intellectualatheism is a triumph over Christianity. This is the opinion thatHulga seems to uphold. This can be ascertained when she says to ManlyPointer that she has no illusions and she one of the people who seesthrough to nothing (O`Connor 191). In other words, the fight orcontrast between atheism and Christianity can be seen clearly in thearguments between Hulga and the bible salesman.
The phrase, “good county people” is one of Mrs. Hopewell’splatitudes which she repeats numerous times. She uses the phrase torefer to the Freemans who are represented by Mrs. Freeman. Mrs.Hopewell believes that by continuing to call the Freemans goodcountry people, the will ultimately change and become good people.Her clichés are wrong since Mrs. Freeman is clearly said to be oneof the loudest women on earth. Mrs. Hopewell uses the same platitudeson her daughter and believes she can change by listening to herclichés (Giannone 104). Mrs. Hopewell believes that a smile wouldheal her daughter and she would drop her gloomy face. It is evidentthat Hopewell views her daughter and life entirely in terms ofclichés. This makes her daughter to reject her platitudes entirely.
Whereas the entire story seems to portray Hulga as believing innothing, it is evident at some point that she believes her legexists. It is an artificial leg that can be said to represent hersoul that she believes exists. It is worth noting that she lost herleg in an accident when hunting while she was only ten years old.Manley Pointer is the only person who seems to appreciate Hulga as ahuman being who is special. It is evident that Manley recognizes herspecialty when he says "…..It’s what makes you different.You ain`t like anybody else" (O`Connor 192). This amazes Hulgasince there is no one who seems to have appreciated her in the past.Her mother is depicted as not wanting Hulga and views her as anovergrown woman who still lives with her mother. Additionally, Mrs.Freeman views Hulga as an aberration because of her artificial leg.It is evident that Manley accepts Hulga the way she is and does notcare much about her education. Hulga finally accepts to change herbeliefs after being convinced by Manley. She even kisses Manley atsome point and falls for him. The ruins of her atheism belief arerevealed to her and she suddenly changes. She, however, disagreeswith Manley at some point when she equates herself to him. Manleylater leaves her behind.
Good country people is an extremely complex story that isfull of symbolism and irony. The four characters appear to be inconflict in the entire story. The contrast between intellectualatheism and Christianity is clearly brought out in the story. Theevils and ruins associated with intellectual atheism are clearlybrought out. Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman as well as the biblesalesman seem to be on one side of the divide while Hulga is on theother side (Kirk, 55). She does not feel that other people such hermother and Mrs. Freeman appreciate her for who she is. She, however,accepts the appreciation that she is shown by Manley. She later dropsher atheist belief and the nihilistic belief and acceptsChristianity.
O’Connor, Flannery. Good country people. 1955. Print.
Kirk, Connie A. Critical Companion to Flannery O`connor.New York: Facts on File, 2008. Print.
Giannone, Richard. Flannery O`connor and the Mystery of Love.New York: Fordham University Press, 2010. Print.