One of Flannery O’Connor’s most successful and frequently anthologized stories, “Good Country People” was published in her first collection of short stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, in 1955. As with many of her works, “Good Country People” addresses themes of good versus evil, the possibility of redemption achieved through an encounter with violence, and the foolishness of intellectual pretensions. The protagonist, Joy, has changed her name to Hulga because that is the ugliest name she could think of. Maimed as a child in a hunting accident, Hulga has a wooden leg—her most valuable possession because it is a mark of her difference. She prizes this because she considers herself more intellectual than all of the “good country people” around her—especially her mother, their neighbors, and finally Manley Pointer, a Bible salesman. Manley steals her leg after seducing her in the loft of a barn, although it is Joy/Hulga who intends to seduce Manley. In losing her leg, she learns about evil, which undermines her previous conviction that “Nothing” is the only meaning in the universe. The story hinges on this powerful irony: in the long run, what Joy loses is her faith but it is a faith in Nothing, which means that she finally gains a knowledge of evil.
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