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In "Good Country People," Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Hopewell share an idea of who and what are good country people, while Joy/Hulga has a different idea, and Manley Pointer still another.
For the two older women, good country people are people just like them. They have a simplistic view of people and divide them into categories, or dichotomies. Those that come from areas like theirs and share the same values are good country people, and others are not. Theirs is an either/or view of people: very simplistic and narrow. Their view is debunked when they judge Manley to be even more of a simpleton than they are, when in fact he's not "good" at all, and certainly doesn't share their values.
To Helga, good country people are unsophisticated and simplistic and unknowing--they are country bumpkins. They do not know her truth--that nothing matters. They think belief in God still matters, while she knows better. Her view is debunked when Manley, a person without her education and sophistication, knows, too, that nothing matters and believes in nothing. His nihilism comes from experience, while hers comes from reading. Her belief in nothing is also debunked by Manley's evil. Evil does exist in the world, and Manley is proof.
To Manley, good country people are what could hold him back. But he tells Hulga that he doesn't believe in any of that crap, and, again, that he doesn't believe in anything. He acts like good country people to earn a living and to get what he wants, but he doesn't really believe in any of it. His view is debunked by his obvious grotesqueness and evil, although he "wins" in the story. His grotesque act does lead Hulga to an epiphany, however, as she has an opportunity to see her intellectual bias and understand that evil, and therefore good, do exist in the world.
The title of this short story is very ironic. The "good country people" in the story are anything BUT good country people. Mrs. Hopewell, for example, says that she hired the Freemans because they were not trash, but we find out that this is not so. A former employer of the Freemans said that Mrs. Freeman was a loud and obnoxious woman.
Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter have a poor relationship. Neither one of them is "good country people." Hulga is a twisted, mean-spirited and prideful young woman who treats her mother with disrespect and her mother is intimidated by her daughter and fearful of disciplining her due to her disability.
Manly Pointer -- wow, he is a BIBLE salesman. He must be good country people, no? NO! He is the worst. He is evil and manipulative and mean and cruel.
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