What does Hulga learn about herself and about other people through her encounter with the Bible salesman in "Good Country People"?

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Joy-Hulga has an incredible sense of superiority over everyone around her.  She is college educated with a degree in philosophy and that alone makes her different and "better" than her mother Mrs. Hopewell or the tenant worker, Mrs. Freeman.  She regards Mrs. Freeman and her two daughters are trashy and nosey people.  She thinks her mother is capable of no other thoughts than the simple and clique platitudes she is forever saying.  In addition to her education, the fact that she has suffered the loss of one of her legs makes Joy-Hulga different.  She holds this situation very dear to her and her alone.  She is protective of herself and how she feels about the loss.

Everything gets turned around on her when she spends time with Manley Pointer, the bible salesman.  He actslike a simpleton and Joy-Hulga thinks that she is completely superior to him in all regards.  She decides that she is going to seduce the poor young man, but the tables are completely turned on her when he actually seduces her. His seduction is more than sexual, and the results are more devastating than a lover's betrayal.   He starts by letting her think she is better than him.  He does this by seeming needy for her affection.  He uses reverse psychology on her to get her into the hayloft of the barn.  He says all the right things to get her to lower her guard and let him remove the false leg.  THEN he reveals that it is the leg he wanted all the time -- not her.  He is a complete creep!  Joy-Hulga was so sure that she had the upper hand that she is speechless at this reversal of fortune.  She accuses him of the worst thing she thinks she can call him, saying "you are just like the rest of them [Christians]" implying that Christians are an unholy, cheating, lying group.  While is seems like this would be a huge insult to the bible salesman, he gets the last laugh when he proclaims that "he has been believing in nothing since the day I was born."  He is even more of cynical than Joy-Hulga.  With that line he takes away all of her emotional power and all of her sense of superiority. She is brought down to just about as low as she can be brought down.  She is left utterly helpless in the hayloft, while the fake bible salesman runs off her with her leg (he is a "trophy" collector) and her self-esteem.  She learns that she isn't the only smart cynic in the world.

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