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Flannery O’Connor’s story titled “Good Country People” is full of dichotomies or oppositions. Among such opposites (or apparent opposites) are the following:
- Mrs. Freeman is lower-class and cynical; Mrs. Hopewell is middle-class and (as her name implies) optimistic.
- Mrs. Hopewell’s optimism contrasts even more strongly with the extreme cynicism of her daughter, Joy/Hulga.
- Hulga, the arrogant intellectual, is the opposite of the apparently “normal” girls, Glynese and Carramae.
- Mrs. Hopewell is very particular about whom she hires as help on her farm, but she eventually hires the Freemans “because there were no other applicants.”
- Mrs. Hopewell considers herself “a woman of great patience,” whereas Hulga is easily angered.
- Mrs. Hopewell is utterly conventional in her thinking (as her tendency to speak in clichés suggests), whereas Hulga thinks of herself as utterly unconventional (which is a fairly ironic self-perception since she is completely conventional in her own ways).
- Mrs. Freeman and Hulga seem to be opposites (one lower-class and the other highly intellectual), but they actually have much more in common (especially their cynicism) than either would admit.
- Mrs. Hopewell dresses well and is careful about displaying good manners; Hulga is just the opposite.
- Hulga considers herself profound and her mother superficial, although each is superficial in her own way.
- Hulga considers herself an atheist and nihilist (someone who believes in nothing) and thus seems to have nothing in common with Manley Pointer, the Bible salesman. Of course, by the end of the story she realizes that Pointer is perhaps an even greater nihilist than she is.
- Hulga at first seems to feel contempt for Pointer, although eventually she is seduced by him.
- Hulga is contemptuous of religion, and, in that respect she seems to differ from Pointer. Later, of course, we realize that he is, if anything, even more contemptuous of religion than she is.
- Hulga seems completely uninterested in Manley Pointer, but in fact she is fascinated by him.
- Hulga thinks that she is far more intelligent and shrewd than the apparently stupid and naïve Manley Pointer, but of course Manley eventually teachers her that this is a false dichotomy:
Her voice when she spoke had an almost pleading sound. “Aren’t you,” she murmured, “aren’t you just good country people?”
The boy cocked his head. He looked as if he were just beginning to understand that she might be trying to insult him. “Yeah,” he said, curling his lip slightly, “but it ain’t held me back none. I’m as good as you any day in the week.”
In short, O’Connor’s story is full of dichotomies, some of them real, but some of them only imagined.
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