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In Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People," what are three words you could use to...

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sdescote | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 18, 2012 at 8:32 PM via web

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In Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People," what are three words you could use to describe the self-created character of Joy/Hulga?

I'm writing an essay on Joy/Hulga. I'm having a tough time pinning down 3 words. So far I have come up with introspective and disrespectful. I'm not sure these are any good and I also need a third one. Any ideas?

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 19, 2012 at 12:26 AM (Answer #1)

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Joy/Hulga is a difficult character to analyze, in part because she has, as her name suggests, several facets to her personality that make even three adjectives incomplete descriptors.

When we first meet Joy/Hulga, she is characterized quite harshly:

. . . whose constant outrage had obliterated every expression from her face . . . with the look of someone who has achieved blindness by an act of will and means to keep it.

In short, Joy/Hulga has, to the extent possible, blocked out the world because she is so angry with it.  An important element of her character--her ability to blind herself wilfully--is a sign of her strong mind and will and, more important, speaks to her desire to detach herself from emotions (her expressionless face).  The goal of an expressionless face is to hide emotions.

Another important aspect of Joy/Hulga's view of herself becomes apparent in the way she moves about the house:

When Hulga stumped into the kitchen in the morning (she could walk without making the awful noise but she made it . . . .

Joy/Hulga's psychological separation from the world is mirrored in her physical separation.  By making noise with her wooden leg, Joy/Hulga is reminding everyone within earshot that she is fundamentally different from the rest and that she lives in a different world, one dominated by her intellect, as well as her physical deficiency (as she perceives her missing leg).

Later, when we learn that Joy/Hulga has a PhD in Philosophy, we see yet another way she has separated herself from her societal norms and, perhaps, more important, compensated for the loss of her leg by achieving intellectually what she feels she can't achieve physically.  The effect of her education, however, is not an ability to understand herself and the world but to add another layer of separation between herself and the world.  In her self-absorption, she fails to understand the one of the primary goal's of philosophy--to understand how humans interact with themselves and the world.  Based on her education alone, Joy/Hulga believes she understands human motivation, but as we see at the end of the story, she completely mis-reads Manley Pointer's motivation in establishing a relationship with her.

Rather than arguing that Joy/Hulga is introspective and disrespectful, you might want to describe her as self-absorbed, completely alone (having purposefully separated herself from everyone), and highly educated but ignorant of what actually motivates people--in a sense, Joy/Hulga can be described as a naif, that is, someone who has no clue about the real world.

 

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