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Theme is defined as the main idea or ideas that the author wants the reader to understand. Most pieces of literature (movies, TV scripts, plays, stories, novels, etc.) have many themes. You can find the theme by saying: ____________________ (name of the work) is a story about ____________________ (first thing that comes to mind).
In "Good Country People," some of the themes include:
1. identity--Joy changes her name to "Hulga," and she has trouble identifying with the 'good country people' surrounding her mother's home since she feels they are ignorant and beneath her.
2. education--Hulga, an educated woman with a PhD considers herself much more intelligent than all the people around her. It is this false sense of security that allows her to be duped by the Bible salesman.
3. faith--Hulga doesn't have any. She is obviously above blind faith of the simple creatures in the country. She considers herself worldly and experienced, not in need of faith. On the other hand, Manley,the Bible salesman seems to be full of faith until they get in the hayloft. Then, he proves he also is without faith and has used Hulga just to get her leg.
4. reality vs. illusion--Hulga is not all she seems to be, and neither is Manley. As far as that goes, the country people Hulga considers ignorant aren't as dumb as she assumed.
The theme of "Good Country People" could be interpreted several ways. For example, the fact that Hulga is overly pessimistic from the beginning could lead the reader to draw the conclusion that the theme has to do with the fact that "things" could always be worse. Another possibility is that the theme has to do with pride going before a fall. Although Hulga might seem, at first, to find no value in herself, she actually takes pride (of a kind) in the extent of what she promotes as her own worthlessness or unworthiness. "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is" is a final suggestion for the story's theme. Hulga would have had to be incredibly naive and insecure to fall for the salesman's/theif's scheme, despite the fact that she believed herself to be intelligent and wise.
People aren't always as they seem.
Since theme is the central or dominmate idea in a literary work (the unifying point for plot, character, setting and point of view), Flannery O'Connors works are always about the spiritual in the secular world. Her theme in this short story would revolve around man's arrogance in thinking that she is the center of her universe and knows it all. Her "leg" represents her uniqueness. Joy believes that "nothing" is the only meaning of the universe (therefore no good and no evil). She is so arrogant and looks down on those who believe in God that she is duped by someone like herself (someone who believes in "nothing"). Thru him, she learns that there IS evil in the world. For there to be evil, there must be good. Joy has learned a hard lesson at the hands of the unforgiving Flannery O'Connor.
I am a high school reading teacher who is currently studying Flannery O'Connor in a college lit class (to keep my teaching certification current).
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