Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
O’Connor was well-known for her use of the grotesque and the bizarre to rivet a reader to her tales. Here the sudden revelation of Manley Pointer’s malevolence is both dramatic and shocking but a fitting climax to a story whose protagonist, Hulga, made a profession of dispelling illusions. The reader expects the confrontation between Hulga and Pointer to occur but is surprised by the role each ends up playing.
O’Connor had an unmatched ability to capture the cadences of country speech and the banalities of everyday conversation. Her depiction of Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman’s frequent kitchen conversations helps to underscore the role-playing and insincerity lurking behind the southern landscapes that served as the setting of most of her stories. In like manner, O’Connor uses two minor characters in the story, Mrs. Freeman’s daughters, Glynese and Carramae, as effective foils for the character of Hulga. Neither Glynese nor Carramae has any illusions about her lot in life, and the homey details of their lives that O’Connor presents—Carramae’s bout with morning sickness, for example—serve as a vivid contrast to the airy, philosophical notions with which Hulga has insulated herself.
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“Good Country People” takes place on a tenant farm in Georgia, which O’Connor uses to establish a worldview that is narrow as well as hierarchical, for Mrs. Hopewell owns the farm while Mrs. Freeman works on it, appropriately entering Mrs. Hopewell’s house by way of the kitchen door. Dialect contributes to a verisimilitude of setting. For example, a man’s comment about Mrs. Freeman, “If she don’t get there before the dust settles, you can bet she’s dead,” captures the idiom of the rural South. When Manley Pointer tells Mrs. Hopewell, “I know you believe in Christian service,” he communicates a limited Christianity based on words rather than true belief, which is important to people who live there. Manley’s walking across the meadow at the end of the story provides another detail of setting. When she sees him, Mrs. Freeman observes that “he must have been selling [Bibles] to the Negroes back in” the woods behind Mrs. Hopewell’s farm, linking social hierarchy, race, and religion to the rural South of the 1950s.
Within this larger setting are two others: Mrs. Hopewell’s house, especially the kitchen, where the story begins, and the property beyond the gate of the house, where Manley seduces Joy/Hulga. Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman carry on “their most important business in the kitchen at breakfast.” The kitchen, generally thought of as the heart of a home, in this story does not provide such symbolic sustenance because of the insipid talk between the women when they visit there. The fact that Joy/Hulga has “a bad heart” reinforces this emptiness in the Hopewell kitchen. The setting is significant, too, because it is a site of female domesticity, and this is a story about women without men—until, that is, Manley Pointer comes to sell Bibles. His aggressive intrusion into this female space is demonstrated when he falls “forward into her hall” as Mrs. Hopewell allows him into her home. The garden outside the kitchen is also significant, for here the women pull out “evil-smelling onions” when they see Pointer walk off into the distance, as if eradicating his evil essence from their territory.
Outside the safety of the home, Hulga makes a rendezvous with Pointer. She meets him at the gate; walks across the pasture; climbs a ladder to the loft; and from there watches him walk away after he kisses her, removes her wooden leg, and ultimately takes it with him when he leaves. All of...
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Bibliography (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Bloom, Harold. Flannery O’Connor. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.
Brinkmeyer, Robert H. The Art and Vision of Flannery O’Connor. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
Cash, Jean W. Flannery O'Connor: A Life. University of Tennessee, 2002.
Shloss, Carol. Flannery O’Connor’s Dark Comedies: The Limits of Inference. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
Walters, Dorothy. Flannery O’Connor. Boston: Twayne, 1973.
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Babinec, Lisa S. 1990. “Cyclical Patterns of Domination and Manipulation in Flannery O’Connor’s Mother–Daughter Relationships.” Flannery O’Connor Bulletin, vol. 19, pp. 9-29. Babinec uses theories of “maternal thinking” by Marianne Hirsch and Sara Ruddick to understand the relationship between Hulga and her mother.
Courtland, A. R. 1983. “From Sermon to Parable: Four Conversion Stories.” American Literature, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 55-71. Courtland thinks that not all of O’Connor’s stories result in the redemption of the protagonist, and that “Good Country People” is a story where questions of “achieving grace” are not answered.
Schaum, Melita. “’Erasing Angel’: The Lucifer-Trickster Figure in Flannery O’Connor’s Short Fiction.” Southern Literary Journal, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 1-26. Schaum understands Manley Pointer as part of the Southern tradition of the “trickster,” who lures Hulga through her own vanity.
Shinn, Thelma J. 1968. “Flannery O’Connor and the Violence of Grace.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 58-73. Shinn argues that O’Connor inherits her understanding of redemption—that it must be achieved through suffering—from her tradition as a Southern writer and her devout Roman Catholicism.
Walters, Dorothy. 1973. Flannery O’Connor. Boston: Twayne. According to Walters, the major theme in “Good Country People” is innocence encountering experience, seen in Hulga’s seduction by Manley Pointer.
Whitt, Margaret Earley. 1977. Understanding Flannery O’Connor. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. Whitt examines O’Connor’s fiction in connection with her letters and other biographical information.
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