Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Flannery O’Connor clearly designed “Good Country People” as a shockingly ironic story. Hulga is the prototypical O’Connor character whose pride and selfishness come to her only in the midst of a violent or shocking revelation. Hulga regards herself as aloof from the “good country people” among whom she lives; imbibing of philosophy and its contemplation of “deeper questions,” Hulga sees herself as liberating people from their illusions, believing she has none of her own.
Manley Pointer serves as the agent for her self-discovery. Pointer at first appears to be a crude, otherworldly Fundamentalist and Hulga’s mission is to strip away his Christian principles by seducing him in the hayloft. She is, however, completely fooled by his impersonation; it is she who is “taken in” and in the end, it is she who wants to be reassured that Pointer is “just good country people.” Instead, Pointer reveals himself as a country existentialist, living for the moment, unaffected by the pretensions that govern Hulga’s private illusions.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Freeman stands out as the only character in the story who “sees through” the illusions of the Hopewell household. She knows her place in the economy of the household and hers is the final comment in the story. When she says “some can’t be as simple” as Pointer, she means that she herself could never fall prey to the flimflam antics to which Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga have...
(The entire section is 240 words.)
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Innocence and Experience
Hulga does not understand herself as innocent; indeed, she considers herself to be quite experienced because her education has given her access to philosophers such as Nietzsche, whose words she underlines with a blue pencil: “science wishes to know nothing of nothing.” Significantly, Manley Pointer wears a blue suit and lines his suitcase of Bibles with blue, thus linking her nihilism to his evil masquerading as innocence. In denying God and asserting the primacy of Nothing, Hulga lacks the ability to recognize Manley for who he is because, “in her economy,” evil has no more meaning than God has. This “innocent” view allows Manley to spiritually rape her, symbolized by him taking her wooden leg. When she pleads, “Aren’t you just good country people?” he replies, “I hope you don’t think that I believe in that crap! I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn’t born yesterday and I know where I’m going!” This last word is deeply ironic, for without a leg—and without a soul—Hulga can go nowhere. If at the beginning she considers herself an intellectual Eve about to seduce an innocent Adam, by the end of the story Adam reveals himself as evil incarnate—Satan himself, perhaps. Through him she falls into the world of experience, gaining the knowledge that evil does indeed exist, that there is meaning beyond the Nothing she embraced at the beginning of the story.
Grace, Redemption, and the Grotesque
As with many of O’Connor’s stories, in “Good Country People” the protagonist achieves the possibility of redemption through an act of violence perpetuated by evil, which in this story is embodied in Manley Pointer. Hulga’s wooden leg makes her grotesque, but more grotesque is what that symbolizes: her soul’s lacking faith. When Manley steals her leg, he contributes to the work of God because doing so provides Hulga with the opportunity to accept grace and spiritually grow from the humiliating position in which Manley leaves her. O’Connor suggests the possibilities offered by the presence of evil in the world when depicting Manley “disappearing down the hole” in the loft and then “struggling successfully over the green speckled lake” as he leaves Hulga “sitting on the straw in the dusty sunlight.” In these images, Manley is both devil and Jesus, and Joy/Hulga is in a liminal space of possibility.
(The entire section is 617 words.)