In "Good Country People," how do handicaps symbolize the greater handicap of the intellect, the heart, and the soul?

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Hulga, Mrs. Hopewell’s only child, is handicapped. She lost her leg when she was only ten years old in a shooting accident. She wears an artificial leg. Hulga has an extraordinary relationship with her leg. The text states that “she is as sensitive about the artificial leg as a peacock about its tail.” When Pointer tells her that her leg is what makes her different from everybody else, she believes that she has finally met the one person who understands her truth. Yet, it seems, Hulga’s truth is lost even to her. She seems to embrace her deformity, yet at the same time to be repulsed by it. When her mother asks her to accompany her for walks in the fields, Hulga replies very rudely, saying, “if you want me, here I am – LIKE I AM.” She uses her handicap as an excuse for not being able to do a number of things, such as taking a pleasant walk through the fields, even though she has been living with her deformity for over twenty years. She delights in being rude to other people, perhaps because then she gets some inexplicable hold over them. Her handicap has spread beyond her leg, to her heart, soul and intellect. It is like she lives in a constant denial of all good and happy feelings. In her own admission, she chooses the name “Hulga” over “Joy” because of “its ugly sound.” She “stumps around” even though she is able to walk without making the irritating sound. Clearly, Hulga has allowed her attitude and as such the whole of her being to be as ugly as she thinks her leg is.

Hulga is highly educated. She has a PhD in Philosophy. However, she is still deceived by the illiterate Pointer. Her attitude toward life and her prejudices prevent her from seeing things as they really are.

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Joy, who likes to go by the uglier name of Hulga, has an artificial leg. She is both proud of it and sensitive about it, letting no one but herself touch it until Pointer demands it. The text says she was

as sensitive about her artificial leg as a peacock is about his tail.

Hulga is also very proud of her PhD in philosophy, which has led her to embrace atheism. She thinks she is smarter and more world-wise than other people, especially the simple country people all around her, but finds out by the end of the story she is wrong.

O'Connor said of the wooden leg:

We're presented with the fact that the PhD [Hulga] is spiritually as well as physically crippled . . . and we perceive that there is a wooden part of her soul that corresponds to her wooden leg.

By the end of the story, Pointer has both stolen her wooden leg out of spite and demolished her idea that she is the worldly one by revealing himself as a hard-hearted con artist and atheist, far more evil than anything she has ever encountered. She learns she is not as worldly as she thinks, because she has never confronted pure evil.

Hulga cannot rely on her wooden leg to make her whole, because it can be stolen from her. Likewise, her rationalist philosophy is a disability, a "wooden part of her soul."

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In Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People," one of the main characters, Hulga, suffers from a handicap. She has only one leg and uses a prosthetic leg to get around. She puts much emphasis on her false leg, clomping around the house loudly, especially when her mother is around. She uses it as an excuse for why she can't do things and emphasizes how it has negatively affected her life. This handicap, however, represents a greater handicap, according to O'Connor. Hulga may have gone to school and earned a degree, but she is not putting her intelligence to good use because she claims her leg won't let her work. In addition, O'Connor portrays Hulga as a spiritually empty person who cannot love--both of these things are represented by her handicap. The message O'Connor sends, then, is that Hulga's real handicap is not her leg, it is who she is as a person.

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