In Good Country People, why does the author believe violence is needed in her stories to get the attention of the characters and readers?  

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O’Connor’s fiction contains a great deal of religious symbolism and her themes mostly revolve around the Christian world view, that man is a sinner saved by grace. In her letters, however, O’Connor acknowledged that most of her readers would not be reading her works with the eyes of faith. “If the Christian faith is in place for the reader, the works will be understandable,” she wrote, but because most of her readers would lack this faith, she believed she needed to get their attention with violence. The moments of violence in her stories are often preludes to moments of unknowing, followed by enlightenment or epiphanies. “Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them,” she writes. For example, right before the Misfit violently kills the grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the grandmother has one of these moments of enlightenments as she looks at the Misfit and exclaims “Why, you are one of my babies.” Just before the bull gores Mrs. May in Greenleaf, she has a similar religious experience.

In "Good Country People", Joy/Hulga is in need of redemption. She brags that she believes in nothing and although she is a cripple, her wooden leg, which defines her, has also become an idol in her life, which she guards with intensity. No one is allowed to see it or touch it or change it out. So when Manley Pointer steals her wooden leg, he steals her identity, her soul. This act of violence against Joy/Hulga shocks her out of her pride as Manley leaves her vulnerable and unprotected. The story ends before the reader knows whether or not Joy/Hulga WILL be redeemed, but we can hope. By ending the story with Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman commenting on how "simple" Manley is as they see him walk off in the distance, O'Connor shows the reader how simple faith can be, if one is only open to it.

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Good Country People

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