How do physical handicaps symbolize the larger handicap of the intellect?

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In Good Country People there are several characters who suffer from spiritual or physical weaknesses and they seem to have intellectual or spiritual challenges, too. Hulga is the prototypical O’Connor character as her arrogance, pride and selfishness come to her only during traumatic revelation. She seems to view herself as superior to the “good country people” among whom she lives. She views her own dabbling in philosophy and the meaning of life as an elite interest thus making her a person of higher value than her peers. She thinks she should liberate them from false illusions and prides herself on not suffering from them herself.

Hulga perceives herself as enlightened rather than innocent as her privileged education has given her access to philosophers such as Nietzsche, whose words she underlines with a blue pencil.The colour blue seems to be symbolic as Manley Pointer wears blue and the lining of his suitcase of Bibles is blue, lnking her nihilism with his seemingly innocuous evil.

Because she denies God and asserts the primacy of Nothing, Hulga is at risk. She cannot recognise Manley's evil menace because she feels evil has no more meaning than God has. This “innocent” view allows Manley to spiritually take advantage of her; symbolized by him taking her wooden leg. She begs for it back and his ironic response is ' I know where I’m going!'  Hulga cannot go anywhere without her leg, and spiritually she cannot make progress either as she is also missing a soul. She finally realises that evil does exist and that life and spirituality is more than just Nothingness. Her physical handicap is almost a visual manifestation of her stunted crippled unenlightened mind, a mind devoid of vision, breadth and hope. When Manley steals Hulga's leg, it is almost as if he is doing God's work because it gives Hulga the opportunity to let grace and spiritually come from the humiliating position in which Manley leaves her. Her position as she is left sitting in a pool of dusty sunlight suggests the emerging possibility of enlightenment and that Hulga has choices. One option would be to go with the flow and allow grace in to her faithless soul. From this, further spirituality could begin to grow and develop and she could be moved towards some semblance of humility, able to ask for and gracefully accept help, even from peers who she previously considered unworthy of her notice.

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