In "Good Country People," how does Hulga feel about her wooden leg?  Flannery O'Connor's short story

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People," Hulga seems disgruntled about something as she is described as

the large hulking Joy, who constant outrage had obliterated every expression from [Mrs. Hopewell's] face.

When asked by her mother to walk over the fields with her, Joy (as she is named by her mother) makes remarks that are

so ugly and her face so glum that Mrs. Hopewell would say, 'If you can't come prleasantly, I don't want you at all,' to which the girl....would reply, 'if you want me, here I am--LIKE I AM...Mrs. Hopewell excused this attitude because of the leg (which had been shot off during a hunting accident when Joy was ten)

When Joy turns twenty-one, she has her named legally changed to Hulga, a name her mother believes she picked because it is so ugly. Hulga wishes to show her disdain for everything her mother says. When her mother calls her Joy, Hulga will not respond.

From these details, the reader can discern that Hulga is certainly not content with her life.  However, when the Bible salesman talks with her, she admits to being shy, and she arranges to meet him the next day.  As they walk, she is in the lead, with the salesman panting behind.  When he tells her she cannot climb the ladder to the loft, she scoffs and climbs the ladder with ease.  When the boy climbs up and kisses her, he then asks her to show him where her "leg joins on."

The obscenity of the suggestion was not what shocked her....But she was as sensitive about the artificial leg as a peacock about his tail.  No one ever touched it but her.  She took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private and almost with her own eyes turned away.

Helga probably finds the leg ugly, just like the name she chooses.  It is artificial, making her less of a person, yet in a way she is proud of it. The boy hits the truth when he tells her that the leg is what makes her different.  His striking the truth causes Hulga to let him see where it joins.  When he removes her leg, Hulga feels "entirely dependent" upon him.  Without her leg, she has lost not just her means of walking, but she has also lost her pride.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hulga's wooden leg gives her a sense of freedom.  She does not have to conform to societal expectations to be pretty, charming and attract a man to marry her.  Hulga, because of her wooden leg, feels compelled to do what ever she wants, because she knows that society, men, will reject her in the traditional way, no one will want to marry her, so she is free to experience life in her own way.

She does this by throwing herself at Manley Pointer, the crooked bible salesman who comes to her home and charms her mother.  Hulga is interested in having a casual sexual experience with him.  She is beyond the conventional requirement to be a good girl, she has a wooden leg, so she can do as she pleases, and no one will care, or so she thinks.

As Hulga celebrates her wooden leg, it also contributes to her self-loathing.  She gets a preverse sense of pleasure and pride from being as unattractive as possible, so her wooden leg just adds to her self image of being ugly.

"Joy/Hulga Hopewell gave herself the name Hulga because it was the ugliest she could think of, signifying her disdain for everything her mother’s life represents to her. While with her PhD she considers herself intellectually superior to everyone else in the story, she also has “a heart condition,” which speaks to the lack of love in her life."





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