How do the plot and setting support the theme of "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor?

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noahvox2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Flannery O'Connor's short story "Good Country People" was first published in 1955. O'Connor herself grew up in a small town in Georgia and many of her stories have a small town, rural setting, as is the case in "Good Country People."

O'Connor's father died of lupus when she was young and so her mother ended up running the family's dairy farm. O'Connor came back to this farm in the 1950s after she herself was diagnosed with lupus.

Thus, the rural farm in the southern part of the United States, as described in "Good Country People," isĀ one with which O'Connor must have been extremely familiar.

Likewise, unusual visitors that might have stopped by the farm must also have been familiar to O'Connor. Wandering salesmen like Manley Pointer, who tricks Joy-Hulga, were probably based on real-life figures that O'Connor had seen come and go from her own family's farm.

The isolated setting of the farm supports the theme of innocence versus intelligence. Joy-Hulga is educated from books, but she has no experience of the world. Manley Pointer is a seller of books, but he has no knowledge of information that comes from books. He does, however, have worldly knowledge and he uses this knowledge to seduce Joy-Hulga and trick her into taking off her leg, which he then steals. Joy-Hulga had imagined that she would easily seduce Manley Pointer, but her "book-learning" was no match for the worldly knowledge possessed by Manley Pointer.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of the story is that no amount of academic education can prepare us for an encounter with true evil. Hulga is highly educated and believes herself sophisticated and superior to simple country people, but she initially doesn't recognize evil when she sees it.

The plot of the story supports this theme by putting Hulga into an encounter with a traveling Bible salesman, Manley Pointer. She takes him at face value as a rube she can toy with, and doesn't understand his evil nature until he confronts her with who he really is and pours scorn all over her.

The setting also reinforces this theme. While Manley has traveled, Hulga has led a largely insular life, either on the farm with her mother in Georgia or in the ivory tower of the university. She has never had to confront true evil.

The loft at the end particularly supports the theme. Hulga is left stranded by Pointer in this "ivory tower," literally without the leg she needs to stand on when he steals her false leg for spite. As it is going to take some doing for her to get safely back on the ground, so it will take her some doing to mentally reground her life to cope with her new awareness.

Read the study guide:
Good Country People

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