In this story, a homely young woman with a wooden leg has changed her name from Joy to Hulga. She believes that she has nothing to be joyful about because she is a cripple, wears glasses and is homely. So, why should she have the name Joy? She chooses Hulga because it reminds her of the Roman god Vulcan. Her last name is Hopewell and again, because she has nothing to hope for in life, she has neither hope nor joy. The one source of pride for Hulga Hopewell is her education. She has a PhD in philosophy and because of this, fancies herself above everyone in intelligence, albeit nothing else.
The Freeman family lives on the land as tenant farmers, but they are not really “free” because they are tenant farmers and do not own the land. They are also of lower social status than the Hopewell family. Into this mix comes a Bible salesman, somewhat of a con artist. His name is Manley Pointer. He is “manly” in the sense that he plans to seduce Hulga. The last name “Pointer” is considered by some to be a phallic reference.