O'Connor frequently addresses hypocrisy in religion. How does she do so in "Good Country People?"
Set in what Flannery O'Connor called the "Christ-haunted South" her stories find religion as part of several dimensions of the narrative. In "Good Country People" the characters resonate with religious hypocrisy.
- Mrs. Hopewell
Self-complacent, Mrs. Hopewell prides herself on having "no bad qualities of her own." Yet, she takes on Mrs. Freeman as a tenant in order to make use of her talents to her advantage, flattering Mrs. Freeman to get her to do things with her or for her. Hypocritically, she perceives the Freemans as "good country people" even though she exploits them.
- Mrs. Freeman
While appearing to be a simple person, Mrs. Freeman has a dark side. In fact, she is linked to Manley Pointer whose eyes are “beady steel-pointed” while hers are “two steel spikes.” She also possesses
...a special fondness for the details of secret infections, hidden deformities, assaults upon children Of diseases, she preferred the lingering or incurable.
Sadistically, she loves to listen to the gory details of Hulga's hunting accident. At the end of the story, Mrs. Freeman watches Manley Pointer disappear under the hill, turns her attention back to the "evil-smelling onion shoot she was lifting from the ground," and says in reply to Mrs. Hopewell's observation that Manley is a "nice dull young man, "Some can't be that simple....I know I never could."
- Manley Pointer
Blatant religious hypocrisy is evinced in this character who purports to be a Bible salesman when he is really a trickster who has no religious beliefs at all, an admission that he makes to Hulga after seducing her and cruelly taking her artificial leg:
"You ain't so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!"
Ironically, this evil character is an agent of grace for Hulga who loses her faith in Nothing, acquiring, instead the knowledge of evil; thus, for Hulga, Pointer appears to her as a "blue figure struggling successfully over the green speckled lake" much like Christ walking on water.
Although she professes to be a Nihilist, Hulga actually does have religious faith since she goes to the barn with Manley Pointer because she believes he is "good country people" in the hope that she can seduce him, thus dissolving his religious illusions. Also, she certainly has an epiphany in her recognition of her religious hypocrisy and new knowledge of good and evil that ends her nihilism.