Is it significant that the story begins and ends with Mrs. Freeman? Why or why not?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bookending her story "Good Country People" with Mrs. Freeman allows author Flannery O'Connor to reinforce the irony of the story, a key technique she uses to communicate her themes. At the beginning of the story, readers meet Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. Hopewell's hired hand, and learn about her three expressions: neutral, forward, and reverse. Mrs. Freeman has strong opinions about nearly everything and rarely reverses them. Despite her employee's quirks, Mrs. Hopewell is confident that Mrs. Freeman's family are "good country people."

Similarly, Mrs. Hopewell believes Manley Pointer, the Bible salesman, to be "good country people." That is not the only thing Mrs. Freeman and Manley Pointer have in common. As it turns out, both of them share a fascination with Hulga/Joy's wooden leg. Mrs. Freeman never tires of hearing about the hunting accident that resulted in the amputation of Joy's leg, and Manley Pointer ends up seducing Hulga for the express purpose of purloining her prosthesis.

In the final paragraph of the story, as Mrs. Freeman unearths an "evil-smelling onion shoot," she remarks in reference to the fleeing Manley Pointer that "some can't be that simple. ... I know I never could." There are many layers of irony captured in this ending, just as the onion Mrs. Freeman holds has many layers. One is that Mrs. Freeman's morbid curiosity is ill-mannered and hurtful--maybe not to the degree Manley Pointer's was, but it bore a similar pungency. Another is that Mrs. Freeman's lack of insight into others is matched only by her lack of insight into herself. And another is that good country people cannot necessarily be taken at face value--one never knows what is under the surface until one has the chance to unearth the bitter fruit. As usual, Flannery O'Connor chooses her story's elements with great skill to convey a caustic view of the human condition.

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Good Country People

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