Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People” embraces the theme of innocence versus evil. In this instance, the innocent does not defeat the bad character.
The narration of the story is third person point of view with the narrator a reliable observer. The setting is rural Georgia on “The Cedars” farm.
The story is loosely divided into four sections. Typical of O’Connor’s stories, the story involves contrasting one character against another:
- Mrs. Hopewell versus Mrs. Freeman
- Joy/Hulga versus Mrs. Freeman’s daughter
- Mrs. Hopewell versus Joy
- Joy versus Manly Pointer
O’Connor will tell part of the story through one character’s perspectives and then turn sharply to another of the contrasting characters.
The first section
Mrs. Hopewell hires some temporary help for the farm. Mrs. Freeman, a busybody, and her two daughters have worked on the farm now for four years; they are reliable and hard workers. The two daughters are nice and well-mannered. Joy/Hulga, although better educated, to her mother does not compare to the normalcy of the Freeman girls.
The second section
Hulga Hopewell changes her name to Joy. She is thirty-two years old, bitter, and unhappy. Her problems started when she was ten and her leg was shot off in a hunting accident. She now wears an artificial limb. Joy has spent most of her life going to school. Her highest degree is a Ph.D. in philosophy. She has no purpose in life and mostly sits around reading and using sarcasm at every turn.
The third section
Manly Pointer, a Bible salesman, comes to the door. He implies that he has a heart problem. Mrs. Hopewell asks him to dinner because he is "good country people." Joy and Manly are attracted to each other, which pleases the mother. Joy and Manly meet outside and set up a date for the next day.
The fourth section
The two meet the next day and hurry to the barn with Joy thinking that she will seduce the boy. They go up into the loft. As soon as they are there, Manly takes control. Manly takes off Hulga’ glasses because they interfere with their kissing. He places the glasses in his pocket.
Pointer kisses her passionately and insists that she tell him that she loves him. Finally, Hulga utters, "Yes, yes," and Pointer then demands that she prove it. Pointer wants her to take off her artificial leg. Despite her inner urge not to do so, she decides that for the first time in her life, she would surrender to someone. “All right."
Since she has surrendered her leg to Pointer, Hulga feels entirely dependent on him. Pointer sets her leg out of her reach. When she asks that he return it, he refuses, and from a hollowed-out Bible he produces whiskey, condoms, and playing cards with pornographic pictures on them.
Disillusioned, Hulga tries to reach her wooden leg only to have Pointer easily push her down.
Physically defeated, she hisses, "You're a fine Christian! You're just like them all — say one thing and do another..."
Hulga, then, hears Pointer tell her that he is not a Christian.
As Pointer leaves the barn loft with Hulga's wooden leg, he further disillusions Hulga by telling her that he has obtained a number of interesting things from other people, including a glass eye, in the same way that he took Hulga's leg.
Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman observe Pointer leaving and think that he has been selling Bibles to the black people. Mrs. Hopewell states that she thinks the world would be better off if everyone were like Manly Pointer.