What is the central conflict of "Good Country People?" What is the resolution?

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reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In O'Connor's short story "Good Country People," the central conflict arises between Joy/Hulga, the daughter, and her mother, Mrs. Hopewell. Neither character understands the other.

One of the biggest conflicts between mother and daughter concerns education. Mrs. Hopewell believed that girls go to school to "have a good time." She bemoans the fact that Joy/Hulga got a PhD in philosophy. It shames her that she cannot tell people her daughter has an actual profession. On the other hand, Joy/Hulga thinks her education sets her apart, proving her experience in the world. Yet, even though she is highly educated, it has only reinforced her innocence, highlighted by her encounter with Manley Pointer when he steals her wooden leg.

A second conflict between the two is emphasized by their individual identities. Joy changed her name to Hulga when she was twenty-one. Mrs. Hopewell is reminded of "a battleship" and still calls her daughter Joy. The mother cannot accept the daughter's identity and still thinks of her as a child even though she is in her thirties. On the other hand, Joy/Hulga thinks her mother is simplistic, and she goes out of her way to stomp around the house and act unpleasantly. Underneath these actions, mother and daughter do not truly see each other for who they are, adding to the conflict.

Ultimately, the mother/daughter conflict results in Joy/Hulga having little common sense in spite of her education, and Mrs. Hopewell being unable to accept Joy/Hulga as different.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The central conflict is between Joy/Hulga and Manley Pointer, the so-called Bible salesman who comes to the house and is invited to dinner by Mrs. Hopewell.  She believes him to be a good, sincere person and hopes that he will take a liking to her daughter.

However, Manley Pointer is not who he appears to be, but a con man, who when he finds out that Hulga has a wooden leg, becomes fascinated with her, determined to  steal her wooden leg.

Hulga is confronted by someone, Manley Pointer, who has less belief in anything spiritual than she does.  She is shocked by his cruelty and inhumanity when he steals her wooden leg and leaves her stranded in the barn, with no way of getting back to the house. 

She screams for her leg, but he dismisses her with contempt. To Hulga’s horror, Manley puts her wooden leg in his suitcase, saying, “One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way.” As he walks away, he has nothing but contempt for her because he, like she, dismissed God from his life a long time ago: “I been believing in nothing ever since I was born,” he says. All of a sudden, her intellectual snobbery in her nihilism becomes reduced to the same as his manipulative cruelty."

Hulga, left stranded and vulnerable without her wooden leg, has a revelation about life and her non-belief.  It is possible that Hulga will be dramatically changed by this experience. 

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Good Country People

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