Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People” features an examination of religious views and interesting characters. O’Connor approaches her writing knowing that she will shock her readers. Her strong religious views offer her characters “a moment of grace.” She also writes for those who have "something" in their lives that hold them back from being full participants in society.
Joy-Hulga, a 32 year old atheist with a PhD, finds herself seduced by a Bible salesman Manly Pointer. Hulga’s sexual vulnerability [she has never been kissed] takes her to the loft in the barn. Pointer’s ability to impersonate the “country bumpkin” fellow, who is just trying to make it in the world, allows Hulga to feel superior yet open to this sexual encounter.
At first, Hulga willingly displays her false leg and stump to her “innocent” partner. Mistakenly thinking that he could loosen her up with alcohol, Pointer’s true character comes through as he displays his perversions to an unsuspecting Hulga. Hidden in a cut away Bible are his pornography, whiskey, condoms.
When Hulga realizes that this man has fooled her, her attitude and actions pull her back to reality. Pointer is not the sweet, innocent Christian boy to whom Hulga exposed her weaknesses. This startling revelation about Manley simultaneously exposes Joy-Hulga's naivety and sets her up to receive grace.
Pointer’s perversion is to collect some oddity from his lovers, so he moves her prosthetic leg away from her and puts her glasses in his pocket. She screams for him to give back her leg. Pointer shows his true despicable character:
The boy’s mouth was set angrily. “I hope you don’t think that I believe in that crap! I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn’t born yesterday and I know where I’m going.”
Now her plan to make a fool of the salesman has a back fired. When he steals her leg and leaves her stranded in the barn, symbolically Hulga has been fooled by the con artist who is a greater cynic than she is. The irony comes when the reader realizes that this harden girl is left alone literally without a leg to stand on.
"the girl was left, sitting on the straw in the dusty sunlight. When she turned her churning face toward the opening, she saw his blue figure struggling successfully over the green speckled lake..."
It is in this moment that things will never be the same for Joy-Hulga. One way or another, she is affected by the moment of grace.
The rest of the story shows the two older ladies working in the fields. Hulga’s mother sees Pointer leaving and comments about his innocence and simplicity. The other lady’s response surprises Hulga’s mother:
“Some can’t be that simple…I know I never could.”
When Hulga is found and her mother has to face what has happened, the mother’s confidence in her ability to see into people’s hearts will be destroyed. The final analysis of the story shows the atheist being tricked by the “supposed Christian.”
O’Connor makes it obvious that no one can tell what a person believes from the outside. The story's ironic ending confirms the author’s idea that one is not able to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians based on their appearance and actions. Only God can see into the hearts of men.