How does Flannery O'Connor portray religion through her characters in "Good Country People"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Good Country People” has a motley crew of characters and points of view. Flannery O’Connor’s central theme focuses around these characters that react to the topic of God in different ways. 

In this story, Hulga Hopewell represents the view that there is no God. Hulga’s mother tries to draw close to God but does not seem to know how.  Regardless, every character acknowledges God in some way.  The Bible seller Manley Pointer seems to represent “good country people."

The main character Joy-Hulga, who is thirty-two years old, really does not know who she is.  Throughout her life, she has hidden behind her education and bitter outlook.   When she was nine, her leg was literally blown off by an accidental gunshot.  Her unhappiness with her circumstances holds her hostage.  Even her mother feels shame about how Hulga looks and dresses along with Hulga’s degree in philosophy. Hulga believes that she is an atheist; however, it may be a ploy to aggravate her mother.

In direct contrast to Hulga comes Manley Pointer. He describes himself as “good country people” which allows him to worm his way into the Hopewell's home.  His Bible selling provides the perfect opportunity to connect with young women who are naive.  Hulga agrees to meet Manley.  In actuality, Pointer is more devil than Christian. 

O'Connor has created a Bible-salesman whose Bibles are used to lure innocent women. While they are being intimate, Manley takes Hulga’s glasses and eventually her prosthetic leg.  She has been duped by someone who professed to being a Christian, yet Manley was interested in Hulga for her deformity.

When he steals her leg and abandon’s her, he leaves her with a need to have a connection with a higher power. Pointer’s disgusting use of the hollowed out Bibles to hold his whiskey, nude playing cards, and condoms surprises even Hulga who yells at him that she thought he was a Christian.

Every Christian does stumble in his walk with Jesus. Usually, there is someone there to see it and make reference to it, citing how untypical that is for a Christian. When Hulga realizes that Pointer has used her and is not going to give back her leg or glasses, she states:

Her face was almost purple. “You’re a Christian!” she hissed. “You’re a fine Christian! You’re just like them all—say one thing and do another.  You’re a perfect Christian, you’re…”

O’Connor alludes to those people who use religion for their own purposes. Pointer is not a Christian, nor is he a believer.  By appealing to the spirituality of lonely women, he has been able to use them as he wishes. 

When Pointer mentions God taking care of Hulga, she responds that "'[she] don't even believe in God.”  O’Connor uses this opportunity to acknowledge that there are people who actually believe that there is no higher power. When Hulga's leg is stolen by Pointer, she comments that "[he is] just like them all- say one thing and do another.” However, when Pointer abandons Hulga with no means of getting down from the loft, the author shows this poor woman in a different light:

…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.”

Hulga’s churning face and inner confusion longed for something that she had never considered before… she needed a higher power to help her.

Read the study guide:
Good Country People

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