What are Joy/Hulga, Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. Hopewell, and Manley Pointer's views of "good country people"? And what is ironic about it?

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Irony is simply a difference between expectations and reality. For example, it’s ironic that a character defined by her bitterness, anger, and discontentment should be named “Joy.”

In Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People,” the eponymous group is highly praised by Joy’s mother and denigrated by Joy herself, who has renamed herself “Hulga” in an act of rebellion. Joy studied philosophy and believes herself to be higher-minded than those individuals she is surrounded with. She is especially put off by Mrs. Freeman’s obsession with discussing her daughters’ pregnancy or admirers. If she had a choice, Hulga would not live near any “good country people,” and instead have a job at a university to be surrounded by her fellow intellectuals.

Mrs. Hopewell, on the other hand, believes Joy (or Hulga’s) philosophy overcomplicates things; it is “simple,” hardworking people who are the most admirable. Consider Mrs. Hopewell’s assessment of Mrs. Freeman: she knew she was a nosy woman before she hired her and her husband, but hired them anyway because she was satisfied her expectations would be met. She knows the type of person Mrs. Freeman is, and therefore does not get any surprises. Good country people seems to mean simple, reliable, predictable, or straightforward.

This is why the plain talk of Manley Pointer appeals to Mrs. Hopewell. She sees him as a “salt of the earth” type, selling Bibles to make his living. He even says:

I’m real simple. I don’t know how to say a thing but to say it. I’m just a country boy.

He and Mrs. Hopewell connect over their praise of good country people. As Hulga later discovers, Pointer is not quite as predictable or salt of the earth as her mother previously thought, and turns out to be quite two-faced. This is the irony of the phrase. While Pointer does describe himself as good country people, maybe good country people are not as admirable as Mrs. Hopewell (who hopes well and sees the best in people) believes.

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In Flannery O'Connor's short story entitled "Good Country People," Joy, who changes her name to Hulga, thought that good country people were honest, incapable of guile, and easily manipulated. The irony of that is that she was manipulated and fooled by Manley Pointer, who presented himself as a good country person but wasn't.

Mrs. Hopewell's definition of good country people is a little more vague. She values good country people and contrasts them with trash. But how she judges someone as a good country person or trash seems to depend entirely upon how they treat her, and not necessarily what they do with their lives. This is what is ironic about it. She calls Mrs. Freeman and her husband and daughters "good country people," but are they really? Mr. Freeman's references said he was a good farmer, but they couldn't stand to have his wife around. She is nosy and gossipy. Here is what she says to Manley Pointer when he accuses her of not being friendly to country people:

“'Why!' she cried, 'good country people are the salt of the earth! Besides, we all have different ways of doing, it takes all kinds to make the world go ―round. That's life!'

'You said a mouthful,'he said.

'Why, I think there aren't enough good country people in the world!' she said, stirred. 'I think that's what's wrong with it!'”

Mrs. Freeman doesn't seem to have an opinion about what makes a person a good country person, apart from what Mrs. Hopewell says. She parrots everything Mrs. Hopewell says about everything.

Manley Pointer seems to think that good country people are simple-minded and easily scammed. He convinces both Hulga and Mrs. Hopewell that he is a Christian with a heart condition who won't live long. None of it is true. He brags about hustling people all over the county.

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