What makes the title of the story, "Good Country People", ironic?

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title is ironic because the characters who feature in the story might be country people but they don't appear particularly good, in any sense. The four main characters, Mrs Hopewell, her one-legged daughter Joy, their tenant Mrs Freeman and the young salesman Manley Pointer, are an ill-assorted group and none of them come across as very likeable.

In fact, the very names of these characters are ironic: the Hopewells don’t really hope for anything, Mrs Freeman is not free, but a tenant on someone else’s farm; Joy is anything but joyful, and has changed her name to the grim-sounding Hulga, alarming her mother:


When Mrs Hopewell thought the name, Hulga, she thought of the broad blank hull of a battleship.


 Manley’s behaviour turns out not to be manly but more like that of a crude, immature boy. He pretends to care for Joy only to run off in triumph with her artificial leg leaving her stranded in a barn. Joy is therefore made the victim of a sick joke, but she in turn has always treated the people around her with contempt which perhaps qualifies the reader's sympathy for her at the end.


As in other of her stories, O'Connor gives us a somewhat depressing and squalid picture of characters who are limited mentally, and also physically; they have no opportunities to better themselves or to expand their minds. Joy longs to be away from her restricted home, to ‘be far from these red hills and good country people,' to pursue an academic career, but it does not seem likely that she, or any of the others, will ever actually escape. However O'Connor also laces the story with a characteristic dose of sardonic humour, rendering these somewhat hopeless characters more memorable.