Why does Hulga agree to meet with Manley Pointer? What does this say about Hulga's philosophy?
Hulga Hopewell of "Good Country People" is an unusual character in Flannery O'Connor's fictional world. Hulga Hopewell’s loss of her leg at the age of nine from a gunshot determined her bitter personality and inability to connect to other people. O'Connor presents Hulga, with her Ph.D. degree in philosophy, as professed absolute atheism. To Hulga, there is no God and there is no afterlife; man is all.
Manley Pointer, a Bible salesman, hustles his way into the good graces of the Hopewell ladies. Manley says that was born in the country. Behaving with courtesy and interest in the ladies, Mrs. Hopewell asks him to come back again.
Hulga is standing out in the road when Pointer shows up. He just stood in front of her. Appearing to be fascinated by her, Pointer was sweaty and breathing like he had run a race. He begins by asking her a strange question intended to be a joke.
Hulga agrees to meet Pointer because he shows an interest in her. He asks her several questions that make her think that he sees her as a real person that he likes. His inquiry into personal aspects of her life demonstrates to Hulga that this is a meaningful connection with an interesting and sensitive man. She thought about him all night long, dreaming of potential conversations.
During their encounter in the barn loft, Hulga sees Manley for what he really is: a phony, a fake, a thief, a sexual pervert, and someone who does care about those he hurts. Hulga thought he was a good person—a good country person. He tells her that he likes her because she is different. When she first looks at him, she thinks that he really thinks that she is special:
She decided that for the first time in her life she was face to face with real innocence.
This boy with an instinct that came from beyond wisdom had touched the truth about her. When she surrendered her leg to Pointer which to Hulga represents her entire being from heart to soul, she feels "entirely dependent on him."
Hulga's epiphany, or moment of grace, occurs as a result of Pointer's betrayal of her faith in him and his destruction of her intellectual pretensions. Manley takes off her artificial leg and sits aside. He forces himself on top of her. When she rejects him, Hulga quickly learns that he is not a Christian and that he only wanted to see what it was like to be with a girl who only had one leg.
Her face was almost purple. ‘You’re a Christian! She hissed. ‘You’re a fine Christian! You’re like them all—say one thing and do another. You’re a perfect Christian, you’re…’
Manley takes everything from Hulga. Her pride, her artificial leg, her glasses, her intellectual superiority—he humiliated Hulga and left her in the barn with no way to get down by herself. In order for Hulga to progress beyond her present state, it is necessary for her to realize that Pointer was evil incarnate.
From Hulga's point of view, the surrender of her leg was an intellectual decision; consequently, the destruction of her faith and the power of her own intellect can come only through betrayal by the one whom she rationally decided to believe in, to have faith in: Manley Pointer.
As she watches him through the window in the loft, her face is churning; and Hulga is totally demeaned as she watches Pointer disappear.