Hulga and Manley in "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor are never honest with each other. Why?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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“Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor features two characters who hide behind their names.  Joy Hopewell believes that no man will ever be interested in her because she has a prosthetic leg.  She renames herself Hulga because of its ugly sound.  Manley Pointer used the epithets: the Bible salesman and even further “good country people.”

The two characters encounter each other after Manley comes to the Hopewell house to try to sell his Bibles. He shows an interest in Hulga. 

Hulga is an interesting character.  Her leg was shot off in a hunting accident when she was a small child. A heart condition has prevented her from trying to find a life for herself.  Now she is thirty-two, and her life has been devoted to earning her PhD in philosophy.  Her persona is one of clomping around the house with a bitter attitude. 

When Manley Pointer comes, he appears to be intrigued by Hulga.  She tells him that she is seventeen.  Her leg has always been an embarrassment and also a comfort by providing an excuse for being lazy. Manley tells her that “it’s what makes you different.”

Manley also tries to hide behind lies.  He tells Mrs. Hopewell that he sells Bibles to earn money for college. He is charming and appears to be simple in his needs in life. Furthermore, he tells the mother that he has a heart condition. The mother invites him to stay for dinner. 

Surprisingly, Manley and Hulga go for a walk and decide to meet the next day. Manley looks at her fascinated. He tells her a chicken joke which he laughs at hysterically, but Hulga does not react. Flattering her by telling her that he likes girls with glasses, Manley impresses the lonely but smitten girl.

The next day, the two quickly go to the barn after their first kiss. They climb up into the loft where they begin to “make-out.” Though Hulga admits that she is thirty, age does not matter because Manley is interested in only one thing: the conquest of Hulga’s leg. He asks her to show him where it connects; then, he asks her to take it off. With trepidation, Hulga agrees. 

Manley is a con man who likes to deceive people, particularly handicapped girls. He is not “good country people.” He drinks, gambles, looks at pornography, and delights in hurting people. On the other hand, Hulga is vulnerable. He tricks her into taking off her glasses and  prosthetic leg.

Initially believing that Manley is an "innocent" and she is in charge, the joke is on Hulga. Manley opens his case which contains two fake Bibles. He also has other things that he has taken from defenseless girls. After Hulga panics and wants her leg back, Manley refuses and places the glasses and leg in his valise.

“Aren’t you,” she said murmured, “aren’t you just good country people?”

The boy cocked his head. “Yeah,” he said, but it ain’t held me back. I’m as good as you any day in the week.”

“Give me back my leg,” she said…

She saw him grab the leg and then she sees it for an instant slanted forlornly across the inside of the suitcase with a Bible at either side. He slammed the lid shut…

He leaves Hulga lying in the loft as he walks away. 

From this encounter, the reader wonders about the salvation of Manley and Hulga.  Both have stated that they are atheists. 

Sadly, Hulga trusted a person for the first time and her “knight in shining armor” left her more disenfranchised than ever.   Manley’s jokes were not funny.

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