Why did Flannery O'Connor title her short story "Good Country People?"

1 Answer | Add Yours

kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Flannery O'Connor's choice of the title "Good Country People" for her short story about religious small-town people in rural Georgia is considered entirely ironic.  As the eNotes biography of O'Connor, the link to which is below, notes, the author's brief life was characterized by both deep religious conviction and the knowledge that she would likely die young from the inherited disorder Lupus.  As she would, in fact, succumb to that disease at the age of 39, her brief life was torn between the belief in a just God and the awareness of her impending doom.  Her inability to reconcile that conflict provides the basis of "Good Country People."

"Good Country People," of course, is about a widowed farmer, Mrs. Hopewell, and her 32-year old physically disabled daughter, Joy (again, note the irony in O'Connor's choice of names: "Hopewell"; "Joy"), an overeducated atheist.  Mrs. Hopewell is religious, and welcomes into her home a Bible salesman named Manley Pointer, who turns out to be anything but a paragon of virtue.  O'Connor portrays Mrs. Hopewell as both the most fundamentally religious person in the story, and the most delusional.  Her relationship with Mrs. Freeman is a case in point.  Mrs. Hopewell willingly blinds herself to the probably facts regarding Mrs. Freeman's teenage daughters, Glynese and Carramae:

"Joy called them Glycerin and Caramel.  Glynese, a redhead, was eighteen and had many admirers; Carramae, a blonde, was only fifteen but already married and pregnant . . . Mrs. Hopewell like to tell people that Glynese and Carramae were two of the finest girls she knew . . ."

The reader can make any assumptions or judgements regarding Mrs. Freeman's daughters he or she wishes, but, within the context of O'Connor's life and the role of irony in her writing, the implication is clear: Glynese and Carramae are anything but virtuous.  Mrs. Hopewell, however, remains certain in her beliefs:

"She realized that nothing is perfect and that in the Freemans she had good country people and that if, in this day and age, you get good country people, you had better hang onto them."

The irony in O'Connor's choice of theme and title reaches its climax in the revelation that the traveling Bible salesman, Manley Pointer, is a fraud intent on engaging Joy in sexual intercourse.  Early in their encounter, Pointer states that "I want to devote my life to Chrustian (sic) service . . . I got this heart condition.  I may not live long.  When you know it's something wrong with you and you may not live long, well then, lady . . ."  Again, O'Connor's knowledge that she may die young from Lupus despite her religious upbringing is reflected in the irony of her story.  

To Mrs. Hopewell, Pointer is the embodiment of the "good country people" she so admires and with whom she seeks to associate.  Pointer's revelation, while seducing Joy, that his personal "Bible" is actually a hollowed-out devise for transporting whisky, pornographic playing cards and condoms is the final nail in O'Connor's depiction of good country people.  His theft of Joy's prosthetic leg is just icing on a very bitter cake.  

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,928 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question