At a Glance

  • Hulga Hopewell: Hulga, born Joy Hopewell, has a PhD in philosophy. She lost a leg in a hunting accident and is now forced to live with her mother and wear a prosthetic leg.
  • Manley Pointer: a con artist who poses as a Bible salesman in order to seduce Hulga and steal her prosthetic leg.
  • Mrs. Hopewell: the eternal optimist, who prides herself on being "good country people."
  • Mrs. Freeman: the neighbor, who works on Mrs. Hopewell's land as a tenant farmer.

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Character Analysis

Mrs. Freeman’s name comments ironically on her status as a tenant farmer on Mrs. Hopewell’s property. Her significance is indicated by the story’s opening, which humorously compares her to “a heavy truck” in the way she understands life: in neutral, forward, or reverse. Mrs. Hopewell considers Mrs. Freeman a “good country person,” and each woman responds to the other’s platitudes with statements such as “I always said so myself.” However, Mrs. Freeman also shares qualities with Manley Pointer. With “a special fondness for the details of secret infections, hidden deformities, assaults upon children,” she is fascinated with Hulga’s artificial leg. O’Connor also links Mrs. Freeman with Manley Pointer through descriptions of their eyes: hers are “beady steel-pointed” while his are “two steel spikes.” These violent images that she shares with Manley indicate that she, with her simplistic way of viewing life, is as dangerous as he is.

Glynese and Carramae Freeman act as foils to Joy/Hulga. Mrs. Hopewell admires them as “two of the finest girls she knew.” One attractive and the other pregnant, they call attention to Hulga’s lack of femininity and difference because of her education.

Mrs. Hopewell enjoys a social level above that of the Freemans because she owns the land upon which they work, but she shares her tenants’ self-complacency: she thinks “she has no bad qualities of her own.” Her name suggests that she prefers to think the best of people and situations, but this is undermined by her pride in being “good country people” and not “trash.” In fact, however, she cannot distinguish between good and bad, as is indicated by her warm acceptance of Manley Pointer when he says he is “just a country boy” and greets her with “hope all is well.” One reason that she invites him to dinner is that when he tells her he has “a heart condition,” she happily thinks he is like her daughter, who has “the same condition.” But she no more understands him than she does her daughter. Still calling her daughter Joy although she had changed her name to Hulga years ago, Mrs. Hopewell is perplexed by her daughter’s name, beliefs, and PhD because she cannot compartmentalize her into an identity that is familiar.

Joy/Hulga Hopewell gave herself the name Hulga because it was the ugliest she could think of, signifying her disdain for everything her mother’s life represents to her. While with her PhD she considers herself intellectually superior to everyone else in the story, she also has “a heart condition,” which speaks to the lack of love in her life. Her education has led her to believe in Nothing—a dangerous arrogance that leaves her vulnerable to Manley Pointer, who cures her of it by taking her leg as well as her...

(The entire section is 767 words.)