Good Country People Characters
The main characters in "Good Country People" are Hulga Hopewell, Manley Pointer, Mrs. Hopewell, and Mrs. Freeman.
- Hulga Hopewell, 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 is a con artist who poses as a Bible salesman in order to seduce Hulga and steal her prosthetic leg.
- Mrs. Hopewell is Hulga's mother and an eternal optimist, who prides herself on being "good country people."
- Mrs. Freeman is the Hopewells' neighbor, who works on Mrs. Hopewell's land as a tenant farmer.
Last Updated on May 18, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 779
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 pride in the barn loft. In fact, through his seduction we discover that she does have some beliefs, for she goes to the barn with him because she, like her mother and Mrs. Freeman, thinks he is “good country people,” and she is devastated as well as humiliated when she discovers he is not. Because she is proud of her leg, giving it to him “is like losing her own life and finding it again, miraculously, in his.” Although she fantasizes that she can give him a “deeper understanding of life” by taking “all his shame away and turn[ing] it into something useful” by seducing him, it is he who seduces and shames her.
Manley Pointer’s name carries phallic connotations and demonstrates his function in the story of “pointing” out to Hulga the danger of her nihilism. He is a trickster but also a figure of evil who accomplishes good. As a trickster, he convinces everyone he is a harmless simpleton selling Bibles, when he really has no beliefs at all, which he boasts about after seducing Hulga. As a figure of evil, he makes her salvation possible. Telling Mrs. Hopewell that “he wanted to become a missionary because he thought that was the way you could do most for people,” he quotes from the Bible, “He who loseth his life shall find it.” Hulga echoes similar words just before she gives up her leg to him. Ironically, then, Manley is indeed a missionary, saving Hulga from her nihilism and pride. O’Connor conveys his ambiguous position as savior and devil when Hulga sees “his blue figure struggling successfully over the green speckled lake.” This man who believes in nothing seems, like Jesus, to walk on water, tinged with the color of a serpent.
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.
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
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.