Flannery O’Connor commented a good deal on her own work, explaining that she belongs “to that literary generation whose education was in the hands of the New Critics” who valued showing over telling. This, says Susanne Morrow Paulson (1988), might account for the difficulty in interpreting her work, for in general it lacks a narrator to reflect on or explain the ideas or characters in the story.
Early reception of O’Connor’s work shows this difficulty; A Good Man Is Hard to Find, which includes “Good Country People,” faced a rather hostile audience. For example, Time magazine labeled O’Connor “Ferocious Flannery” while another critic “placed her in a cult of Gratuitous Grotesque.” The violence and grotesque humor in her stories made many readers uncomfortable, and rather than understand her as a Christian writer, an interpretation generally accepted today, they understood her as a nihilist.
Many critics now place “Good Country People,” along with many of O’Connor’s stories, in the tradition of the Southern Gothic. Thelma Shinn (1968) is one of the earliest critics to read O’Connor in this way. According to Leroy Letterman, the Southern Gothic tradition stems from “a sense of Being” achieved through suffering “a redemptive catastrophe.” Shinn takes her understanding of the grotesque one step further by referring to O’Connor’s own comments on her work. According to Shinn, O’Connor...
(The entire section is 457 words.)