At a Glance
- "Good Country People" was written in the style of Southern Gothic literature. Flannery O'Connor is one of the most famous practitioners of the genre, and like most Southern Gothic literature, her stories combine elements of the religious and the grotesque.
- O'Connor introduces irony into the story through the phrase "good country people," which Mrs. Hopewell uses to describe herself and the characters around her. It's clear, however, that Mrs. Hopewell is not really "good country people," and her preoccupation with social status makes her something of a hypocrite.
- O'Connor uses the character of Hulga Hopewell to criticize intellectualism and pseudo-intellectualism. Hulga's PhD makes her arrogant and rude, which in turn makes her susceptible to Manley Pointer's lies. Her intellectual vanity is her downfall.
O’Connor was well-known for her use of the grotesque and the bizarre to rivet a reader to her tales. Here the sudden revelation of Manley Pointer’s malevolence is both dramatic and shocking but a fitting climax to a story whose protagonist, Hulga, made a profession of dispelling illusions. The reader expects the confrontation between Hulga and Pointer to occur but is surprised by the role each ends up playing.
O’Connor had an unmatched ability to capture the cadences of country speech and the banalities of everyday conversation. Her depiction of Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman’s frequent kitchen conversations helps to underscore the role-playing and insincerity lurking behind the southern landscapes that served as the setting of most of her stories. In like manner, O’Connor uses two minor characters in the story, Mrs. Freeman’s daughters, Glynese and Carramae, as effective foils for the character of Hulga. Neither Glynese nor Carramae has any illusions about her lot in life, and the homey details of their lives that O’Connor presents—Carramae’s bout with morning sickness, for example—serve as a vivid contrast to the airy, philosophical notions with which Hulga has insulated herself.
“Good Country People” takes place on a tenant farm in Georgia, which O’Connor uses to establish a worldview that is narrow as well as hierarchical, for Mrs. Hopewell owns the farm while Mrs. Freeman works on it, appropriately entering Mrs. Hopewell’s house by way of the kitchen door. Dialect contributes to a verisimilitude of setting. For example, a man’s comment about Mrs. Freeman, “If she don’t get there before the dust settles, you can bet she’s dead,” captures the idiom of the rural South. When Manley Pointer tells Mrs. Hopewell, “I know you believe in Christian service,” he communicates a limited Christianity based on words rather than true belief, which is important to people who live there. Manley’s walking across the meadow at the end of the story provides another detail of setting. When she sees him, Mrs. Freeman observes that “he must have been selling [Bibles] to the Negroes back in” the woods behind Mrs. Hopewell’s farm, linking social hierarchy, race, and religion to the rural South of the 1950s.
Within this larger setting are two others: Mrs. Hopewell’s house, especially the kitchen, where the story begins, and the property beyond the gate of the house, where Manley seduces Joy/Hulga. Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman carry on “their most important business in the kitchen at breakfast.” The kitchen, generally thought of as the heart of a home, in this story does not provide such symbolic sustenance because of the insipid talk between the women when they visit there. The fact that Joy/Hulga has “a bad heart” reinforces this emptiness in the Hopewell kitchen. The setting is significant, too, because it is a site of female domesticity, and this is a story about women without men—until, that is, Manley Pointer comes to sell Bibles. His aggressive intrusion into this female space is demonstrated when he falls “forward into her hall” as Mrs. Hopewell allows him into her home. The...
(The entire section is 1,138 words.)