How does Mrs. Hopewell's relationship with Joy in "Good Country People" influence Joy's self-perception and worldview?

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The relationship between Mrs. Hopewell and Joy has been stunted by Joy's dependence on her mother's caretaking efforts, which Mrs. Hopewell has been happy to provide for over three decades. Though Mrs. Hopewell is a strong female character, she also displays hypocritical Christian attitudes, which Joy resents. Because of this, she believes herself intellectually superior. This overconfidence causes her to be misled by the Bible salesman's interest in her.

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Written in the mid-1950s, this short story features an uncharacteristically strong female character. Mrs. Hopewell has "divorced her husband long ago," which was certainly atypical of women in this era. Even more, she has continued to prove her strength by keeping her farm going, providing for Joy's numerous degrees and...

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providing a comfortable life for her. Doctors have told Mrs. Hopewell that "with the best of care, Joy might live to see forty-five," and as her mother, Mrs. Hopewell seems determined to provide that level of care for her. She rises at seven o'clock each morning to light Joy's heater and to begin her daughter's breakfast. In many ways, Mrs. Hopewell presents as a hardworking and concerned mother.

Yet this is not a household of equal power. While Joy is thirty-two, Mrs. Hopewell doesn't treat her like an adult woman. In fact, she thinks of her "as a child," and her actions often indicate this sentiment. She doesn't make much effort to understand Joy's interests and passions and is somewhat embarrassed by Joy's Ph.D. in philosophy. The impracticality of it when compared to nursing or education degrees leaves Mrs. Hopewell confused and frustrated. She secretly wishes Joy was more like other people and that she wouldn't utter such "strange things."

Joy retaliates against her mother's wishes for her and often walks around in a skirt that is six years old, paired with a yellow sweatshirt featuring a faded cowboy. She provokes her mother, asking her, "Do you ever look inside? Do you ever look inside and see what you are not?" Yet Joy is also isolated from the world because of her heart condition and her leg, and she has little chance to socialize with others besides those who visit her mother. She watches her mother gossip about the townspeople with Mrs. Freeman, characterizing those with lesser economic means as either "trash" or "good country people."

Joy believes that she is more adept at understanding human behavior than her mother is, and she therefore believes that she has properly evaluated the character of the Bible salesman. She rejects religion, likely because of her mother's hypocritical comments. She tells the Bible salesman:

“We are all damned,” she said, “but some of us have taken off our blindfolds and see that there's nothing to see. It's a kind of salvation.”

Joy is so confident that she understands the world better than her mother that she misses the truth about the Bible salesman. When the truth dawns on her, she turns to the words of her mother, which she has enthusiastically dismissed until this moment, asking him, "Aren't you … Aren't you just good country people?" When he steals her leg, Joy accuses him of being just like all of the other Christians she has known, "say[ing] one thing and do[ing] another." He retorts that he doesn't "believe in that crap."

In her efforts to form an identity that is independent of her mother, Joy puts herself in a precarious position and then ultimately depends on her mother's sense of justice and reason. This relationship between mother and daughter has been stunted by Joy's dependence on her mother, which Mrs. Hopewell has carefully nurtured through her caretaking efforts. In many ways, this relationship is unhealthy because it teeters on a codependence that has never developed into a full relationship between two independent adults.

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