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How did Flannery O'Connor's life influence her writing in "Good Country People"?

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The author suggests that women are meant to be "good" and Joy/Hulga is anything but that. It seems obvious that the author was a woman who really dislikes women because she shows through her writing that all women are bad and no good. The only person in the story who had any goodness in her was Mrs. Freeman and even she was not perfect. She also represents a generation of traditional Southern women who were more religious, obedient to their husbands and ruled by the church than men. Other characters were bad on different levels but Joy/Hulga went beyond being just plain bad; she was one of those people who think they know everything, don't care about other people'

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The two life experiences most identifiable in O'Connor's short story "Good Country People" have to do with O'Connor's Catholicism and with O'Connor's identity as a Southerner.

As a well-educated Catholic woman, O'Connor had to balance her own rational thoughts with her faith, and the tension of such a balancing act plays out in interesting ways in the short story. Joy/Hulga's choice to reject her own name, Joy—a name that carries Christian connotations—as well as her atheism could represent one side of O'Connor's thoughts and emotions toward Catholicism. Hulga's later humiliation at the hands of Manley Pointer may symbolize her punishment for being so fixed on her own rationality and so disrespectful of religion, a punishment O'Connor herself might fear.

A similar dichotomy can be observed in Joy/Hulga's inability to see Manley Pointer's evil side, despite her advanced education. Her rejection of her mother's Southern rural idealism and her identification with the philosophers she has studied suggests that Joy/Hulga prefers a more intellectual world than life on her family farm can provide. In this scenario, O'Connor explores what it means to be from a decidedly rural Southern culture while feeling more at home in a more urbane state of mind.

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Like Hulga, O'Connor was a highly educated woman (though O'Connor did not have a doctorate) who moved home to the family farm in Georgia. Hulga suffers from having lost a leg; O'Connor suffered from lupus. Therefore, O'Connor knew firsthand the setting and the situation she describes in this story of an educated woman who has lived in sophisticated places returning to a "backward" rural home. She also either experienced or heard stories of Bible salesmen going door to door.

O'Connor was a devout Roman Catholic. This influenced her to have an awareness and understanding that evil exists in the world. She knew that people like to deny this, to feel they can control their exposure to evil, and to believe that being "good people" or educated helps defend them against it. As a Catholic, O'Connor understood the power of the dark side and the need for humility as a safeguard against it, ideas she tries to convey in her story.

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Flannery O'Connor is an American author whose writings were heavily influenced by her life and beliefs. O'Connor was a devout Catholic who expressed the tenets of her faith through many of her writings, including "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and "Good Country People."

Flannery O'Connor's Life

O'Connor was raised in Savannah, Georgia until her family relocated to Milledgeville, Georgia when she was a teenager. She grew up in a well-known Roman Catholic family and remained Catholic throughout her life. Her father suffered from a serious medical condition that led to the family having to leave their home for his wife's small, rural hometown. These experiences, coupled with her own medical issues, led O'Connor to focus her work on themes of alienation, man's relationship with God, and salvation.

"Good Country People"

"Good Country People" is one of Flannery O'Connor's better known short stories and it not only exemplifies her mastery of form but her personal worldview as well. This story is set in the rural South and focuses on themes of religious corruption and human goodness. The story truly begins with a Bible salesman who cons the main character by stealing her prosthetic leg and leaving her trapped in a loft. The salesman preys upon Hulga's pride in her own intelligence and uses it against her. After he seduces Hulga and steals her prosthetic, she is left humbled and wiser about the world, if deeply humiliated. Through this story, O'Connor expresses both the Southern and Catholic identities that can be found throughout her body of work.

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How does Flannery O'Connor's view of philosophy affect her story "Good Country People"?

Philosophy – which literally means “the love of wisdom” – was very important in the life and thinking of Flannery O’Connor.  Although O’Connor was herself a deeply devout Christian and a professed Roman Catholic, and although she read widely in theological works, she was also intensely interested in philosophy, especially modern philosophy.

O’Connor’s interest in philosophy is especially apparent in her short story titled “Good Country People.” One of the main characters of that work, a young woman originally named Joy who changes her name to Hulga, actually has studied philosophy at the graduate level and even has a Ph.D. in the subject.  In other words, Hulga should ideally be a very wise, thoughtful, intelligent, and reasonable person.  Her study of philosophy, however, has only given her one more reason to consider herself superior to other people.  Instead of enhancing her humility by teaching her how much more there is to know than she already thinks she knows, the study of philosophy has, in Hulga’s case, merely exacerbated the pride that O’Connor thought was innate to all fallen human beings. Rather than being a true searcher after truth, Hulga uses philosophy as a way of reinforcing her already massive ego.

To make matters worse, Hulga seems to have embraced a particular kind of philosophy – nihilism – that literally means a belief in nothing (from the Latin word nihil). Nihilism is a radical form of skepticism that denies the possibility of knowledge and truth (and is, for that very reason, afflicted by the very kind of self-contradiction inherent in almost all forms of skepticism: how can one claim to know that there is no knowledge?  How can one claim that it is true that there is no truth?).

During the course of the story, Hulga meets a young man with the wonderfully memorable name of Manley Pointer – a character to whom she at first feels smugly superior but who ultimately humbles her in ways she could never have predicted. Ironically, it is only by being humbled that Hulga will ever (in O’Connor’s view) enjoy the possibility of being a true lover of wisdom, a true philosopher.  Rebuking her at the end of the story, Manley Pointer speaks words whose sting Hulga will probably find difficult to forget:

“. . . I’ll tell you another thing, Hulga,” he said, using the name as if he didn’t think much of it, “you ain’t so smart.  I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!”

If Hulga can indeed accept that she “ain’t so smart,” she may actually begin to acquire some true wisdom.

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How does Flannery O'Connor portray religion through her characters in "Good Country People"?

“Good Country People” has a motley crew of characters and points of view. Flannery O’Connor’s central theme focuses around these characters that react to the topic of God in different ways. 

In this story, Hulga Hopewell represents the view that there is no God. Hulga’s mother tries to draw close to God but does not seem to know how.  Regardless, every character acknowledges God in some way.  The Bible seller Manley Pointer seems to represent “good country people."

The main character Joy-Hulga, who is thirty-two years old, really does not know who she is.  Throughout her life, she has hidden behind her education and bitter outlook.   When she was nine, her leg was literally blown off by an accidental gunshot.  Her unhappiness with her circumstances holds her hostage.  Even her mother feels shame about how Hulga looks and dresses along with Hulga’s degree in philosophy. Hulga believes that she is an atheist; however, it may be a ploy to aggravate her mother.

In direct contrast to Hulga comes Manley Pointer. He describes himself as “good country people” which allows him to worm his way into the Hopewell's home.  His Bible selling provides the perfect opportunity to connect with young women who are naive.  Hulga agrees to meet Manley.  In actuality, Pointer is more devil than Christian. 

O'Connor has created a Bible-salesman whose Bibles are used to lure innocent women. While they are being intimate, Manley takes Hulga’s glasses and eventually her prosthetic leg.  She has been duped by someone who professed to being a Christian, yet Manley was interested in Hulga for her deformity.

When he steals her leg and abandon’s her, he leaves her with a need to have a connection with a higher power. Pointer’s disgusting use of the hollowed out Bibles to hold his whiskey, nude playing cards, and condoms surprises even Hulga who yells at him that she thought he was a Christian.

Every Christian does stumble in his walk with Jesus. Usually, there is someone there to see it and make reference to it, citing how untypical that is for a Christian. When Hulga realizes that Pointer has used her and is not going to give back her leg or glasses, she states:

Her face was almost purple. “You’re a Christian!” she hissed. “You’re a fine Christian! You’re just like them all—say one thing and do another.  You’re a perfect Christian, you’re…”

O’Connor alludes to those people who use religion for their own purposes. Pointer is not a Christian, nor is he a believer.  By appealing to the spirituality of lonely women, he has been able to use them as he wishes. 

When Pointer mentions God taking care of Hulga, she responds that "'[she] don't even believe in God.”  O’Connor uses this opportunity to acknowledge that there are people who actually believe that there is no higher power. When Hulga's leg is stolen by Pointer, she comments that "[he is] just like them all- say one thing and do another.” However, when Pointer abandons Hulga with no means of getting down from the loft, the author shows this poor woman in a different light:

…the girl was left, sitting on the straw in the dusty sunlight.  When she turned her churning face toward the opening, she saw his blue figure struggling successfully over the green speckled lake.”

Hulga’s churning face and inner confusion longed for something that she had never considered before… she needed a higher power to help her.

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How do Flannery O'Connor's religious beliefs inspire "Good Country People"?

In "Good Country People," Flannery O'Connor satirizes a young woman with a philosophy Ph.D. as she is duped by a country Bible salesman. O'Connor also makes her the target of satire as this character represents contemporary people who are the grotesques in their rejection of God. These people are perverse and crass, according to O'Connor because they turn away from God and work so hard to avoid salvation.

With her ugly name and artificial leg, Helga is grotesque; she is also spiritually grotesque because she believes in nothing. She has underlined in one of her philosophy books a certain line:  "We know it by wishing to know nothing of Nothing." But Manley Pointer, who has "an instinct that came beyond wisdom," touches "the truth about her"; Hulga's experience with him is "like losing her own life and finding it again" because he has exploited her, and she has learned of evil. Thus, Hulga attains grace and redemption as a result of an encounter with violence and evil. This is the "cryptic Christianity" and icy salvation that O'Connor often portrays in her short stories.

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