In "Good Country People," how do character names symbolically represent thematic contrasts? What's Hulga's greatest handicap?

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Mrs. Hopewell's last name represents her optimism, Christian beliefs, and good faith in people. She seems to barely perceive that evil exists in the world or that Manley Pointer is anything but the good country man he claims to be.

Hulga renamed herself as such because she feels an ugly name better reflects how rotten reality is as well as how she feels about herself (she is self-conscious about her wooden leg). She claims to be a nihilist, as in a person who believes life is meaningless and absurd. Her real name is Joy, but she rejects any idea of goodness. She prefers to stew in misery and cynicism. When Bible salesman Manley Pointer appears, she takes his naive, good-natured facade at face value and tries to seduce him in order to prove that goodness does not exist and that Manley's religiosity is a brittle sham.

Manley Pointer turns out to be the villain of the piece. Unlike Hulga, he is a true nihilist and quite amoral. His full name is a phallic pun, referring to how he is the one who seduces Hulga in the end; however, it also refers to how he "points out" who is the true nihilist between the two of them. He claims he hasn't believed in anything since he was born.

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In the story, the name Hopewell draws attention to the words "hope well." Mrs. Hopewell does "hope well" about other people, making the best use she can of those around her and looking down at them with condescending superiority. She lives by cliches such as "nothing is perfect." She attempts to manipulate both Mrs. Freeman and Manley Pointer. She would have been happy for Hulga to marry Pointer. Both Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter are blind to the true extent evil exists in the world: they both "hope well." Hulga, for example, thinks she has "seduced" Manley.

Manley Pointer is evil. His first name indicates masculinity but also possibly refers to the fallen nature of mankind. He is "manly," earthly, and not at all spiritual, despite being a Bible salesman. His last name, Pointer, is sexual but also symbolizes that he is the one who points out to Hulga her naivety.

Mrs. Freeman's name shows she is free of some of the false optimism about the world that Hulga and her mother share. She is the one who starts calling Joy Hulga, showing an awareness of the reality that Joy is not a joyful but rather a hulking, ugly person. The name Joy symbolizes the way Mrs. Hopewell tries to put a good spin on life and will what she would like, such as a joyful daughter, into existence.

Hulga's great handicap is her belief that her education has made her sophisticated and wise, whereas, like her false leg, she is wooden or artificial inside and thus unaware of reality.

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Mrs. Hopewell is a divorced woman who runs a farm.  Her name is symbolic because she is a good Christian woman.  She has a daughter, Joy, who has changed her name to Hulga to represent how ugly she feels, she has a wooden leg.  Mrs. Hopewell, has a troubled daughter who does not believe in God, but her mother hopes that her daughter will embrace the faith.

Mrs. Freeman has two daughters, who are sweet girls, Glynese has a lot of boyfriends and her younger daughter, Carramae is married and pregnant.  So Mrs. Freeman is free from worry regarding her two daughters.

When a Bible salesman, Manley Pointer, arrives at the Hopewell home, Mrs. Hopewell asks him to dinner. 

Manley Pointer - his name suggests that he will be man like, honest, courageous, protective,  Pointer also has a symbolic meaning, referencing a phallic symbol, which suggests that he will be highly sexual. 

When he ends up in the hayloft with Hulga, he does not want to engage in intimate relations with her, he wants to, and does, steal her wooden leg.  He is a con man, a fraud, a phony.  He is not manly at all, but a coward who has taken advantage of a handicapped woman.

Hulga's biggest handicap is her negative attitude.  She wants to live a life devoid of spirituality or belief in God.  She has a hardened heart, the episode with Pointer changes her.

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