Discussion Topic

The motivations behind Hulga's decision to meet Manley Pointer and his subsequent humiliation of her in "Good Country People"

Summary:

Hulga's motivations to meet Manley Pointer stem from her desire to assert intellectual superiority and mock his perceived simplicity. However, her plan backfires when Manley, who is not as naive as he appears, humiliates her by stealing her prosthetic leg, revealing his deceptive nature and leaving Hulga vulnerable and exposed.

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Why does Hulga agree to meet Manley Pointer in "Good Country People"?

Hulga Hopewell of "Good Country People" is an unusual character in Flannery O'Connor's fictional world.  Hulga Hopewell’s loss of her leg at the age of nine from a gunshot determined her bitter personality and inability to connect to other people. O'Connor presents Hulga, with her Ph.D. degree in philosophy, as professed absolute atheism. To Hulga, there is no God and there is no afterlife; man is all.

Manley Pointer, a Bible salesman, hustles his way into the good graces of the Hopewell ladies.  Manley says that was born in the country.  Behaving with courtesy and interest in the ladies, Mrs. Hopewell asks him to come back again.

Hulga is standing out in the road when Pointer shows up. He just stood in front of her.  Appearing to be fascinated by her, Pointer was sweaty and breathing like he had run a race. He begins by asking her a strange question intended to be a joke.

The agreement

Hulga agrees to meet Pointer because he shows an interest in her.  He asks her several questions that make her think that he sees her as a real person that he likes. His inquiry into personal aspects of her life demonstrates to Hulga that this is a meaningful connection with an interesting and sensitive man.  She thought about him all night long, dreaming of potential conversations. 

During their encounter in the barn loft, Hulga sees Manley for what he really is: a phony, a fake, a thief, a sexual pervert, and someone who does care about those he hurts.  Hulga thought he was a good person—a good country person.  He tells her that he likes her because she is different.  When she first looks at him, she thinks that he really thinks that she is special:

She decided that for the first time in her life she was face to face with real innocence. 

This boy with an instinct that came from beyond wisdom had touched the truth about her.  When she surrendered her leg to Pointer which to Hulga represents her entire being from heart to soul, she feels "entirely dependent on him."

Hulga's epiphany, or moment of grace, occurs as a result of Pointer's betrayal of her faith in him and his destruction of her intellectual pretensions. Manley takes off her artificial leg and sits aside.  He forces himself on top of her.  When she rejects him, Hulga quickly learns that he is not a Christian  and that he only wanted to see what it was like to be with a girl who only had one leg.

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

Manley takes everything from Hulga. Her pride, her artificial leg, her glasses, her intellectual superiority—he humiliated Hulga and left her in the barn with no way to get down by herself.  In order for Hulga to progress beyond her present state, it is necessary for her to realize that Pointer was evil incarnate. 

From Hulga's point of view, the surrender of her leg was an intellectual decision; consequently, the destruction of her faith and the power of her own intellect can come only through betrayal by the one whom she rationally decided to believe in, to have faith in: Manley Pointer.

As she watches him through the window in the loft, her face is churning; and Hulga is totally demeaned as she watches Pointer disappear.

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What is Manley Pointer's motive for humiliating Hulga in "Good Country People"?

Manley Pointer evidently has a fetish for objects related to disability, specifically for parts which have been tooled to replace what has been lost. He has a compunction to collect such objects from those who have become dependent on them. He tells Hulga as much:

 I've gotten a lot of interesting things, he said. One time I got a woman's glass eye this way.

Manley sees Hulga's leg as a piece he can add to his collection, and he seems to have deliberately targeted her when he noticed her disability. It appears that his primary motive was to get hold of her leg all along. Also, it seems as if he resents Hulga's belief that she is more intelligent than him and that she looks down on him.

Furthermore, it becomes evident that he also wants to corrupt Hulga because he takes out whiskey, playing cards with dirty illustrations on them, and a blue box that might contain condoms. The fact that he has them hidden in a Bible indicates the depth of his perversion. It is ironic that he wants to corrupt Hulga because she had the same idea earlier; she had been thinking about seducing him. He assumes complete control once he removes her leg and places it out of her reach.

Manley perceives Hulga's question about him being "good country people" as an insult and states that her belief about him does not make her any better than him. 

But it ain't held me back none. I'm as good as you any day in the week.

Manley believes that he is better than Hulga because he has easily misled her. He becomes angry that she dare insinuate that he is a Christian. He sees the act of believing in religion as nonsense. He venomously declares:

I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn't born yesterday and I know where I'm going!" 

He eventually tells Hulga that she is not that smart and that he has not believed in anything since he was born. When he leaves Hulga helpless, it is apparent that he thinks that she deserves being humiliated because of her supercilious attitude towards him. It becomes clear that his manipulation gives him a sense of power and achievement.

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What is Manley Pointer's motive for humiliating Hulga in "Good Country People"?

In Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People," Manly Pointer claims to be a Bible salesman who is interested in Hulga. He flirts with her and the two of them go walking together the day after he comes to sell her mother a Bible. When they are up in the barn together, he convinces her to take off her prosthetic leg so he can see it. She does and he steals it from her. In doing so, he humiliates her. He does this for a couple of reasons. For one, it is a perversion he has to steal things like that from people--he admits as much and tells her all of the odd things he has taken from other people. The other reason he humiliates her is because he feels she acts superior to him with her higher education and imperious attitude. He enjoys taking her down a notch since he is a simple person and feels put down by her.

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