What do Hulga/Joy and Manley Pointer have in common in Good Country People?

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Hulga and Manley are both quite fake people. Both use false names. Both dress strangely. Both have heart conditions which reflect their ill souls. Both planned to seduce one another as part of a great joke. Both are nihilistic atheists. Both are intelligent people who like to ponder about things like philosophy in their spare time.

However, there is one key difference: Manley's nihilism is genuine, whereas Hulga's nihilism is more of a coping mechanism. She uses it to dull the pain she feels about her leg and life in general. Manley has seemingly no reason for his nihilism. He says he has been a nihilist since he "was born," implying he is certain that nothing means anything whereas Hulga does not.

Therefore, though they seem quite similar in a variety of ways, deep down, the two are almost opposites.

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Hulga and Manley share an arrogant outlook on life: they both think they are smarter than other people. For Hulga, this idea arises from having lived outside of rural Georgia and having earned a doctorate in philosophy. For Manley, it comes from his great success at conning people into believing he is a simple country rube—a good, if naive, Christian whom others can feel superior to.

Both believe that they can seduce the other and have the upper hand. Pointer "wins," because he is far more ruthless and evil than Hulga. She is taken in by his con and believes that he is what he presents himself to be. Manley knows this and plays along, but once he has what he wants, he treats Hulga with contempt and reveals what he is. He also spitefully takes her false leg.

From Manley, Hulga learns an important lesson about her own lack of evil and guile; Manley seems to learn nothing from Hulga. Both characters are in need of God's grace: Hulga receives it in an unusual way through the evil Manley.

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One of the ironies of "Good Country People" is how alike Hulga and Manley Pointer are. As Mrs. Freeman states, "Some people are more alike than others," and that applies to Mrs. Hopewell's daughter and the Bible salesman. Here are some of their similarities:

1. Both have an assumed name: Joy has changed her name to Hulga, and Manley Pointer tells Hulga at the end of the story that "Pointer" is not his real name.

2. Both dress oddly: Hulga's favorite outfit is "a six-year-old skirt and a yellow sweat shirt," and Manley wears a "bright blue suit and yellow socks."

3. Both have "a heart condition": Hulga is not expected to live past 45 years of age because of her "weak heart," and Manley informs Mrs. Hopewell that he may not live long because he has "this heart condition," although that was certainly a lie. In each case the physical heart condition represents a spiritual heart condition, however, since each is morally sick.

4. Both think "serious" thoughts; Hulga has her philosophy and derides her mother for "never looking inside," and Manley tells Hulga, "I think a lot."

5. Both are atheists and believe in nothing: Hulga has taken a PhD in philosophy and reads nihilistic writings, and Manley says to Hulga in his parting words, "I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!" 

6. Hulga and Manley each plot to seduce the other.

7. Both of them have a sick, twisted sense of humor. Hulga thinks her ugly sweatshirt is funny and thinks her plan to seduce Manley is "a great joke." Manley tells stupid jokes to Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga, and he no doubt thinks his fake Bible, his fake deck of cards, and his stealing Hulga's leg are quite funny as well. 

By the time readers get to the end of the story, it has become quite clear that neither Hulga nor Manley is "good country people." 

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