Student Question

What is the three-step pattern of an O'Connor story and its representation in "Good Country People"?

Quick answer:

The three main components of an O'Connor short story are a rural Southern setting, middle-aged female protagonist, and antagonist who challenges the main character's beliefs. In "Good Country People," the setting is a tenant farm in rural Georgia. The story uses Manly Pointer, a "Bible salesman," to reveal the hypocrisies in Hulga's unconditional faith in her intellect and Mrs. Hopewell's unconditional faith in basic human goodness.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The three-step pattern describes a basic structure O'Connor often used to write her famous short stories. The structure is comprised of three basic elements: a story set in the rural South, a middle-aged female protagonist who has a very specific view of the world, and an antagonist who causes problems for the main character or forces them to confront their (usually flawed) beliefs. These three elements help O'Connor make important statements about hypocrisy in the South or tensions between pre–Civil War Southern life and twentieth-century progress.

This is the basic structure of O'Connor's popular story "Good Country People." The setting is the most obvious and straightforward. The story takes place on a tenant farm in Georgia. This particular setting establishes a framework of the hierarchies and worldviews that will be present in the story. A tenant farmer is a person who farms on land they do not own; the tenant farmer in the story is Mrs. Freeman, and she works on land that is owned by Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter Hulga. This uneven power dynamic sets the stage for the theme of moral and intellectual superiority that will become Hulga's downfall in the story. It also comments on the ways many Southerners see themselves as "freer" than they actually are. Mrs. Freeman's name is a source of irony in the story; her name is "free"man, but she is at the mercies of the landowners. Similarly, many white southerners during this time period believed they were well-off simply because they felt superior to African Americans, but they were also exploited by wealthier classes. This is just one way that O'Connor pokes holes in the false beliefs that characterized Southern identity.

The protagonist in the story is Hulga Hopewell, and her mother, Mrs. Hopewell, is her foil. Both women have very clear yet drastically different worldviews; Hulga believes that the world is inherently evil, but her mother believes it is inherently good. As their names imply, both women think that their beliefs (or hopes) about the world are enough to bring the world they envision into existence. Hulga is also different from her mother in that she considers herself to be "enlightened." She has a PhD in philosophy, and her studies have led her to believe there is no life beyond the material world, whereas other Southerners adhered to spiritual beliefs that emphasized heaven and hell. Because of her beliefs and otherwise unwomanly manner of behavior, Mrs. Hopewell is secretly ashamed of her daughter. On the other hand, Hulga believes that she has progressed past her mother's narrow, backward way of thinking and liberated herself through her education.

The antagonist who comes along and challenges both of these women, especially Hulga, is Manly Pointer, a self-professed Bible salesman. To Mrs. Hopewell, Manly Pointer epitomizes her belief in "good country people," who she believes are "the salt of the earth." Pointer has a carefully crafted persona that optimistic people like Mrs. Hopewell will not question; his jovial nature and constant references to the Bible are good enough. In contrast, he is the very essence of what Hulga despises: simple, religious, and naive. Hulga sets out to seduce Manly to strip him of his purported "innocence." However, Manly has been pretending all along, so he is in fact one step ahead of Hulga. As she "seduces" him, he slowly begins to take her belongings, beginning with her glasses and ending with her wooden leg—a physical representation of disability that O'Connor once stated was a parallel to Hulga's moral/spiritual disability. Hulga is left with literally no leg to stand on, emphasizing that her belief in her own superiority was simply a "crutch" and had no basis in reality. Similarly, assuming that she finds out about Manly's actions after the story is over, Mrs. Hopewell will have to confront the reality that people are not always as good as they seem. Thus, even though Manly Pointer is not necessarily a likable or morally upright character, he is important to the story because of the ways he exposes cracks in Hulga and Mrs. Hopewell's extreme beliefs.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial