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Why is the title "Good Country People" considered ironic?

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The title “Good Country People” is ironic because both of the characters to which Mrs. Hopewell applies this epithet aren’t really good country people at all. Manley Pointer is a womanizer and a thief, and Mrs. Freeman isn’t the simple, kind-hearted soul Mrs. Hopewell takes her for.

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"Good country people" is a phrase that is echoed several times throughout this short story, and the connotation is that "country people" are honest, hardworking, and genuine souls who are in high demand and short supply. Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman hold these "country people" in high regard, though the implication is that they also don't have much financially.

When Manley Pointer arrives, he quickly evaluates Mrs. Hopewell's character, and when she tries to send him away, he uses what he knows must be her own stereotypes against her:

"I'll tell you the truth – not many people want to buy one nowadays and besides, I know I'm real simple. I don't know how to say a thing but to say it. I'm just a country boy." He glanced up into her unfriendly face. "People like you don't like to fool with country people like me!"

This works. He both convinces Mrs. Hopewell of his "honest" character and gains entrance into her home. She replies,

"Why! ... good country people are the salt of the earth!"

Mrs. Hopewell is full of platitudes, and because this young stranger shares her same vapid sense of reasoning, she deems him harmless and in need of a good meal.

The irony is that this "good country person" she allows into her house has a bizarre collection, and he has marked Hulga's leg as a needed object that he wishes to acquire. By pretending to be a "good country person," Manley Pointer deceptively gains the trust of the women so that he can seduce Hulga for the sole intention of stealing her leg.

The irony is that there are no salt-of-the-earth, "good country people" in this story. Instead, the ironic title highlights the truth that all of characters are rather despicable and dishonest.

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Mrs. Hopewell thinks she knows what good country people are. Yet, as she subsequently discovers, this patronizing term says a lot more about her than it does other people. Mrs. Hopewell uses this expression not so much to describe other people—at least not to describe them accurately—but as a way of asserting what she regards as her moral and cultural superiority. Only someone relatively high up the social ladder would even dream of using such an expression as “good country people.”

Among other things, this means that Mrs. Hopewell is a pretty rotten judge of character. She’s so blinkered by her idealized vision of what a good country person is that she applies the epithet to those who simply don’t deserve to be described in such terms.

The results are wholly predictable as well as ironic. The Bible salesman Manley Pointer appears to be a classic example of a good country person, but in actual fact, he is a serial womanizer and a thief who runs off with Hulga’s artificial leg. And Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. Hopewell’s tenant, certainly isn’t the simple, kind-hearted soul Mrs. Hopewell takes her for. Selfish, judgmental, and an inveterate gossip, Mrs. Freeman falls far short of the high ideals that are supposed to be exemplified by good country people.

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The title "Good Country People" is an example of verbal irony. Verbal irony occurs when words are used that express something contrary to truth. In this story's case, Manley Pointer presents himself to the reader and the other characters in the story as nothing more than a simple travelling salesman from the country with a simple education. He sells himself as this kind of man in order to endear himself to the other characters. While certain characters might look down on Pointer's persona, they absolutely trust him. They see a kinship with him, and they believe that "good country people" are the "salt of the Earth." It shocks Hulga and readers to find out that there is nothing good or trustworthy about Pointer. He takes advantage of Hulga and even steals from her.

Her voice when she spoke had an almost pleading sound. “Aren't you,” she murmured, “aren't you just good country people?”

The boy cocked his head. He looked as if he were just beginning to understand that she might be trying to insult him. “Yeah,” he said, curling his lip slightly, “but it ain't held me back none. I'm as good as you any day in the week.”

“Give me my leg,” she said.

He pushed it farther away with his foot. “Come on now, let's begin to have us a good time,” he said coaxingly. “We ain't got to know one another good yet.”

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The title "Good Country People" becomes ironic in Joy/Hulga's view of those around her and the events that occur within the story.  Holding a PhD, Hulga views herself as superior to her mother and her neighbor.  She regards their simple religious faith with condescension. They are blinded by their naivete, Hulga thinks, as she scoffs their spiritual beliefs.  When a Bible salesman comes to the house, Hulga believes that he is like her mother, another representative of a "good country" person.  She stereotypes this man as being simple, innocent, and unenlightened to the reality of the world.  A nihilist herself, Hulga wants to show him the truth--that life is truly meaningless and absurd.  She plans to seduce him, to rob him of his faith, and to make him see her way of viewing of the world.

Ironically, Hulga has grossly misjudged this young Bible salesman.  Instead of being "good country people," he, like Hulga, believes in nothing as well.  He is immoral.  Instead of being seduced, he seduces Hulga, and robs her of her artificial leg and leaves her stranded in the hayloft.    Hulga has definitely met her match, and has been outwitted and outmatched by a pretender, one who acts according to the very philosophy she professes.  In this way, the title becomes highly ironic.

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What makes the title of the story "Good Country People" ironic?

In Flannery O'Connor's short story entitled "Good Country People," the title is ironic for a few reasons.

Mrs. Hopewell is the character that uses the phrase most often. She first uses it to speak of Mrs. Freeman, who is a tenant on her farm. She uses the phrase in a demeaning way, to show that Mrs. Freeman is inferior to her. She talks about them almost as her property, certainly as her underlings. Mrs. Hopewell judges people as either "good country people" or as "trash." She is willing to put up with many annoyances in order to have the good country people around her because she's had enough experiences with trash. O'Connor never addresses it directly but gives the reader many clues that Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter Joy are the ones who are the problem, rather than the folks that never stayed in her employment for more than a year—the ones she refers to as trash. When Mrs. Hopewell was checking references before she hired the Freemans, this is what she found out about them:

. . . Mr. Freeman was a good farmer but that his wife was the nosiest woman ever to walk the earth. "She's got to be into everything," the man said. "If she don't get there before the dust settles, you can bet she‖s dead, that's all. She'll want to know all your business. I can stand him real good," he had said, "but me nor my wife neither could have stood that woman one more minute on this place." That had put Mrs. Hopewell off for a few days. She had hired them in the end because there were no other applicants but she had made up her mind beforehand exactly how she would handle the woman. Since she was the type who had to be into everything, then, Mrs. Hopewell had decided, she would not only let her be into everything, she would see to it that she was into everything—she would give her the responsibility of everything, she would put her in charge. Mrs. Hopewell had no bad qualities of her own but she was able to use other people's in such a constructive way that she had kept them four years.

Take note of a couple of things in this quote. First, there were no other applicants for the job. That could indicate that the Hopewells had earned such a reputation that no one wanted to work for them. Mrs. Hopewell really had no choice but to hire them. Secondly, the text explicitly states that Mrs. Hopewell had no bad qualities of her own. How likely is that? It's my opinion that O'Connor is using irony here. She's using the third person omniscient narrator's voice to give us a peek inside Mrs. Hopewell to show us how she views herself.

Joy, who legally changed her name to Hulga, muses (through the omniscient narrator voice) that if it weren't for her heart condition, she would be far away from these 'good country people." When Joy-Hulga uses the phrase, it means simple, uneducated folks. She also believes that the good country people are beneath her.

Joy had made it plain that if it had not been for this condition, she would be far from these red hills and good country people. She would be in a university lecturing to people who knew what she was talking about.

Hulga has a PhD, and she believes she is going to trick the traveling Bible salesman into having sex with her; after all, he's just a good country person, and therefore nowhere near her intellectual abilities. The irony is that it is Manly who ends up tricking Hulga.

Another interesting point is that when Mrs. Freeman comes to the Hopewells' kitchen she is often standing with her arm against the refrigerator, looking down on the Hopewells. This is clearly intentional. The irony, again, is that the Hopewells look down on Manly and the Freemans as just being simple folk who are inferior to their own manners and intelligence, when in actuality, the others in the story look down on them.

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What makes the title of the story "Good Country People" ironic?

The title is ironic because the characters who feature in the story might be country people but they don't appear particularly good, in any sense. The four main characters, Mrs Hopewell, her one-legged daughter Joy, their tenant Mrs Freeman and the young salesman Manley Pointer, are an ill-assorted group and none of them come across as very likeable.

In fact, the very names of these characters are ironic: the Hopewells don’t really hope for anything, Mrs Freeman is not free, but a tenant on someone else’s farm; Joy is anything but joyful, and has changed her name to the grim-sounding Hulga, alarming her mother:

When Mrs Hopewell thought the name, Hulga, she thought of the broad blank hull of a battleship.

 Manley’s behaviour turns out not to be manly but more like that of a crude, immature boy. He pretends to care for Joy only to run off in triumph with her artificial leg leaving her stranded in a barn. Joy is therefore made the victim of a sick joke, but she in turn has always treated the people around her with contempt which perhaps qualifies the reader's sympathy for her at the end.

As in other of her stories, O'Connor gives us a somewhat depressing and squalid picture of characters who are limited mentally, and also physically; they have no opportunities to better themselves or to expand their minds. Joy longs to be away from her restricted home, to ‘be far from these red hills and good country people,' to pursue an academic career, but it does not seem likely that she, or any of the others, will ever actually escape. However O'Connor also laces the story with a characteristic dose of sardonic humour, rendering these somewhat hopeless characters more memorable.

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