Essay: Story Good Country People by Flanner O'Connor

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Good Country People

Pride in "Good Country People": An Analysis of O'Connor's Story

Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People" is a story about pride. All the characters are touched by pride to one degree or another, including the "nice" Bible-selling boy who "teaches" Joy-Hulga a lesson in humility. This paper will analyze the story from the theme of pride and show how O'Connor's main character Joy-Hulga comes to a revelation of sorts regarding her own sense of "superiority."

The title of the story is ironic. "Good Country People" is Mrs. Hopewell's name for people she can get along with, people she can understand -- people she can control, like Mrs. Freeman. Mrs. Freeman is a busy-body who has to know everybody else's business. She is not much of a pain for Mrs. Hopewell, and so Mrs. Freeman is "good country people."

Joy despises Mrs. Freeman and she despises her mother. She sees both of them as phonies. Mrs. Freeman is an unintelligent woman whose conversation is limited to terse phrases which she uses to show off how she "already knew" whatever the other person just said. Her mother, Mrs. Hopewell, is an uneducated woman, described in the active-voice as someone who "had divorced her husband long ago" (171). She is full of just as man platitudes as Mrs. Freeman ("a smile never hurt anybody"), which is perhaps why the two of them get along so well. Joy cannot stand pat platitudes. She believes in "Nothing," as the markings in one of her academic books indicates -- markings which Mrs. Hopewell takes as "some evil incantation in gibberish" (175). Mrs. Hopewell's instincts seem to be correct on this point. She has a degree of simplicity and humility. Joy-Hulga abhors simplicity and humility. She reveres Nothing and sees no reason why she should submit herself to an idea as "idiotic" as trying to get along with one's mother and neighbor. Her face shows as much. She always wears a look of outrage. What offends her so much is the banality, triviality, and stupidity of her surroundings -- especially since, in her nihilism, there is no point to any of it. She is a "college-educated" girl, which really just means she is full of intellectual pride. Joy-Hulga's consolation in the face of overwhelming Nothingness is her belief that she is superior to everyone else. To get her revenge, she purposefully makes herself ugly (changing her name to Hulga, for instance). In particular, she hates her mother's sunny disposition and insistence upon pleasantness.

Mrs. Hopewell, in turn, has difficulty abiding her daughter as she is, which is how Joy wants to be taken -- "like I AM," she says to her mother. Mrs. Hopewell refuses to call her Hulga (Joy's new legal name). She thinks Joy is childish for wearing the same old clothes of her youth, day in and day out. In a way, she is correct: Joy has never really properly matured. In another way, it is partly Mrs. Hopewell's fault: she herself has shied away from the darker realities of life and tried to focus only on that which is "nice." The result is that her daughter, who she had hoped would be "nice," becomes more and more like a monster day by day. Both women suffer from pride -- just in different ways. The mother prides herself on her respectability and her ability to be sunny. The daughter prides herself on her ability to be dark, snide and "real." The problem is that neither really knows who they are. But since Joy-Hulga is the main subject, it is she who will receive the revelation.

We see that Joy is suffocating under a phony facade, a pretense of pride that makes her just as ridiculous as those around her. Mrs. Freeman has caught onto Joy's absurdity: her "beady steel-pointed eyes had penetrated far enough behind her face to reach some secret fact" (172-3) in Joy-Hulga. What they see is the fact that Joy-Hulga is lacking something. Physically, she is lacking a leg. But spiritually she is lacking humility.

Mrs. Hopewell certainly doesn't know her daughter any better, though she would like it if her daughter were at least a little happier. Mrs. Hopewell even regrets Joy's earning a Ph.D. She thought it would "be nice" if Joy went away to school, but now she is but so long as Joy-Hulga holds onto her bitter pride, she will not change and, in fact, will only grow increasingly grotesque.

Then Manley Pointer the Bible-salesman arrives. At first he has no luck with Mrs. Hopewell, who tries to brush him off. He tries to appeal to her "Chrustian" ethic, but she lies and says she already keeps a Bible by her bed. He then finds a way to reach her: he appeals to her belief in "good country people." She announces that if only there were more "good country people" in the world, the world would be a better place. At this moment, they are merely patting one another on the back. Though he doesn't sell a Bible, he does get a free meal out of the exchange. He reminds Joy-Hulga that those who lose their life shall find it, as Christ says, in Him.

The Bible-salesman represents the faith which Joy-Hulga hates. He is pretty boring to Mrs. Hopewell, too, but she appreciates him because he is "good country people" -- inoffensive, pleasant, able to say the right things. He certainly says the right things to Joy-Hulga when they meet outside the house. They bond over their shared fate: both may die. It is an ironic thing they share -- for, of course, both will die at some point.

Nonetheless, they agree to meet again at night. Joy-Hulga plans to seduce the boy and then convert him to atheism.

But as it turns out, the Bible-salesman aims to seduce Joy-Hulga. He leads her to the loft of a barn, taking special care to show reverence to her fake leg. Clearly he has his eye on it. Once in the loft, he begins to kiss her. She tells him that he can leave his Bible, but he says it may come in handy. It comes in handy because his Bible is not really a Bible, but a case which contains whiskey. This comes to light after he removes Joy-Hulga's leg -- which is a symbol of her pride. It is her literal crutch.

Before doing that, however, he informs Joy-Hulga that she must tell him she loves him. She tries to tell him that she does not believe in love on account of the fact that she believes in Nothing. She tells him that she does not believe in salvation, expecting this to be a shock to the boy. He says that he doesn't care. Obviously he's not shocked -- and he's not exactly the "Christian" she has taken him to be. He has his eye on her leg, and once he gets her to quit talking and confess that she loves him, he tells her to prove it by showing her wooden leg to him. She shows him where it joins her stump -- and he removes it. Manley Pointer is a trophy collector. Her wooden leg is her latest trophy. In this sense, he is like a devil, come to claim his due. She has been propping herself up with her pride rather than with the Word of God.

When Joy-Hulga realizes what is happening, that Manley is stealing her wooden leg and leaving her helpless in the loft, she begins to panic. She accuses Manley of being a "fine Christian" -- by which she means he is a hypocrite like all other Christians. But Manley corrects her: he announces that he doesn't "believe in that crap!" And only sells the Bibles.

He places the wooden leg in his bag along with the other belongings he has stolen from ladies. Then he adds the final insult: he tells her that she is not so smart and that he has been believing in nothing since he was born. This is an ironic statement. Whereas Joy-Hulga looks at Nothingness as a kind of salvation (it isn't, she is only proud of herself for having thought of it), Manley looks at Nothing because he has been given nothing: he has no faith.

This revelation, that she is not the intellectual that she has believed herself to be, is how O'Connor leaves Joy-Hulga. Her leg has been stolen. She has been humiliated. She, who prided herself on being above others, is now literally above others -- stuck in the barn loft. But the light of the sun is now shining down upon her. She has been struck by the truth -- the fact that she is not superior, but is actually no different from anyone else.

Her belief in Nothingness has not saved her, as she thought it did. On the contrary, it has left her high and dry, and with no way of escaping. She cannot… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Story Good Country People by Flanner O'Connor.  (2013, June 19).  Retrieved April 24, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/story-good-country-people-flanner-o-connor/3979125

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"Story Good Country People by Flanner O'Connor."  Essaytown.com.  June 19, 2013.  Accessed April 24, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/story-good-country-people-flanner-o-connor/3979125.