“Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor
- Pages: 4
- Word count: 886
- Category: Teaching Philosophy
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Is a short-story surrounding Hulga, a woman who is stolen from by a false bible-salesman. The story introduces Hulga as a grumpy, thirty-year-old woman living with her mother. She had changed her name from Joy to Hulga, with no offense to her mother who named her, when she turned twenty-one. This name change represented a change in Hulga’s perception. She sees no beauty in the world and unlike her mother, doesn’t believe there are “good country people” Hulga sees herself as better than, even more intelligent, than others. The shift from a beautiful, positive name to an ugly one depicts Hulga’s shift in perspective in herself and the world around her.
“Good Country People” starts out by introducing Hulga’s living situation. Hulga has a doctoral degree in philosophy. Her mother, Mrs. Hopewell, thinks Hulga doesn’t have ‘a grain of sense’ and explains that book smarts don’t give Hulga or anyone else any practical real-world skills. It’s clear that Hulga feels isolated and misunderstood by her mother and the public because of her lack of basic interpersonal skills. The next passage shows that Hulga is still living with her mother due to her health, but desperately wants to be off teaching philosophy, “The doctors had told Mrs. Hopewell that with the best of care, Joy might see forty-five. She has a weak heart. 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,” (17).
Hulga’s mother refuses to call her by her new name, adding to Hulga’s vision of low self-worth or respect. This denial of her wishes further shows Hulga she can’t have the things she desires. Hulga is equipped to lead the life she wants but can’t pursue it due to the many things that are out of her control. Hulga also lost her leg in a hunting accident when she was young as shown in the passage: “Mrs. Hopewell excused [Hulga’s] attitude because of the leg (which had been shot off in a hunting accident when Joy was ten).” With Hulga’s two disabilities—her heart and leg, she is seen as vulnerable and broken to the outside perspective despite what is in her head. Her weak heart and prosthetic leg represent this vulnerability the most throughout the story. These physical defects and lack of social ineptitude leave Hulga vulnerable to the outside world and people like Manley Pointer.
Manley meets Hulga on the pretenses of a bible salesman and uses his false “good country folk” attitude to trick her and steal her prosthetic leg. While Hulga sees herself above everyone else in the comfort of her home, she’s truly inept when she encounters the outside world. Hulga is shown to have a dark, manipulative side in the passage: “During the night she imagined that she seduced him. She imagined…that things came to such a pass that she very easily seduced him and that then, of course, she had to deal with his remorse. True genius can get an idea across even to an inferior mind. She imagined that she took his remorse in hand and changed it into a deeper understanding of life. She took all his shame away and turned it into something useful,” (90) This shows Hulga flaunting her thought-out power play against Manley, the presumed innocent bible salesman. She believes she surpasses Manley in intellect and he could never rise to her “genius”, but, Manley shows Hulga that she isn’t good at everything and is especially lacking in real-world experience. Hulga, who thinks she can seduce Manley, is reduced to a pitiful mess of a woman after he takes her prosthetic limb and leaves her in the loft.
Hulga repeatedly explains that Manley is “good country folk” but to her dismay, Manley tears her perceptions down in the passage, “’Aren’t you,’ she murmured, ‘aren’t you just good country people?’…’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.’ Her face was almost purple. ‘You’re a Christian!’ she hissed. ‘You’re a fine Christian! You’re just like them all—you say one thing and do another. You’re a perfect Christian,” (134-139). Hulga begins the scene by wanting to force Manley away from such good Christian principles but ends with wanting him to have such values. As long as Hulga is doing the hurting, she doesn’t care about the intentions. Manley even ends the story by uprooting Hulga’s hopes in saying, “I hope you don’t think that I believe. I may sell bibles, but I know which end is up” (13). Manley exposes Hulga’s true self and weaknesses by taking her prosthetics and gives her a sense of losing her self-pride.
Hulga begins to understand the world and gains a knowledge different than any she’s ever acquired: life experience in humiliation. Hulga’s name change represents this reflection of her serious neglect of world understanding. Throughout the story, this foreshadowing of a name change is one of the most relevant plot shifts. Her change in perception is furthered at the end of the story and reminds her of her intentions in naming herself Hulga. This ugly name serves as a reminder of her own ignorance and ugly nature shown repeatedly. There is nothing joyful about Hulga, nor the rest of the world.