Table of Contents
The short story “Good Country People” was written by Flannery O’Connor. It was released in 1955 as part of her collection of short stories, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” which is recognized as an exemplary piece of Southern Gothic literature. The importance of religion in Southern society is reflected in O’Connor’s work, both in terms of her own religious beliefs and in how she portrays the so-called Christian faithful as dishonest and hypocrites.
About the Author
Mary Flannery O’Connor was a novelist, short-story writer, and essayist from the United States. She published two novels, 31 short stories, reviews, and commentaries. She frequently adopted a Southern Gothic style, focusing on regional settings and unflattering individuals in violent settings. O’Connor frequently explored morals and ethics in her work, which was influenced by her Catholic faith. Her posthumously compiled Complete Stories was awarded the 1972 United States National Book Award for Fiction.
The narrative opens with a description of Mrs. Freeman, a woman who works on a farm in rural Georgia. Mrs. Hopewell, who hires Mrs. Freeman, starts the morning ritual by lighting the gas heater. Her daughter Hulga then enters the bathroom and shuts the door. Hulga remains in the bathroom till Mrs Freeman arrives and their small conversation is nearly over. Hulga feels “constant outrage” in the presence of her mother and Mrs. Freeman’s continual small conversation. One of Mrs. Hopewell’s phrases, “that is life,” sets well the dullness of her talk.
Mrs. Freeman agrees with Mrs. Hopewell regardless of what she says. Mrs. Hopewell views Mrs. Freeman as one of the “good country people,” in contrast to the “trash” that she has seen in the past when dealing with others at work. Hulga has always had such a bad attitude and has been so disagreeable that Mrs. Hopewell has given up trying to get her daughter to work. Because Hulga lost her leg when she was ten years old in a hunting accident, Mrs. Hopewell understands her daughter’s negative attitude. Hulga’s artificial leg means she “never danced a step or had any normal good times.” Hulga was given the name “Joy” at birth, but when she became 21, she changed it to Hulga to anger her mother. Hulga took great pleasure in destroying anything that her mother considers to be beautiful.
Mrs. Hopewell regrets letting Hulga return to school for a Ph.D. Hulga is 32 years old, but doctors predict that she will only live to reach 45 due to a heart problem. She would want to travel and give lectures at institutions, but her condition prevents her from doing so. When her mother tells her to smile more, she becomes impatient with her ordinary surroundings and demands, “Woman! Do you ever look inside? Do you ever look inside and see what you are not? God!” Hulga, a graduate student in philosophy, spends a lot of time reading and going on long walks. She doesn’t care much about men since she thinks that most of them are ignorant and dull.
The narrator informs us that a Bible Salesman visited the Hopewell residence the day before and then describes what happened: the Bible Salesman showed up, seeming sincere and polite. He said that he was going to sell bibles that he had in a valise when Mrs. Hopewell invited him inside. He mentioned that there was no bible in their parlor, which Mrs. Hopewell blamed on Hulga. The Bible Salesman was then deceived by Mrs. Hopewell into believing she keeps a bible by her bedside. He urged that each household have a bible in the parlor, but Mrs. Hopewell objected and suggested that he leave.
But she was guilted into letting him stay by his assertion that he is “just a country boy” and that “people like you don’t like to fool with country people like me.” He identified himself as Manley Pointer, and Mrs. Hopewell emphasized that she valued “good country people.” When Hulga came for dinner and demanded that the Bible Salesman leave, the Bible Salesman said that he had a heart disease, and Hulga began to cry, assuming that the two of them must have the same illness. She then requested he remain for supper.
When the Bible Salesman talked to Hulga at supper, she pretended not to hear. He informed his hosts about his youth, adding that his father was crushed by a falling tree when he was eight years old. Mrs. Hopewell sat at the table for two hours, listening to the Bible Salesman tell him about his life before informing him she had to leave. Outside, as the Bible seller walked away, Hulga met him on the road and they talked. Mrs. Hopewell could see them but not hear them talk. She did see Hulga leading the man to the gate.
Back in the present, Hulga waits for the Bible Salesman to arrive on Saturday morning. They had decided to get together at 10 am the previous evening. She told him she was seventeen. On the walk to the gate the night before, he indicated that he considered himself a serious person who is fully aware of his own mortality. Hulga claimed she felt the same way and connected with him. Then he suggested that they go on a picnic the next day. She dreamed about seducing him all through the night.
Nobody is present when Hulga arrives at the gate at 10 a.m. When she starts to doubt whether he would ever show up, he suddenly appears up. He’s holding a bible valise. As they walk, he questions where her artificial limb connects to her body, which irritates Hulga. When she confesses she is an atheist, he expresses his surprise. He kisses her at the edge of the woods. Since this is her first kiss, Hulga describes it as an “unexceptional experience.”
They enter the barn, and the Bible Salesman laments that they can’t walk up to the loft due to Hulga’s lost leg. She instantly gets up because she feels insulted. As they kiss, the Bible Salesman declares his love for Joy. He insists on her saying the same about him. She emphasizes that “love is not a word I use.” “I don’t have illusions. I’m one of those people who see through to nothing.” She feels sorry for the Bible salesman. Finally, at his urging, she concedes that she loves him “in a sense” and informs him that she is thirty years old and well-educated.
The Bible Salesman urges her to demonstrate her love for him by revealing where her artificial leg connects with the rest of her body. When she answers no, he accuses her of leading him on. Hulga then takes up the sleeve of her trousers and shows him before pulling the leg off and re-putting it on. The Bible Salesman then takes it off but refuses to put it back on when Hulga begs him to. The Bible Salesman then starts kissing her once again. When she pushes him away, he pulls one of his bibles from the valise and opens it, exposing it to be hollowed out. It contains a flask of whisky, pornographic playing cards, and a box of condoms.
Hulga is taken aback when he offers her a glass of whisky. She continuously asks to get her limb back. She asks “Aren’t you… aren’t you just good country people?” He laughs and threatens to rape her. “You’re a Christian!” she screams at him, calling him a hypocrite. He still won’t give it back to her; instead, he slams it inside his bag and descends the ladder, leaving her there in the loft. He calls her on the way down and tells her that he doesn’t believe in God and neither is she much wiser than him.
Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman, both engaged at work, observe the Bible Salesman as he walks from the woods towards the highway. Mrs. Hopewell recognizes him and thinks he was selling Bibles. She and Mrs. Freeman agree that they are not as “simple” as the Bible Salesman appears to be.
O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People” offers various reflections on people’s real attitudes towards religion and the nature of people’s relationships with one another. Joy, the protagonist of this story, is a physically challenged woman. When she was young, she lost her limb, and it’s likely that at the same time, she also lost faith in religion as a set of guidelines for living that would improve the world.
Joy doesn’t understand religion; she finds it impossible to believe that a violent and harsh world could have a loving God. People frequently attempt to describe the actual meaning of things without knowing their genuine nature, being oblivious to pure knowledge. Therefore, the main point is that individuals use religion as a mask to conceal their genuine outlook on life.
Even well-educated people, however, come to the wrong conclusion when they begin to believe in nothing. The author utilizes irony to highlight how, even if one is certain that, from a scientific point of view, the universe is empty and God is a myth, one cannot live without considering the supreme force that has always been present in people’s lives. Therefore, if God is absent from a person’s life, evil will fill the void.
The plot is built on a series of inconsistencies between reason and foolishness, education, and faith. Despite having a good education, Joy often isolates herself from other people because she feels her faith is being challenged. She decides to alter her name as a result, selecting the most hideous one imaginable, Hulga. Her relationships with her mother are also the worst they can be. It is obvious that Hulga dislikes her mother and sees her as an enemy.
Hulga’s attitude towards her mother makes it clear that the woman is similar to one of the good country people nearby, but not a family member. As a result, when Hulga decides to alter her name, she is relieved that she has defeated her mother: “One of her major triumphs was that her mother had not been able to turn her dust into Joy, but the greater one was that she had been able to turn it herself into Hulga”.
Hulga has no religious beliefs, which is clear from her consideration of existence and the universe as being empty. She believes that religious people are illiterate idiots who substitute mystical ideas for reality because they are unable to understand it.
However, as a result of her new spiritual experiments, Hulga substitutes the emptiness within with evil, which leads to her unwillingness to believe in kindness, God, or another superior power that may change her life. After encountering Manley Pointer, a Bible salesman who at first looks holy and kind but eventually steals Hulga’s wooden limb, Hulga’s reflections get stronger.
Additionally, the main character of the story, a woman with a strong mind, is physically challenged by the author, which adds a lot of irony to the story. Hulga believes she is superior to her mother, her neighbors, and a Bible salesman—all good country people who believe in their God.
Oddly, Hulga’s belief gets stronger when she hears that Manley Pointer is an atheist and that he’s more terrible than individuals who appear less religious. Hulga’s former opinion that the universe is empty is replaced with the concept that the world is built on evil.
Finally, she obtains the mystical knowledge that was lacking during her earlier studies, but it is the knowledge of evil.
As a result, even if Hulga ultimately obtains the knowledge she wanted, she is still unable to understand the beauty of the universe or experience the presence of kindness in human existence.
In conclusion, “Good Country People” does provide a wrap-up to the story where Joy-Hulga is left in the narrative high in a loft, without a leg, and her self-respect. Even though she intended to seduce Manley Pointer, she was instead seduced by him. The plot includes an examination of religious perspectives as well as interesting characters. O’Connor writes with the expectation of shocking her audience. Her strong religious views provide her characters “a moment of grace.” She also writes for those whose lives are hindered by “something” that prevents them from fully participating in society.