Good Country People And Those Essay, Research Paper
Good Country People and Those Who Hate Them
In Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People,” the protagonist Hulga, spends her entire
adult life doing her best to deny and rebel against her mother’s optimistic attitude. Hulga is a
highly educated southern woman who lost her leg in an accident at the age of ten and suffers
from a heart ailment. Due to these hardships, at thirty-two she still lives with her mother, and
is very negative about life. The highly educated Hulga feels superior to those around her due to
their lack of education and complexity. Hulga has no control over the negative emotions she
feels, and allows these incidents to shape the remainder of her life. O’Connor uses Hulga to
demonstrate how an intense feeling of hostility and intellectual superiority can damage
relationships, inhibit intellectual and emotional growth, and blind one to reality.
Hulga despises her situation and believes that she is mentally above those around her,
therefore, she feels no need to develop her relations with them. There seems to be a symbolic
connection between her “weak heart” (O’Connor 108) and her lack of emotional attachments.
She resents the heart condition that forces her to stay with her mother instead of getting a
lecturing job at a university, and she punishes her mother each day by being rude. Hulga, “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” (O’Connor 108). Hulga is unable to conceal the painful emotions, which
plague her and keep her from appreciating the good. She seemingly has no interest in men
either. According to her mother, she looks at them “as if she could smell their stupidity”
(O’Connor 109). This is one reason why Hulga fails to establish emotional ties with family,
friends, or lovers.
Mrs. Hopewell neither acknowledges Hulga’s pain nor makes any attempt to comfort her
child. Mrs. Hopewell would prefer Hulga to conceal her bitterness. She says “people who
looked on the bright side of things would be beautiful even if they were not” (O’Connor 108).
Hulga’s decision to change her name from Joy is symbolic of the personality change she
undergoes after the accident. She changes her name to Hulga to reflect the way she feels about
herself: “she had arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius
of its fitness had struck her she saw it as her highest creative act” (O’Connor 107). Mrs.
Hopewell’s refusal to refer to her daughter as Hulga represents her denial of Joy’s Conversion.
Mrs. Hopewell also states “every year she grew less like other people and more like herself-
bloated, rude, and squint-eyed” (O’Connor 108). She perhaps realizes when she thinks of her
daughter as “still a child” (O’Connor 108), Hulga’s growth has been stunted. Picture a thirty-
two-year-old Ph.D. dressed in a sweatshirt embossed “with a faded cowboy on a horse”
Maturing emotionally and intellectually requires a willingness to learn from the
experience and knowledge of others as well as from one’s own experiences. Since Hulga feels
that the people around her are inferior and have nothing to contribute morally or academically,
she has closed her mind to any new ideas in the years since college. The only thoughts she
entertains come from the philosophy books she reads each day. Had Hulga been open to the
truth behind her mothers clich s instead of dismissing them as the ramblings of an idiot, she
might have learned how to relate to others and grown in her understanding of life.
Since Hulga assumes her first opinions of others are correct, she is blind to the reality that
any mature person recognizes: people, even “good country people,” are not always what they
seem. The prime example is Hulga’s underestimation of Manley Pointer, a traveling bible
salesman. On the surface he seems to be just like any other country boy: blindly devoted to a
God Hulga denies, ignorant, and basically harmless. Seeing him merely as entertainment, Hulga
plans to take him out to the barn, seduce him, and then enlighten him by destroying everything
he believes in. With her typical intellectual pride, she imagines conversations between them that
reach “to depths that no bible salesman would be aware of” (O’Connor 113). However, she
finds that he is not the ignorant, innocent, inexperienced boy he appears to be when he tricks her
into removing her artificial leg. After putting her in a helpless position, he reveals that he too is
an atheist, that he does not really love her, and that he is actually a pervert and an impostor who
collects women’s artificial body parts.
Because Hulga has for so long “achieved blindness by an act of will” (O’Connor 106),
her introduction to reality is especially painful and humiliating. What starts out as a “great joke”
(O’Connor 113) leads her to dreams of intimacy with a man who “every night . . . would take the
leg off and every morning put it back on” (O’Connor 118). At the moment when her “brain
seemed to have stopped thinking altogether and to be about some other function that it was not
very good at” (O’Connor 118), she becomes vulnerable to emotional wounds. Unfortunately, her
arrogance drives her to an encounter with another weak-hearted atheist, a man who probes her
most secret place with “eyes like two steel spikes” (O’Connor118) and who leaves her sitting
“on the straw in the dusty sunlight” with her face “churning” in agony and humiliation
Whether or not she learns from this painful experience is a question left unanswered.
There is hope for her if she sheds her air of intellectual superiority and realizes that no one
person has all of the answers to life’s questions. Her life certainly would have been less miserable
if she herself had learned the lesson she has tried to teach her mother: “We are not our own light”