Good Country People Essay, Research Paper
Good Country People:
Like Julian in "Everything that Rises Must Converge," Hulga is a
proud intellectual and has little doubt of her belief in
"nothingness." However, by the end, she has fallen prey to the same
naive stereotypes as her mother. Do you think her beliefs are based on reason or
on the desire to distinguish herself from the ignorance which is all around her?
Hulga accentuates her wooden leg by making unnecessary noises when she walks
and plays up the deformity by wearing ugly clothing. When she surrenders her
leg, it could be said that she surrenders her entire self. Do you agree with
this statement? Why or why not?
In the story both Hulga and the Bible salesman wear masks over their true
natures. However, their final confrontation reveals the salesman to be a cunning
atheist while Hulga is exposed as a girl who’s naivete sharply contradicts the
nihilistic cliches she vents. Describe the contradictions between what appears
to be on the surface and what actually is.
A consistent pattern runs through the experiences of O’Connor’s
intellectuals; circumstances, often so unlikely as to risk comparison to the
deus ex machina, rob these men and women of the idols that each has constructed
in an attempt to escape the recognition of what O’Connor would consider the true
Reality behind apparent reality.  Joy-Hulga fashions her escape through a
carefully-cultivated nihilism ultimately as false as the wooden leg which
suggests it so powerfully. Sheppard and Calhoun both create a god from the sort
of therapeutic ideal of the perfectible, ever-developing self now identified
with two of America’s great growth industries: talk shows and self-help books.
Each of these characters must demolish the self-made idol and face transcendent
Reality, a necessary trauma in O’Connor’s soteriological drama.
Oddly enough, it might seem, O’Connor described Joy-Hulga as a
"heroine," the character most like herself. Joy, who at twenty-one
changes her name to Hulga, "with all the pejorative connotations (hull =
hulk = huge = ugly)" has come to a firm belief in Nothing through her study
of Heidegger and Malebranche (Grimshaw 51). The choice of name reveals much; it
is her defense against the sterility of her life. When Mrs. Freeman unexpectedly
began to call Joy by her chosen name,
the latter would scowl and redden as if her privacy had been intruded upon.
She considered the name her personal affair. 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 had a vision of the name working like the ugly sweating Vulcan
who stayed in the furnace and to whom, presumably, the goddess had to come when
called. She saw it as her highest creative act. (CS 275).
Why did Hulga react so strongly to Mrs. Freeman’s use of her name? To her,
"it was as if Mrs. Freeman’s beady steel-pointed eyes had penetrated far
enough behind her face to reach some secret fact" (CS 275). Mrs. Freeman,
we know, is intrigued by all accounts of disease and deformity, and this secret
fact which she has discovered is deeper than a mere wooden leg: "Mrs.
Freeman is fascinated by the leg, but it is a ’secret infection,’ spiritual and
psychological in nature, of which the leg provides intimations" (Browning
46). O’Connor herself scorned talk of symbolism,  but the significance of
Hulga’s leg is clear. It is her deformity that has shaped Hulga’s identity; she
"has achieved blindness by an act of will and means to keep it" (CS
Her blindness, of course, is her nihilism, which, quite significantly, is
sanctioned by her Ph.D. ("I have a number of degrees" (CS 288).) The
removal of this false god is Manley Pointer’s symbolic defloration, the theft of
her leg accompanied by his remark that she "ain’t so smart. I been
believing in nothing ever since I was born" (CS 291). In its place, Pointer
leaves her with the knowledge that, despite her carefully constructed defense
against the truth, there is, in O’Connor’s words, "a wooden part of her
soul that corresponds to her wooden leg" ("Writing Short Stories"
In Good Country People, the center stage is taken by a wooden-legged
philosopher named Hulga who claims to be an atheist and the resident expert on
nothingness.Like Julian in Everything That Rises Must Converge, she is the
personification of irritability. But she is also an expert in meanness towards
her mother, Mrs Hopewell, and the tenant’s wife Mrs Freeman. The cause of her
meanness seems to be the loss of a leg in a hunting accident when she was a
young girl.The reader wonders, however, if perhaps this spiteful temperament is
nothing more than a persona she has created as a defense mechanism for her own
wounded pride.It seems that she has attempted to invent a new self by changing
her name to Hulga, a name that suggests a cumbersome piece of armor or
battleship–the opposite of Joy, her given name. The attentive reader, however,
soon sees that O’Connor’s method is to use irony in a comic(and later in a
grotesque) way to suggest the falsity of Hulga’s belief that her nihilistic,
joyless self is her true self. At the same time, most readers will be hard
pressed to leave psychology out of the equation.The anger behind Hulga’s fierce
statement to others that she must be accepted "Like I am" suggests
that she hasn’t done so herself.
Hulga’s claim to be a nihilist turns out to be little more than a postulate
after she meets the sleazy Bible salesman Manly Pointer.
After he unmasks her plot to seduce him in the hayloft and runs off with her
wooden leg (the support of her belief system), she quickly loses her faith in
her creed of nothingness and relativism. Mr Pointer’s more genuine brand of
nihilism "points" her in the direction of the very traditional moral
values she has always disavowed during family conversations. With the painful
realization that she can no longer classify Manly Pointer as good country
people(a stereotype she previously mocked),she assumes the existence of
objective moral standards.This is no way to treat a defenceless
woman–philosopher or not. The final irony in the story is the result of her
naive participation in this grotesque unhinging of her leg. O’Connor suggests
that now that the double identity of Hulga/Joy has been resolved into a single
self,she can see things in a clearer light. Now that she has been been violated
by a philosopher who lives his ideas, it is impossible for her to continue to
theorize about human behavior in the light of a belief in relativism. The
support holding up this faith in nothingness has been knocked out from beneath
her.Now she may be forced to support herself with something more than a hallow
 What do you think she learns from Manly Pointer?
 How has this experience in the hayloft changed her philosophical
beliefs or her thoughts on Christianity?
 Do you think it has been the kind of epiphany that will
transform her behavior?__