Literature Annotations


O'Connor, Flannery
Good Country People


Genre Short Story (15 pp.)
KeywordsBody Self-Image, Disability, Mother-Daughter Relationship, Obsession, Rebellion, Religion, Sexuality
Summary

In rural Georgia, Mrs. Hopewell runs her family farm with the help of tenants Mr. and Mrs. Freeman. Mrs. Hopewell's daughter, Joy, who got her leg shot off in an accident when she was a child, now lives at home with her mother. Thirty three year old Joy has earned a PhD in philosophy, but she does not seem to have much common sense. In an act of rebellion, she has changed her name to Hulga, and she lives in a state of annoyed anger at her mother and Mrs. Freeman.

A Bible salesman comes to the door, claiming his name is Manly Pointer (!), and manages to get invited to dinner. He and Hulga make a date to have a picnic together the next day. That night Hulga imagines with her superior mind and education that she's in control and that she will seduce him.

However, the next day by the time they have climbed into a barn loft, Manly manages to persuade her to take off her glasses and then her wooden leg which he packs in a suitcase, between a "Bible" which is really a box with liquor and pornographic cards in it. As Manly leaves Hulga without her false leg, he tells her that he collects prostheses from the disabled. She is shocked to realize that he is not "good country people."

Commentary

In this grotesque story, O'Connor develops several themes. We see that Hulga has never really grown up. She's acting like a rebellious teenager, stomping around the house, slamming doors, accusing her mother of being stupid, wearing a grungy old skirt and a sweatshirt with a cowboy on it. We see also her pride in her own intellect and in her mastery of existentialism, which comes crashing down when she is so gullible and naive as to be easily manipulated by the young "Bible salesman."

Hulga may actually be on some kind of spiritual search, in spite of her denial that God exists. She is fooled by Manly, who makes her think he is a simple religious country bumpkin way beneath her. But Manly is much more worldly wise than Hulga; he seduces her, instead of the other way around. And she is left sitting alone in a hay loft without her glasses (she was not seeing very clearly anyway) and without her wooden leg. Part of the brilliant writing in this story shows how people tend to use clichés in ways that make it easy for them to avoid thinking or seeing clearly.

SourceThe Complete Stories
PublisherFarrar, Straus & Giroux
Edition1971
Place PublishedNew York
MiscellaneousFirst published in A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955). The Complete Stories won the National Book Award.
Annotated by Donley, Carol
Date of Entry 04/03/00
Last Revised 06/01/00