The literature of the 20th century is characterized by the diversity of themes and issues touched upon by the authors. The radical shifts in people’s mentalities promoted by the two World Wars, civil rights movements and increased importance of humanistic values resulted in the emergence of new values and reconsideration of the traditional ways of life. For this reason, communities were not homogenous, as they were comprised of individuals with different value systems and philosophies. It attracted the attention of writers, who tried to demonstrate these shifts and speak about topical issues. “Good Country People” is a short story by Flannery O’Connor which belongs to this cohort, as it depicts the lives of individuals with various philosophies and mentalities.
The story revolves around the main characters, Mrs. Hopewell, Mr. and Mrs. Freeman, and Mrs. Hopewell’s daughter Joy. They work together on a farm in a rural area of Georgia. The central conflict occurs between Joy and her mother as they have opposing values. The daughter has an artificial leg and is an atheist with a Ph.D. in philosophy, which also influences her behavior. She calls herself Hulga, which disappoints Mrs. Hopewell, and rebels against her views. The major events occur when a Bible salesman Manley Pointer arrives at their place. While Mrs. Hopewell thinks he is a good person, he turns out to be a hypocrite who has alcohol, sex cards, and condoms in his hollow Bible and collects prostheses of the disabled.
In such a way, the narrated story offers several significant themes for the discussion. The first one is a question of faith and how different people understand it. Mrs. Hopewell pretends to be religious and says she has a Bible at her bedside (O’Connor 4). Hulga is an atheist who rejects the importance of faith and is ready to prove its insincere nature by seducing the Bible salesman. Finally, Manley Pointer shows himself as a pious man but hides alcohol and condoms in a hollowed-out Bible. All these characters show the reduced importance and influence of religion in the life of common people. However, the story offers a moment of authentic faith when Hulga believes the salesman, “It was like losing her own life and finding it again, miraculously, in his.” (O’Connor 15). Moreover, it made her vulnerable, introducing the opposition between faith and vulnerability.
The story also introduces the theme of disability and its influence on people’s identities. Hulga, the main character, considers her missing leg the primary factor influencing her life and identity. The author emphasizes this fact by saying, “She was as sensitive about the artificial leg as a peacock about his tail…she took care of it as someone else would his soul” (O’Connor 14). She is also afraid of her heart condition and possible death because of the disease (O’Connor 5). As a result, she has to stay at home and formulate her own philosophy, clear from the lies of religion. In such a way, disability becomes the critical factor influencing her character and personality, as the name Joy is changed to another one, representing her attitude toward herself and the people surrounding her.
Hypocrisy is another central issue of the story narrated by Flannery O’Connor. Every character described by the author is sure that their position is the most relevant and correct one. Mrs. Hopewell is sure she has the right to judge people “The reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash. They were good country people” (O’Connor 2). She also lies about the Bible at her bedside to seem religious. The Bible salesman is also hypocritical as he uses his position to deceive people and has nihilistic views. Finally, Hulga rejects faith and religion as they are false, but talking to Manley Pointer, she wants to believe in some things as they might bring relief to her (O’Connor 13). In such a way, all characters of the story lie and are sure it does not mean their moral positions suffer.
Appearances and Reality
Finally, the author introduces the opposition between people’s appearances and reality. The story is full of misunderstandings as characters fail to understand the true nature of others. Judging by their appearances and words, the protagonists fail to see their true nature and the motifs influencing their decisions. In such a way, Flannery O’Connor offers the idea of false expectations and opposition between how people look and what values they really have. Even the title of the story can be viewed as an irony emphasizing the central message.
Altogether, the story Good Country people introduces several vital themes for readers to think about them. These include faith, disability, hypocrisy, and appearance and their influence on the life of ordinary people in rural areas. Narrating the main characters’ stories, the author shows the complexity of relations within a particular community and the differences in mentalities. In such a way, the story represents the structure of a typical community of that period with all problems and conflicts peculiar to it.
O’Connor, Flannery. “Good Country People.” Repositorio, 1955.