Flannery O’Connor–“Good Country People”

It seems that in “Good Country People” as well as “The Swimmer” that the audience is presented with depictions of life which are incredibly ambiguous as to what exactly we are supposed to take away. Joy–or Hulga–entertains the idea that she is very clever (if not beautiful or worthy of admiration); she holds a Ph.D., and she “had made it plain that if it had not been for” her heart condition, “she would be far from these red hills and good country people” (2573). However, even while Hulga is lying in bed considering how she could “take all his shame away and [turn] it into something useful,” O’Connor uses the word “imagined” (2578). Hulga seems trapped within this world between her mother and Mrs. Freeman, both of whom speak in circles around the same topics and always offer the same outlook, “Nothing is perfect. This was one of Mrs. Hopewell’s favorite sayings. Another was: that is life! And still another, the most important, was: well, other people have their opinions too” (2571). I was surprised how easily Hulga was taken advantage of considering the way that she thought of herself. Each character is firmly planted in her way of seeing the world, Hulga considers herself a philosopher, but is easily fooled into trusting in the innocence of another. Mrs. Hopewell is continually attempting to be pleasant, even if she is bored by the person, and Mrs. Freeman “could never be brought to admit herself wrong on any point” (2570). Joy/Hulga then takes the place of the character who “must confront an experience that she cannot handle by her old trustworthy language and habit-hardened responses” (2569). Like “The Swimmer,” these characters are presented as having created a certain type of worldview that can make them blind to schemes in the world around them. Realities fall away into “clucking their endless reiterations of clichés about life” (2569).  I cannot really even say with confidence that I have real insight into any of these characters. They are all mask-like. If the Bible salesman can turn out to be a perverse collector of…false body parts, what in the world could these women be hiding? I do wonder what will become of Joy/Hulga at the end of the story, she is left abandoned and alone, reeling from a situation she really had no control over. Her heart condition also comes to mind…what will happen to her in an event like this? I can also see in this story what Tony wrote about in regard to “The Swimmer.” It seems that it could be a warning against inner ignorance, against holding certain views on the world and on people for too long at the risk of losing yourself and your grip on reality. Here, the whole world consists of their house and the countryside, in their banter at the kitchen table, in Joy/Hulga making her eggs at the stove.

Questions:

1. What it is about the Bible salesman that so intrigues Joy/Hulga especially when she professess a disbelief in God?

2. At the end of the story, Mrs. Freeman uses her “forward look” towards the Bible seller and replies to Mrs. Hopewell, “‘Some can’t be that simple…I know I never could'” (2583). Do we believe her? Or is that statement just her creating an idea for herself that is not necessarily true?

3. How does O’Connor toy with our reactions during the story? What parts are funny, caricatures, moving?

4. What do you think about the end of the story? Is there a point that you think we are supposed to understand?

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2 Responses to Flannery O’Connor–“Good Country People”

  1. emcd23 says:

    This post makes me think of “Good Country People” in light of a short story a classmate once wrote. In his story, there is a ‘Good Samaritan’ set-up with a beggar looking for shelter on a winter night and a rich family who refuses to let him in. A kind young woman does invite him in, though, and they find her body the next morning. This classmate ended the story with a look at the family who wouldn’t take the risk; they had turned the beggar away because they were prejudiced against his poverty, and they will continue to be jaded and closed-off; obviously, they were right to be wary in this instance, but are they losing out on a full life because they refuse to have faith in anyone?

    The comparison strikes me because Joy/Hulga seems to spend most of the story *wanting* to believe that innocence and basic goodness exists in the world, and as soon as she allows herself to take that leap of faith, she gets burned. I agree that both this story and “The Swimmer” seem to warn against holding onto illusions about the world, but since reality as it exists in both stories is actually pretty bleak, is it really worth it to just always be guarded? After all, what is the benefit of Joy/Hulga accepting a ‘reality’ where kind young men are empty liars and the only other people around are full of shallow gossip and pettiness?

  2. CArnold13 says:

    This story made me… mildly upset. I thought it was going to be a nice, cute story about a woman who seems to hate the world finding a good man that loves her despite her differences. But no. The man steals her leg and makes off with it into the night, leaving her helpless in the top of a barn. The author really knew how to emphasize the faults of humanity, and he did so very well with this story. As I was reading, I was trying to think of something that she could do, but the fact that there was no way for her to catch the guy and get her leg back, and there was no way to stop him, it really translated that hopeless feeling of betrayal that I imagine the author wanted us to feel that Hulga felt during that whole episode. It was a wonderfully written story in every way, but I didnt like it purely because of the story itself. I like the message that it had – no one is as simple as they appear.

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