Good Country People

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. [3] 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, [4] 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
273).

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"
MM 99).

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