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Good Country People: Summary, Characters, Theme & Analysis

Good Country People: Summary, Characters, Theme & Analysis
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  • 0:17 Summary/Characters
  • 2:31 Hulga/Joy
  • 3:14 Manley Pointer
  • 4:20 Themes
  • 4:48 Analysis
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Rohen

Melissa has taught college English and has a master's degree in English and Composition.

In this lesson, we will summarize Flannery O'Connor's exceptional short story 'Good Country People' by looking at its characters and themes. Additionally, we'll do a quick analysis to look for deeper meaning.

'Good Country People'

Flannery O'Connor's short story 'Good Country People' was originally printed in Harper's Bazaar, a women's fashion magazine, in 1950. It was written in just four days with only minimal revisions.

Summary

'Good Country People' is a fairly complex story presented as a simple tale about (you guessed it!) good country people. It starts out with two women, Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Hopewell, discussing their children. Mrs. Freeman works for Mrs. Hopewell and has two daughters, one married with a kid on the way and one who's just doing her own thing. Mrs. Hopewell has one daughter, Joy, who renamed herself Hulga to make herself more unappealing. Hulga is a woman with a bad heart, a wooden leg, and has never been in love. Still, Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman have a subtle rivalry about their success in raising their daughters to be good, country people.

The day before this conversation takes place, a Bible salesman by the name of Manley Pointer had come around trying to sell his wares. He was charming enough to get a date with Hulga but, as sales sometimes go, not quite charming enough to get her mother to buy a Bible.

As their date begins, Manley and Hulga decide to take a walk and eventually they begin talking about the nature of life, religion, existence, and God, but mostly about Hulga's wooden leg. Manley is very interested in the wooden leg and asks Hulga to let him see it. Hulga, despite her doctorate in philosophy, doesn't have a lot of experience with real-life situations of a romantic nature. Manley hones in on Hulga's lack of experience and seduces a few kisses out of her. They go into the loft of the barn to have some privacy, and Manley says he loves her. They kiss a little more and Manley ultimately takes Hulga's leg. She gets upset, but Manley refuses to return it. To add insult to injury, Manley then opens up his Bible to reveal it's holding whiskey and cards. It turns out that he is not only a scam artist, but Manley Pointer isn't even his real name.

Hulga gets angrier with him, but Manley packs up his stuff and tells her that, despite her education, he, a simple Bible salesman, managed to fool her. After this mean-spirited outburst, he then runs off with her leg and leaves her helpless in the barn.

Characters

There are several characters in this story; however, the two main ones are Hulga and Manley Pointer.

Hulga/Joy

Hulga is our protaganist, or main character. She is a thirty-two-year old, well-educated woman who has done little with her life beyond reading and writing. She has a hard time relating to other people because, despite her education, she just doesn't have any practical life skills. Still, she thinks of herself as a genius and better than everyone else.

She is also an atheist, or rather, a nihilist. A nihilist is someone who believes in nothing at all. This is contradicted, though, by her belief that good country people are beneath her. In reality, if she were truly a nihilist, she would not believe anything about anyone. And, if she were truly a genius, she would know this about herself, wouldn't she?

Manley Pointer

Manley Pointer is our antagonist, or the character who opposes the protagonist. Mr. Pointer is not who he claims to be. In fact, he doesn't claim to be anyone, really, just a Bible salesman from some place that doesn't really exist. He is very elusive and controlling, playing Hulga and Mrs. Hopewell for fools right from the beginning.

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