“Good Country People”: The Twin Dragons of Image and Language “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor tells the story of a thirty-two year old handicapped woman originally named Joy but later Hulga with a PhD in philosophy. Towards the end of the story, the supposedly intelligent and cunning Hulga is seduced by a supposedly simple, naive, and innocent-looking Bible salesman by the name of Manley Pointer. As in Revelations, it is possible to see the twin dragons of image and language working together to persuade in this story.
Specifically, the twin dragons as characterized using dialogue spoken by Hulga and Manley create a sense of individualism, maturity, and control of personal fate ; however, only Manley possesses these qualities, while Hulga is under the illusion that she does. Also, when used by the author, the twin dragons’ message to the reader is one of human collectiveness, vulnerability, and simplicity. As an example, both dragons are utilized by Hulga when she uses her philosophical knowledge to persuade the Bible salesman of her superior understanding of the world.
In the barn, Manley Pointer tries to drive the conversation to his advantage; however, she is able to withstand his attempt: “’We are all damned’, she said, ‘but some of us have taken off our blindfolds and see that there’s nothing to see” (674). The legless girl chooses to use the word “damned” in an attempt to better connect to Manley Pointer’s religious language. In addition, Dorothy Tuck McFarland points out in her essay “On ‘Good Country People’” that the blindfold confession does not empower her, but actually shows “Hulga’s surrender to love”(1054) which “makes her vulnerable to a revelation of her own blindness” (1054).
I agree with McFarland’s statement because the more Hulga talks about herself, the more she reveals information that can be used against her. In addition, the girl’s use of the blindfold image serves as a tool to differentiate herself in a positive way from others who are monotonous sheep of a flock; she is different, better, all-knowing while others are mindless. The author’s intention here is to show, by appealing to Hulga’s ethos, the negative tendency for human beings to see their qualities in a false positive light and highlight them for others to be impressed.
It is now clear that when the dragons of image and language are employed by the character Hulga in this case, it is to present herself as strong and unique in the eyes of Manley Pointer. In an ironic twist, O’Connor uses the dragon of language with dialogue coming from Hulga to present her entirely differently than she presents herself: naive and weak. As Pointer reveals his true self, the girl realizes that she has been tricked, her demeanor changing drastically: “Her voice when she spoke had an almost pleading sound. ‘Aren’t you’, she murmured.
Aren’t you just a good country people? ”(675). All of her former beliefs along with her confidence are demolished in an instant, and this is highlighted by words such as “pleading” and “murmured”. Not being able to pass through life with an orderly step-by-step procedure because of her physical condition, Hulga’s social and love life stand on fragile foundations, and this is why her emotions overshadow her academic and philosophical intellectualism which ironically blindfolds and so pushes the girl into developing a false impression of Manley Pointer’s innocence.
The author is using the dragon of language to persuade the reader of the girl’s weak nature, reflective of the true mental weakness of human beings in society on a larger scale; most people believe they are in control of their own destinies, but in reality, they cannot even be certain if the sun will rise tomorrow. A similar distinction can be made between the presentations of another character, Manley Pointer, by the author versus by Manley himself. When introducing him, the author uses the dragons of image and language to create a simple, innocent, and common-looking country boy, traits which enable him to win Mrs.
Hopewell’s trust. Before dinner is ready at the lady’s home, this apparent Bible salesman shows up at her door trying to persuade to buy bibles: “Well lady, I’ll tell you the truth – not many people want to buy one nowadays and besides, I know I’m real simple. I don’t know how to say a thing but to say it. I’m just a country boy” (667). In these lines, the boy appears as if he has almost given up on selling bibles and turns himself into a submissive servant in order to give Mrs. Hopewell a sense of control over him and their discussion.
The salesman appeals to ethos which makes the lady lower her guard; however, he is still not successful until he plays with her emotions when he mentions his heart condition: “I have this heart condition. ” (668). This approach is effective because “he and Joy had the same condition! ”(668); because of this, Mrs. Hopewell’s trust is won and he is given a free meal alongside Hulga. Dorothy Tuck McFarland argues that the image of naivety the county boy creates makes the girl feel “that he offers no threat to her and allows herself to respond to his open admiration” (“On ‘Good Country People’”1053).
Therefore, McFarland sees the boy’s clever persona as a tool to cause Hulga to manifest her affection the same way the salesman misleadingly manifests his. I would add further that his persona of innocence and simplicity does not only win her attention but eventually wins the girl’s trust and her heart as well. Regardless of McFarland’s or others’ interpretations, the twin dragons used by the author intentionally persuade the reader that people on a societal scale are simple and submissive by turning our attention to Pointer’s aura of reliability which poses no threat and creates trust.
In a similar ironic twist of presentation as experienced via Hulga, Manley Pointer’s strength of character is unexpectedly revealed later in the story. Images and languages help reveal his true identity and his actual beliefs, showing his individualism, manipulation of others, and control of his personal life. After the Bible salesman reveals his true colors, the girl tries to persuade him that he is just another Christian; however, Pointer shuts her up when he speaks his mind: “I hope you don’t think,”…“that I believe in that crap! I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasn’t born yesterday and I know where I’m going! (675).
The boy’s former beliefs are compared to the strong word “crap” which shows that being formally educated in philosophy is not the only way to deny God and religion in general. The bible salesman’s language changes from what was previously submissive and humble dialogue to what is now an empowered, angry, and insulted one, suggesting that it is wiser to be skeptical not only with seemingly trashy people but also with the innocent and simple country ones because the latter may actually be the most proficient backstabbers.
Through is own use of the mentioned images and language, Pointer reveals that even “good country people” can be clever, unique, and surprising even when it comes to playing with the minds of the so-called intellectuals. As was done in the case of Hulga, the author puts these words into Manley’s mouth to persuade the reader that when people present themselves, they emphasize their strengths, uniqueness, and control of their own destinies. It is interesting to see that the difference between a first impression and an in-depth evaluation of a character has manifested itself in two ways in this story, as we have seen.
Hulga is transformed by the author from a know-it-all to a confused, insignificant dot. On the other hand, Pointer is transformed from the latter to the former. The twin dragons of image and language when used by Hulga make her look strong on the outside, but the same dragons show her true inner weakness when used by the author. Conversely, the dragons of image and language used by the author for Manley Pointer make him appear weak on the outside, but when used by Pointer himself show his true inner strength. In the end, O’Connor uses the twin dragons to further her own thesis of the disappointing reality of human nature.