Good Country People by Flannery O'Connor

Categories: FloridaShort Story

While intelligence wields power and should be strived for to create an informed, fully actualized perspective of the world, Hulga Hopewell’s experience and behavior in Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People, demonstrates the toxic effects of fully wrapping one’s ego and esteem around pursuing specialty through knowledge. Her over-reliance on intelligence, fueled with a cynical mentality and a contemptuous motive to dismantle those around her is what ultimately leaves her self-concept in complete ruins by the end of the story.

The overall extent to Hulga’s pompousness does not and should not come without a certain extent of sympathies when considering her childhood and health ailments, however. These acute hardships within her life is ultimately what dimmed her presumably more joyous outlook on like into something more jaded and indifferent. The readers learn of her rather traumatic and violent ordeal in how she came to live with her disability through Mrs. Hopewell’s exchange with Mrs.Freeman: “Hulga had heard Mrs.

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Hopewell give her [Ms.Freeman] the details of the hunting accident, how the leg had been literally blasted off, how she had never lost consciousness” (O’Connor 5). Hulga’s accident when she was ten most clearly has had disadvantageous impacts on the quality of life of Hulga through her limited ability in movement from her fake leg, whether she openly admits it or not. Even her Mother with pity makes certain that her daughter never “Danced a step” or had “any normal good times” (O’Connery 4), suggesting that Hulga was never able to experience joyous occasions or what she may have desired to do that normal people could do because of her infirmity.

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Hulga’s lack of social inclusion and a relatively healthy upbring is further exacerbated due to her ineptitude to live independently and sufficiently as a result of her heart condition. This is candidly explained as the reader’s learn of Mrs.Hopewell’s visit to the doctor: “The doctors had told Mrs. Hopewell that with the best of care, Joy might see forty-five. She had a weak heart. Joy had made it plain that if it had not been for this condition, she would be far from these red hills and good country people. She would be in a university lecturing to people who knew what she was talking about” (O’Connor 5). Hulga’s heart condition further strips her of her sense of efficacy, due to the fact that she values her decorum of having a doctoral degree but isn’t utilizing to the best potential. But more importantly, her nearsighted life expectancy (already being 32 years old, living approximately 71% of her life based on the doctor’s expectancy) likely contributes to her deep seeded unfulfillment. Hulga’s dissatisfaction lastly shows itself on a social level, wherein she carries out little social interaction and has intense diasan for the way in which her Mother and Ms.Freeman communicate on a daily basis, which constantly aggravates her. An example of this plays out during one dinner wherein Hulga nastily reacts to her mother’s frequent statements about her perspective in life: “She would make these statements, usually at the table…and…Joy, whose constant outrage had obliterated every expression from her face, would stare just a little to the side of her, her eyes icy blue…an act of will”(O’Connor 3). Between these three forces, Hulga’s reacts to most situations by isolating herself in the home gratifying herself through her intellect.

Hulga’s downfall most nearly can be seen as a dual process; one is from her inflated sense of intelligence and the other from attempting to use her tainted knowledge to manipulate other and Mr. Manley, which ends up backfiring. Hulga prides herself on her vast knowledge of philosophy and often uses this knowledge as a tool demean other people. She even goes a far to do this to her own mother, wherein after she tells her daughter during a dinner that a “smile couldn’t hurt anyone” (O’Connor 5), Hulga yells, “Woman! Do you ever look inside? Do you ever look inside and see what you are not? God!…“Malebranche was right: we are not our own light. We are not our own light!” (O’Connor 5). Hulga’s heavy backlash is certainly overkill, to the point where her mother was in shock never understood why Hugla outbursts in that manner to being with, showing how Hulga uses her depth in her studies to condescend her family members. This becomes the main showcase to Hulga’s cyclical viewpoint, as she becomes acutely bereaved at the conversations and thoughts of other people. Her overarching mindset is also most shown where Ms. Hopewell opens an underlined portion of a books her daughter reads about science:“Science, on the other hand, has to assert its soberness and seriousness afresh and declare that it is concerned solely with what-is. Nothing – …science wishes to know nothing of nothing. Such is after all the strictly scientific approach to Nothing”(O’Connor 6). Hulga assumes a mindset of no morality, finding that her comprehension is strictly factual and logical, with no tinges of strings of mundane emotions. However, Hulga very rarely acts on her sentiments that she spends much time studying about, for the fact that her impending downfall for manipulating Mr. Manley and expressing anger to her family all involves emotional components, showing how her obsession of philosophy and logics reflects her ignorance and naivete.

All these factors come to a head when Hulga intends to obstruct Mr.Manley’s morality and his understanding of it, presumably to her at the time. This shown when the pair travel to a barn loft in the woods for romantic interests (on Mr. Manley’s end), but Hulga’s true intentions are revealed: “During the night she had imagined that she seduced him. She imagined that the two of them walked on the place until they came to the storage barn beyond the two back fields and there, she imagined…that she very easily seduced him. True genius can get an idea across even to an inferior mind. She imagined that she took his remorse in hand and changed it into a deeper understanding of life” (O’Connor 11). This intention from Hulga is certainly a power trip for her; she desires to systematically peel back at what she thought at the time was Mr. Manley’s bible beliefs and his seemingly moral driven, kind exterior that he displayed to Hulga and her family. She even tells him at several points during the trip directly that she is an atheist in an intention to get him to weaken his belief system. Her pride goes on full display however, to Mr. Manley when she asserts “In my economy…I’m saved and you are damned but I told you I didn’t believe in God” (O’Connor 13). Unfortunately, all of these attempts from Hulga come to a screeching halt when the tables are turned on her by Mr. Manley. In Ultimatum, he expresses his love to her and while the pair engage in lengthy amounts of time kissing, he takes hold of Hulga’s fake leg and attempts to sexually advance on her. He ultimately fails, but still gets away with her fake leg. He not only leaves Hulga in a state of vulnerability, but elicites her to experience fear and emotional reactions from his deception, which in turn works to debunk her previously understood intellect that there is not emotion/morality components to being intelligent. To add insult to injury to Hulga before he leaves, yelling, “you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!” (O’Connor 16).

It seems with the case of Hulga that her greatest downfall overall is her hubris. She becomes engulfed within her own ego and self-confidence from her perceived esteem to the end that she blindly ignored the intentions of other people. At the same time, it is a large display of Hulga’s naivete for the fact that for having such a visceral response to her betrayal means that in essence, her intellectual construct is destroyed, because she does see a wrongness with what happened to her. As aforementioned in the Bible scripture, Hulga’s pride caused her personal destruction, and in an aim to dismantle the people in her home and Mr.Manley, she dismantles herself.

Works Cited

  • O’Connor, Flannery. Good Country People. Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1955. Print

Cite this page

Good Country People by Flannery O'Connor. (2021, Sep 15). Retrieved from

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