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Rachel Ingber once said, “A name represents identity, a deep feeling and holds tremendous significance to its owner.” Different names have different meanings and people generally reflect their name’s meaning through their behaviors and personality traits. Writers use this to their advantage and create characters whose names reflect how they act and what they do. For example, in Flannery O’ Connor’s short fiction story, “Good Country People,” O’Connor’s characters’ names contribute to their part in the story and characterize their personalities and behaviors.
These characters—Mrs. Hopewell, Mrs. Freeman, Joy/Hulga, and Manley Pointer—also help to establish the theme of identity in O’Connor’s story. Mrs. Freeman is the first character mentioned in O’Connor’s story. She runs Mrs. Hopewell’s ranch and has two daughters, Glynese and Carramae. Every day at meal times she shows up at Mrs. Hopewell’s home to talk about similar topics each time she visits. The definition of the word “free,” as used is Mrs.
Freeman’s name, means “under no one’s control,” or “acts and does as they wish.” Mrs. Hopewell aided in seeing that Mrs. Freeman was under no one’s control, “Since she was the type who had to be into everything, then, Mrs. Hopewell had decided, she would not only let her be into everything, she would see to it that she was into everything—she would give her the responsibility of everything, she would put her in charge” (O’Connor 453).
Mrs. Freeman’s position of control over Mrs.
Hopewell shows that she likes to have dominance over others and their affairs. She also does what she wants and act as she wants, despite the annoyance of others, “However, Mrs. Freeman’s relish for using the name only irritated her. It was as if Mrs. Freeman’s beady steel-pointed eyes had penetrated far enough behind her face to reach some secret fact” (O’Connor 455). Mrs. Freeman uses the name Hulga, the name Joy prefers, as a way to understand her and get Joy to open up to her, even though Joy doesn’t like her to use it. Mrs. Freeman’s personality, which correlates directly to the definition of the word “free,” is evident through her actions at the Hopewell’s. Mrs. Hopewell is the positive, more upbeat character in O’Connor’s story. She is Joy’s mother and hires the Freemans to run her farm. She uses many cliches and her opinions are simple-minded, if not already repeated by someone else. The name “hope,” as it relates to Mrs. Hopewell’s name, means a “feeling of expectation or trust,” or a “desire for something to happen.” Mrs. Hopewell always sees the good side of people and situations, even if there are flaws, “All of this was very trying on Mrs. Hopewell but she was a woman of great patience. She realized that nothing is perfect and that in the Freemans she had good country people and that if, in this day and age, you get good country people, you had better hang onto them” (O’Connor 453-454).
Mrs. Hopewell believed people were categorized into two groups: good country people or trashy people. Her ability to trust those she believed were good country people was flawed by her thinking Manley was just a simple, country boy trying to sell Bibles. Mrs. Hopewell also desires Joy/Hulga to either find a man or do something with her life. Mrs. Hopewell’s character is reflective of the definition of the word “hope” and is clearly depicted through her actions and words. Joy or Hulga is a very complicated character of O’Connor’s story. She is thirty-two years old and still lives with her mother, even though she has a PhD in philosophy. Joy has an artificial leg because of a hunting accident when she was ten. She changed her name to Hulga, despite her mother’s wishes, because it sounded ugly and fit her personality. The name “Joy” means rejoicing, which Joy/Hulga did anything but, while the name “Hulga” implies someone who is analytical, stuck to routines, and needs proof to be proven wrong. Hulga had the same thing for breakfast every morning, listened to the same conversation between her mother and Mrs. Freeman, and sat in a chair reading philosophy books all day. She analyzed Manley and how she could manipulate because she figured him to be simple-minded. Hulga was always out to prove someone wrong with her smarts, Manley Pointer is the only male character in O’Connor’s story (Mr. Freeman was only mentioned shortly).
He is posed as a Bible salesmen that comes to the Hopewell’s home. Manley is labeled as a “good country person” by Mrs. Hopewell. Hulga agrees to a picnic with Manley the next day, but finds out that Manley only wanted to steal her artificial leg and leave her stranded in a barn loft. The definition “pointer,” referring to Manley’s last name, is “a hint as to what might happen in the future” or “one that points out.” Hulga claims to believe in nothing and soon finds out that Manley doesn’t either, “The boy’s mouth was set angrily. ‘I hope you don’t think,’ he said in a lofty indignant tone, ‘that I believe in all 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!’” (O’Connor 467). As Manley “points” out to Hulga, he has fooled her into thinking that he was a Christian and a good country person. He continually hints about Hulga’s leg until he finally tricks her into taking it off for him. Even though Manley Pointer’s name was fake, it characterized how he behaved and what type of person he really was.
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