“Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor
Like many other stories addressing the complexity of human nature, Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” introduces a complex moral issue under the guise of a seemingly simple ethical problem. By showing how evil can assume the disguise of morality and, thus, affect unsuspecting people, O’Connor proves that both experiences, when clouted by blind faith, and skepticism, when combined with the lack of knowledge, may open the door to evil and be misled by it.
With her unique sense of irony and the ability to convey multilayered ideas in a short story, O’Connor creates very believable characters that might seem like the exact opposite of each other yet represent a very similar quality. Specifically, both Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter, Joy – or, as she prefers to call herself to spite her mother, Hulga – represent the quintessence of naiveté. Although Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga perceive Manley Pointer from different perspectives, the former considering him a noble and decent man, and the latter being condescending to his ostensibly old-fashioned nature, both make a crucial misjudgment in their assessment of him. For instance, in his conversation with Mrs. Hopewell, “he was so sincere, so genuine and earnest that Mrs. Hopewell would not for the world have smiled” (O’Connor, 1955, p. 8). In turn, Hulga, who perceives him as boring at first, is also soon attracted to him, mostly due to the need to rebel against her mother’s genuine yet suffocating care: “During the night she had imagined that she seduced him” (O’Connor, 1955, p. 8). Thus, O’Connor demonstrates the hypocritical and ever-changing nature of evil, which adjusts quickly to any perspective due to the absence of a moral compass and the hypocritical pliability of its ethics – or, to be specific, the lack thereof.
Therefore, “Good Country People” proves the necessity to combine skepticism and experience in order to be able to recognize evil and be ready to confront it. Although some of the evident arguments that O’Connor strives to promote, such as the importance of the religious perspective as the basis for morality and ethics, are debatable, the general idea of combining knowledge and insight to make sensible decisions is an understandable sentiment. It would have been easy to represent either Mrs. Hopewell or Hulga as ultimately right in their stance; however, O’Connor chooses a different path instead. Outlining the problematic nature of both extremes, she emphasizes the need to combine experience and vision in order to produce a measured and reasonable response. While Hulga eventually avoids making the ultimate mistake of accepting Pointer’s advances, she still goes far enough for him to steal her wooden leg: “She saw him grab the leg” (O’Connor, 1955, p. 17). Similarly, Mrs. Hopewell is none the wiser about Pointer’s malicious intentions regarding her daughter. As a result, both suffer eventually yet learn a crucial lesson: “Mrs. Hopewell had decided, she would not only let her be into everything, she would see to it that she was into everything” (O’Connor, 1955, p. 3). Thus, both sides are shown as flawed and in need of a major change.
O’Connor’s “Good Country People” demonstrates that neither experience nor skepticism can counter the power of evil, which appeals to the weaknesses associated with both of these qualities. Instead, the author warns the reader about the need to listen both to the experience and to one’s acritical thinking. Introducing irony as the main tool for conveying her message, O’Connor emphasizes the complex nature of evil and delineates the necessity to listen to both sides of the argument. Therefore, even nowadays, “Good Country People” remains an important reminder of how evil can lurk under the guise of virtue.
O’Connor, F. (1955). Good country people.