The 1955 short story, “Good Country People”, written by Flannery O’Connor, delves primarily on the human tendency to take advantage of the weaknesses of others, and the perception that everything urban is more superior than its country-style counterpart. This has been achieved through the use of several elements of fiction, obvious of which are the use of symbolism and irony. As such, in the said story urbanism is represented in the characters of Mrs. Hopewell and he children, while the supposed lower or innocent class of country living is seen in Mrs. Freeman and Manley Pointer. More so, there are also things in the story that represent or symbolize deeper meanings, such the bible which seems to symbolize goodness in man, Hulga’s prosthetic leg which represent an inherent flaw, and even the symbolic representations of the characters themselves. In this regard, it can be said that O’Connor’s story uses symbolism and irony to convey its themes of the natural tendency of humans towards evil and of the erroneous belief that rural societies are lower in intellect and shrewdness when compared with the urban societies.
This paper’s argument that symbolism and irony are the main means that O’Connor employs to advance her message is evident in the short story. Firstly, the use of the holy bible as the tool by which Mr. Pointer had used to manipulate Hulga and her entire family strongly suggests the failure of religion to make human beings better people. Also, it must be noted that the very title of O’Connor’s short story connotes an irony, especially when considering that it eventually proved that country people are more deceitful and cunning than their urban counterparts. It is in this respect that the significance of the use of symbolism and irony in O’Connor’s short story will be discussed in more extensive terms.
Symbolism in the Story
As previously stated, the main symbolism used in O’Connor’s short story is the holy bible. This symbolizes the seeming failure of religious institutions to instill morality in mankind, who still continues with their sinful ways despite of the knowledge of good and the consequences of evil. Hence, when Mr. Pointer says that “the word of God ought to be in every room in the house besides in his heart” (O’Connor 1), and saying this line with the intent of fooling Mrs. Hopewell and her children, Pointer exemplifies humanity’s seeming lack of care for the messages contained in the bible. More so, it must be remembered that towards the end of the story, the bible carried by Pointer turns out to be a hollow box containing whisky, pornographic cards and a few condoms. Accordingly, it must also be noted that these things are symbolisms for Pointer’s true character and lifestyle. As such, the flask of whisky symbolizes his alcoholic nature, the lewd cards his addiction towards women, and the condoms for his low regard for the sexual act. These add to the contention that the bible is deliberately used in the story not to connote mankind’s holiness, but their penchant to do evil voluntarily and even harm fellow human beings.
The significance of using symbolism to describe the characters in a story is implied by the author, Michael Meyer, in his book. This is especially significant in the manner that country people, being seemingly inferior than urban their counterparts, are presented in a straightforward manner, such as making money but not sufficient enough, falling in love or struggling to succeed but always in a incorrect way (Gilb 531). In the same manner, Diane Tolomeo, in her journal article explains that O’Connor’s technique of shocking her readers by presenting deaths of important characters, and that “some of her best shocks are created by an assault on the psyche” (Tolomeo 335). Such is the case when Pointer who is presented in a virginal manner throughout the story, suddenly turns out to be a con artist and one who does not believe in God. Pointer himself reveals his true character when he affirms “I may sell Bibles but I know which end is upand I know where I’m going” (O’Connor 1). Hence, by offering a shocking revelation to her readers, O’Connor has effectively used the bible as a symbolism for mankind’s evil nature.
In the same manner, Hulga’s prosthetic leg is also used as a symbolism for mankind’s innate weakness. This is especially true when considering that she is a well-educated person with a PhD degree in Philosophy, yet still is restricted by her mutilated leg. Hence, in a way, this impairment makes her in the same level as Mr. Pointer despite of his lack of education and being a country person, so much so that she felt helpless and inutile when Pointer ran away to steal her prosthetic leg. This innate human weakness can be observed when O’Connor explains Hulga’s predicament in the lines, “Without her leg she felt entirely dependent on him. Her brain seemed to have stopped thinking altogether” (O’Connor 1). As such, this suggests that Hulga’s advantage over Pointer brought about by her education is reduced because of her lack of leg, thus implying a tenet that her prosthetic leg is indeed a symbolism for innate human weakness.
Perhaps it can be said that the reason for O’Connor’s use of religious themes to convey her message is due to her personal religious beliefs. This can be confirmed in one of her interviews, wherein O’Connor explains her writing technique when she states, “Today’s audience is one in which religious feeling has become, if not atrophied, at least vaporous and sentimental” (Desmond 143). Hence, this may explain why other than using symbolism, O’Connor finds it useful to embed ironies in her stories.
Using Irony to Convey a Message
The very title of O’Connor’s story is already replete with aspects of irony. This is true because the use of ‘good’ to portray the characteristics of country people, when considering that Pointer is an evil person, implies a certain level of sarcasm and even of mockery. Hence, upon deeper reflection the reader is left with no choice but to conclude that at least for this particular story, country people are depicted as less ethical than those from urban areas. Moreover, the fact that Pointer was able to run off with both Hulga’s artificial leg and intellectual naiveté (Tolomeo 335) tend to make the readers understand that country people are more cunning or devious than their urban counterpart, thus implying that the former are indeed not ‘good’ people, as implied by the title of O’Connor’s short story.
Another irony that is observable in the story is the bible. Other than merely being used as a symbolism, O’Connor also utilizes the bible as a measuring stick to enlighten the readers on the evilness of Mr. Pointer. More so, the fact that Pointer has hid the whiskey, the condoms and the lewd cards inside the bible casing enhances the idea of his being an atheist. This is because he does not seem to care of the gravity of the offense in using the bible to cover-up his sinful ways, and in the process fool others into thinking that he is God-fearing. Hence, by using the bible as an irony, O’Connor effectively conveys a message that the use of ‘good’ to describe country people is only a form of paradox to maximize the evil nature of Pointer.
` Lastly, O’Connor also uses irony to engage and correlate his story with the existing social hierarchy. This can be evidenced in the manner that the characters that are financially more superior are portrayed as more naïve than those who are supposedly more simple-minded, such as Mrs. Freeman and Mr. Pointer. In this regard, it is how Mrs. Freeman sees herself as more astute or wiser than her master, Mrs. Hopewell, as seen in the former’s introspection, “I know it. I’ve always been quick. It’s some that are quicker than others” (O’Connor 1). Here, it must also be noted that the higher financial and social standing of Mrs. Hopewell has not been sufficient to assure that she is more superior than Mrs. Freeman, which in itself is an irony that the story uses to maximize the delivery of its themes to the readers.
O’Connor’s “Good Country People” forwards an idea that it is common for people to foster evil thoughts and intent, regardless of their social background. As such, it would be wrong to assume that country people do not acquire the necessary level of shrewdness to deceive even those who are highly educated. In this regard, O’Connor uses several elements of fiction to convey such ideas, most notable of which are her use of irony and symbolism. Accordingly, it may be true that the said author’s use of the bible to maximize the story’s themes about humanity’s evil is a brilliant technique, especially when considering the general tendency of people to relate divinity or pureness with popular religious scriptures. Hence, it can be said that while O’Connor’s story is indeed fictional, it nevertheless accurately portrays the evilness nature of the human psyche.
Desmond, John. “Flannery O’Connor and the Symbol.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 5.2 (2002): 143-156. Print.
Gilb, Dagoberto. “A Study of Dagoberto Gilb: The Author Reflects on Three Stories.” Michael Meyer. Ed. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing. 10th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.
O’Connor, Flannery. Good Country People. Genius.com, 1955. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
Tolomeo, Diane. “Home to Her True Country: The Final Trilogy of Flannery O’Connor.” Studies in Short Fiction 15.1 (1980): 335-357. Print.
Annotated Bibliography of O’Connor’s “Good Country People”
O’Connor, Flannery. Good Country People. Genius.com, 1955. Web.
O’Connor offers her readers a real-life probable scenario wherein country people have fared better with those coming from urban setting, in terms of practical benefits attainable in interpersonal relationships. This is through the family of the Hopewell’s, their servant, Mrs. Freeman, and the fake bible salesman, Mr. Pointer. The events included in O’Connor’s short story reveal Hulga as a very vulnerable person despite of her doctorate degree in philosophy, and Mr. Pointer as a sly individual minus the pretense of being God-fearing.
The events that unfold in O’Connor’s story are highly useful in understanding what happens in the real world, whereby there are many who would deliberately deceive others just to attain their true goals. Moreover, O’Connor’s short story exemplifies the tendency of other people to mock even the name of God, in order to take advantage of other people’s weaknesses, such as the case of Hulga and Pointer.
Hi there. In this annotated bibliography I used the 2-paragraph type. The first paragraph is a summary of the short story, and the second is a self-reflection of the story’s significance with regards to your course, lesson, or subject.