Good Country People
Hulga accentuates her wooden leg by making unnecessary noises when she walks and plays up the deformity by wearing ugly clothing. When she surrenders her leg, it could be said that she surrenders her entire self. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
In the story both Hulga and the Bible salesman wear masks over their true natures. However, their final confrontation reveals the salesman to be a cunning atheist while Hulga is exposed as a girl who's naivete sharply contradicts the nihilistic cliches she vents. Describe the contradictions between what appears to be on the surface and what actually is. consistent pattern runs through the experiences of O'Connor's intellectuals; circumstances, often so unlikely as to risk comparison to the deus ex machina, rob these men and women of the idols that each has constructed in an attempt to escape the recognition of what O'Connor would consider the true Reality behind apparent reality.  Joy-Hulga fashions her escape through a carefully-cultivated nihilism ultimately as false as the wooden leg which suggests it so powerfully. Sheppard and Calhoun both create a god from the sort of therapeutic ideal of the perfectible, ever-developing self now identified with two of America's great growth industries: talk shows and self-help books. Each of these characters must demolish the self-made idol and face transcendent Reality, a necessary trauma in O'Connor's soteriological drama. Oddly enough, it might seem, O'Connor described Joy-Hulga as a "heroine," the character most like herself. Joy, who at twenty-one changes her name to Hulga, "with all the pejorative connotations (hull = hulk = huge = ugly)" has come to a firm belief in Nothing through her study of Heidegger and Malebranche (Grimshaw 51). The choice of name reveals much; it is her defense against the sterility of her life. When Mrs. Freeman unexpectedly began to call Joy by her chosen name, the latter would scowl and redden as if her privacy had been intruded upon. She considered the name her personal affair. She had arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius of its fitness had struck her. She had a vision of the name working like the ugly sweating Vulcan who stayed in the furnace and to whom, presumably, the goddess had to come when called. She saw it as her highest creative act. (CS 275).
Why did Hulga react so strongly to Mrs. Freeman's use of her name? To her, "it was as if Mrs. Freeman's beady steel-pointed eyes had penetrated far enough behind her face to reach some secret fact" (CS 275). Mrs. Freeman, we know, is intrigued by all accounts of disease and deformity, and this secret fact which she has discovered is deeper than a mere wooden leg: "Mrs. Freeman is fascinated by the leg, but it is a 'secret infection,' spiritual and psychological in nature, of which the leg provides intimations" (Browning 46). O'Connor herself scorned talk of symbolism,  but the significance of Hulga's leg is clear. It is her deformity that has shaped Hulga's identity; she "has achieved blindness by an act of will and means to keep it" (CS 273).
Her blindness, of course, is her nihilism, which, quite significantly, is sanctioned by her Ph.D. ("I have a number of degrees" (CS 288).) The removal of this false god is Manley Pointer's symbolic defloration, the theft of her leg accompanied by his remark that she "ain't so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born" (CS 291). In its place, Pointer leaves her with the knowledge that, despite her carefully constructed defense against the truth, there is, in O'Connor's words, "a wooden part of her soul that corresponds to her wooden leg" ("Writing Short Stories" MM 99).
In Good Country People, the center stage is taken by a wooden-legged philosopher named Hulga who claims to be an atheist and the resident expert on nothingness.Like Julian in Everything That Rises Must Converge, she is the personification of irritability. But she is also an expert in meanness towards her mother, Mrs Hopewell, and the tenant's wife Mrs Freeman. The cause of her meanness seems to be the loss of a leg in a hunting accident when she was a young girl.The reader wonders, however, if perhaps this spiteful temperament is nothing more than a persona she has created as a defense mechanism for her own wounded pride.It seems that she has attempted to invent a new self by changing her name to Hulga, a name that suggests a cumbersome piece of armor or battleship--the opposite of Joy, her given name. The attentive reader, however, soon sees that O'Connor's method is to use irony in a comic(and later in a grotesque) way to suggest the falsity of Hulga's belief that her nihilistic, joyless self is her true self. At the same time, most readers will be hard pressed to leave psychology out of the equation.The anger behind Hulga's fierce statement to others that she must be accepted "Like I am" suggests that she hasn't done so herself.
Hulga's claim to be a nihilist turns out to be little more than a postulate after she meets the sleazy Bible salesman Manly Pointer. After he unmasks her plot to seduce him in the hayloft and runs off with her wooden leg (the support of her belief system), she quickly loses her faith in her creed of nothingness and relativism. Mr Pointer's more genuine brand of nihilism "points" her in the direction of the very traditional moral values she has always disavowed during family conversations. With the painful realization that she can no longer classify Manly Pointer as good country people(a stereotype she previously mocked),she assumes the existence of objective moral standards.This is no way to treat a defenceless woman--philosopher or not. The final irony in the story is the result of her naive participation in this grotesque unhinging of her leg. O'Connor suggests that now that the double identity of Hulga/Joy has been resolved into a single self,she can see things in a clearer light. Now that she has been been violated by a philosopher who lives his ideas, it is impossible for her to continue to theorize about human behavior in the light of a belief in relativism. The support holding up this faith in nothingness has been knocked out from beneath her.Now she may be forced to support herself with something more than a hallow creed.
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