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Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” exemplifies characters’ defects ironic to the title. Rather than highlighting goodness, O’Connor focuses on the bad traits the characters carry. An ideology of Christianity is that one must have a healthy mind, body, and soul, otherwise one may be lacking in faith. This is true of Manley Pointer and Joy-Hulga. Hulga’s encounter with Manley Pointer illustrates that deformities, both real and fabricated, are indicative of a destitute of religion. Joy-Hulga’s prosthetic leg is symbolic of her detestable personality. Her life revolves around her defect, prompting her to have a mean disposition toward everyone. Even her mom says so, though she excuses her poor attitude, “Because of the leg (which had been shot off in a hunting accident when Joy was ten)”. This affects her life even enough to cause her to change her name, from Joy, a beautiful name to fit her personality as a child, to Hulga, “The ugliest name in any language”.
Joy-Hulga’s life is unfulfilled in the eyes of her mother, despite her getting a Ph.D. in philosophy, which did not make Mrs. Hopewell, her mother, proud. Due to the nature of the accident, Joy “had never danced a step or had any normal good times”. In spite of this, she worked hard to obtain a Ph.D. in hopes of making her life meaningful. As described by O’Connor in a consequent essay on her work, “By the time the Bible salesman comes along, the leg has accumulated so much meaning…He has taken away part of the girl’s personality”. The remotion of the prosthetic leg, while an abatement of Hulga’s personality, additionally made her vulnerable. Hulga is humiliated in order to recognize her state of sin, “thus open to grace and redemption”. In other words, she is an atheist given the opportunity to become a believer of god. Initially, Hulga is a character who “Attempts to live autonomously, to define herself and her values”. As the story progresses, her bad attitude is her most defining characteristic, specifically as a result of her leg, as previously noted. Manley Pointer makes Hulga feel comfortable enough by hiding his wickedness, so he can influence her later. The intent of the manipulation is to make her comfortable enough to remove her prosthetic, then take advantage of her. “Without the leg she felt entirely dependent on him.” All of his supplies were prepared in advance, hidden in his bibles. “The cover was hollow and contained a pocket flask of whiskey, a pack of cards, and a small blue box with printing on it”.
In the story, characters are written as lacking spirituality, regardless of how tangible a proposed defect is. The concept of a character lacking spirituality as evident by a defect is an idea displaced throughout the story in various ways. One such example is with Hulga. She has a physical defect and lacks spirituality as well. She believes in science and physical rather than mystical or mythical. Ultimately, despite her attitude, Hulga is not written as a bad person. As mentioned by O’Connor in her essays about her work, “Some of the protagonists in these stories look perfectly normal; others have a physical deformity which is symbolic of a spiritual one”. An example of such is the Bible salesperson. He mentions that he has a heart defect, but later reveals that he is lying about the heart defect. Moreover, he admits to not being religious as well as lying about his name. Specifically, he tell Hulga, “Pointer ain’t really my name… you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!”. While the heart defect is false, he is still written as a bad person lacking spirituality. Flannery O’Connor’s work is typically full of characters with deficits and deformities. These deficits and deformities provide the basis of characterization for these characters. In some instances, these deformities aren’t physical, but the symbolism still applies.
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