The author of Flannery OConnor’s novel, Good Country People, uses the concept of Christianity to represent different purposes in her work. Furthermore, this theme helps to establish characters by exposing their real motivations in relation to other characters (Whitt and Earley 237). The minor characters in the story develop the main characters, and the reader can understand the author’s goal and the meaning she wants to convey by looking at their attitudes toward religion. Christianity is well-represented in a variety of ways.
To begin, Hulga, an educated young woman whose education and understanding had led her to become an atheist, is used to represent the theme of Christianity. She didn’t believe in God’s presence. Hulga is constantly skeptical about life and is searching for acceptance. At some point, she asks her mother to appreciate her unconditionally. She doesnt seem to be in good terms with her mother and they regularly disagree on many issues. It is ironical that her initial name was Joy until she legally changed to Hulga, yet she was often unhappy about life. Besides being socially handicapped, she was also physically handicapped and had a wooden leg. Hulga lost her leg at a tender age when she got shot during a hunting exercise. Moreover, she had a heart problem and according to the doctor, she had little time to live. These issues made her nihilistic about life. Despite the high academic achievements, she was still unhappy about her life. Mrs. Hopewell saw her daughter as an overgrown child. She was regularly critical about her daughters believes. She could not even mention that her daughter had pursued a Ph.D. in Philosophy since she was not proud of it. She actually thought that her daughter’s education had made her become an atheist (O’Connor 184).
Secondly, Mrs. Hopewell, Hulgas mother, is a character who portrays the theme of Christianity. From her conversation with Manley Pointer, the Bible salesman, the author is able to show that she was a Christian. She had a Bible in her house though she always kept it out of Hulgas sight. Her daughter had forbidden her from keeping the Bible in the leaving room. Mrs. Hopewell likes and praises the good people of the country and apparently, that is the reason why she hired Mrs. Freeman. She trusts countryside people and despite their shortcomings, she overlooks various aspects regarding them since she believes they are good people. For instance, despite Mrs. Freeman being nosy, Mrs. Hopewell still hires her. She says that the best way to tame her is by keeping her in the know-how of everything that happens. This shows her ignorance and misguided trust in the country people which makes her overlook the real character of Mrs. Freeman. As a result, she likes and praises Mrs. Freemans daughters more than her own daughter. This perception makes her unable to distinguish the real character of Manley Pointer, the Bible salesman, when he stops by to sell her a Bible. After saying that he is from the countryside, Mrs Hopewell states that this world would be a better place if it had more people from the countryside. She naively says that the country people are the salt of the earth. For this reason, she invites this young man to take dinner with her family, an action that does not please Hulga. Mrs. Hopewell is ignorant of the fact that the country people are not as good as she thinks. As revealed later in the story, Manley Pointer was a swindler and a thief who was just after gaining or stealing from his victims (OConnor 186). It is ironical that despite the obvious lack of moral character in Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. Hopewell still gave her a job at her house.
Thirdly, Manley Pointer humanizes Hulga’s conviction about her perceptions of life. His name infers that he intends to put something across and impart an important lesson to her. As indicated in the passage delineated in blue, in the story, Manley Pointer appears in a blue suit. His blue suit is an important component to indicate imagery in the story. It portrays his image of skepticism that Hulga shows and forewarns his brutal engagements. His suitcase seems to jerk him into the house. His true principle, represented by the inner suitcase, controls him. The sickening inner contents are later exposed inside a Bible, camouflaged as truth. The contents are disreputable sensual tools that, hidden in something holy, represent morally nauseating thoughts contained in viewpoint that seem rational and dependable. His initial approach, when he goes to Mrs. Hopewells house, is cunning and calculated. The fact that he is one of the country people gives him an advantage to creating rapport with Mrs. Hopewell. He hypocritically finds his way in Mrs. Hopewells heart and he succeeds in doing so when he is invited for supper. Manley uses the religion in a cunning way and for his own benefits. The author is able to clearly show how religion has been used for personal gains. After dinner, Manley overstays his welcome but when he decides to leave, he finds Hulga waiting for him at the gate. They get into a conversation and he invites Hulga for a picnic the following day. Mrs. Freeman watches at a distance. That night Hulga did not sleep. The following day, Manley waits for her at a bush near her gate. They take a walk and come to a barn where they sit. They kiss and Manley tells her how much he loves her. He makes her confess that she loves him too. After confessing her loves to him, he tells her to prove that by showing him where the wooden leg joins to the body. Though hesitant at first, she lets go her guard and shows him. At this point, she loses the power she had over her life and becomes vulnerable. She felt dependent on Manley Pointer. For the first time, she felt appreciated. The fact that Manley had told her that she was unique and appreciated her was enough to make her vulnerable. In her entire life, she had never felt such important and appreciated. However, the true character of Manley Pointer comes out the moment he opens his suitcase and inside, he removes a bible that had a hollow part where he had placed a bottle of whiskey. He also makes sexual advances towards Hulga, which she refuses. This wakes Hulga from her mental stupor. She realizes that the man she was dealing with was not a believer and a Christian as he had made her initially believe. She asks him, Youre a Christian! Youre a fine Christian! Youre just like them all say one thing and do another. Youre a perfect Christian, youre (O’Connor 174). This illustration clearly shows that Hulga had a past experience with Christians who had hypocritically influenced her life and probably, that was the reason why she had become an atheist. Her pleading were ignored, and Manley Pointer became angry with her. She had not only resisted his sexual advances but also brought up the issue of Christianity and questioned his actions as a Christian. He responds and says, I hope you dont think, that I believe in that crap! I may sell Bibles but I know which end is up and I wasnt born yesterday and I know where Im going! (O’Connor and Flannery, Pp.185). This clearly shows that Manley Pointer did not believe in God at all. He was using Christianity as a tool to exploit and do harm to people. He refers to salvation as crap and feels much wise. He can be able to tell what is good from the bad. He tells Hulga that he is smarter and that he had outwitted her in this You aint so smart. I have believed in nothing ever since I was born! (OConnor and Flannery 193). From this incidence, the author makes it clear that being skepticism can destroy a person. Hulga had been skeptic all her life and did not believe in God. When Manley came into her life, his hidden skepticism made her feel a sense of acceptance and appreciation, unaware that it was the beginning of her downfall. She lets go her guard and at that point, she lets a swindler into her life that is after her destruction. The author is, therefore, able to use Christianity to bring out the true character of Manley Pointer and develop the main character, Hulga.
Fourthly, through the character of Manley pointer, those who purport to be Christians are portrayed as being materialistic. Manley is able to hide behind the religion and through the false pretense of being a Christian; he is able to increase his Bible sales. His materialistic character is also seen when he deceives Hulga to steal the wooden leg from her. Through this character, the author is able to successfully criticize this wrong Christian behavior that is practiced by some Christians. On a different point of view, the author to criticize the Christian behavior where Christians follow the religion blindly without questioning also uses Mrs. Hopewell. She blindly and ignorantly believes that the country people are good, a claim that is not entirely true. Christianity should be based on reason and an individual needs to get to a point where he/she questions what he/she believes in.
Lastly, the author to develop the theme of Christianity in the story also uses Mrs. Freeman and her daughters. They are described as the good people of the country. In this sense, Mrs. Hopewell tends to like Mrs. Freemans daughters more than her own ignoring their flaws. For instance, the author reveals that Carramae was only fifteen years old, married, and pregnant while Glynese, eighteen years old, is sexually immoral and with many admirers. The author also reveals that Mrs. Freeman had faults of her own. She was nosy and as the author puts it, had a special fondness for the details of secret infections, hidden deformities, assaults upon children. Of diseases, she preferred the lingering or incurable (OConnor and Flannery 184). Mrs. Hopewell ignorantly overlooks these flaws and hires her. She still considers individuals from the countryside as the good people of the country. Ironically, she refers to them as the salt of the world, which is a biblical allusion of a metaphor that describes a true Christian.
In conclusion, the author, Flannery OConnor has successfully brought out the functions of Christianity in this story. Though critical about some Christian behavior, she successfully portrays that failure to believe in God leads one to a downfall. She illustrates this through the character of Hulga. In addition, through the character of Mrs. Hopewell, she points out the blind belief in a perfect world, evil, and good. Through the character of Manley Pointer, the author is able to point out the decay that is slowly destroying Christian morals.
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OConnor, Flannery. “Good Country People.” Academic Medicine, vol. 91, no. 3, 2016, p. 352.
O’Connor, Flannery. Conversations with Flannery O’Connor. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1987.
Westphal, Merold. “Blind Spots: Christianity and Postmodern Philosophy.” The Christianity Century, 2003, www.christiancentury.org/article/2003-06/blind-spots/.
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