Good Country People

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The Bible Salesman, who introduces himself as Manley Pointer, appears at first to be a devout and humble Christian selling bibles out of a large valise. He is extremely good at figuring out other characters’ viewpoints, insecurities, and false senses of superiority and exploiting them to get what he wants. He plays into Mrs. Hopewell’s idea of “good country people” to get her to sit with him for two hours as he tries to sell bibles to her. He pretends to have a heart condition, which catches Hulga’s attention, and then allows Hulga to indulge in her own sense of superiority to let her think that she is seducing him. He tells a story, likely fabricated, that he lost his father when he was ten years old. Even further, he senses Hulga’s hidden (even from herself) desire to allow herself to be vulnerable to and give herself to another in order to steal her artificial leg. Ultimately, before abandoning Hulga in the loft, he reveals that he has tricked many similar women in this way, and that his own viewpoint of the world is even more hard-bitten than Hulga’s atheism. He describes himself as a nihilist, saying “I been believing in nothing since I was born.” He then tells her that Manley Pointer is not his real name and leaves. We do not know much for certain about the Bible Salesman’s life, as it is impossible to separate fact from fiction in what he says, but it is clear that he is a liar who takes pride in his nihilism, moving through the country taking advantage of people’s trust.

The Bible Salesman Quotes in Good Country People

The Good Country People quotes below are all either spoken by The Bible Salesman or refer to The Bible Salesman . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of Good Country People published in 1971.
Good Country People Quotes

Mrs. Hopewell could not say, “My daughter is an atheist and won’t let me keep the Bible in the parlor.” She said, stiffening slightly, “I keep my bible by my bedside.” This was not the truth. It was in the attic somewhere.

Related Characters: Mrs. Hopewell (speaker), Hulga Hopewell (Joy), The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another example of Mrs. Hopewell's lack of self-awareness. She is quite concerned with appearing to be a good Christian (her embarrassment at not having a Bible in the parlor shows this), but the fact that her Bible is somewhere in the attic reveals that she is probably not a devout Christian, as she does not know exactly where to find it and she clearly does not look at it much. Furthermore, her willingness to casually lie about her Bible casts doubt on her claims to being a good Christian.

During this interaction Mrs. Hopewell never doubts herself or her intentions, instead casting the blame on her atheist daughter who apparently will not allow a Bible to be kept in the parlor. This is deep hypocrisy; Mrs. Hopewell is clearly the one to blame for having stashed her Bible in the attic, but she feels no shame or hint of awareness about this, preferring to see her daughter as the one who has failed. As long as Mrs. Hopewell appears to be a good Christian in the eyes of others she is satisfied; this interaction shows that her own private behavior doesn't seem to trouble her. 

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“Well lady, I’ll tell you the truth—not many people want to buy one nowadays and besides, I know I’m real simple. I don’t know how to say a thing but to say it. I’m just a country boy.” He glanced up to her unfriendly face. “People like you don’t like to fool with country people like me!”

Related Characters: The Bible Salesman (speaker), Mrs. Hopewell
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator later gives hints that the Bible salesman is not who he claims to be, but Mrs. Hopewell take this statement at face value when he makes it. In fact, he is manipulating Mrs. Hopewell into inviting him to stay by playing to her blindnesses and prejudices. What he says seems to be just what Mrs. Hopewell would expect to hear from a young man like him--he admits to being simple, and flatters Mrs. Hopewell by acknowledging that people of her status are above people like him. He also, by saying that people like her don't fool with people like him, creates an opening for her to display her goodness and charity by inviting him to stay. The Bible salesman, then, is taking advantage of Mrs. Hopewell's classism and need to show that she is moral and respectable. In reality, though, the Bible salesman is revealing Mrs. Hopewell's self-absorption and naïveté. Since he is playing up the stereotype she expects to find, she remains blind to his actual motives and character as an individual person.

“Lord,” she said, “he bored me to death but he was so sincere and genuine I couldn’t be rude to him. He was just good country people, you know,” she said, “—just the salt of the earth.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Hopewell (speaker), Mrs. Freeman, The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Mrs. Hopewell is condescending and hypocritical. While she admits that she found the Bible salesman boring, she could not be rude to him to his face, though she is perfectly willing to insult him behind his back. This shows that her dinner invitation to him was not real kindness, but rather hewing to the social expectations for what a "good" person looks like. She is also, once again, making the condescending distinction between "good country people" and "trash." Because the boy seemed polite and Christian, Mrs. Hopewell assumes that he is a simple and good person, albeit one who is below her. In fact, the boy is manipulating her for his own perverse intentions, but she is so beholden to her own stereotypes and so enamored with her own wisdom and judgment that she remains blind to the reality of the situation. 

“I like girls that wear glasses,” he said. “I think a lot. I’m not like these people that a serious thought don’t ever enter their heads. It’s because I may die.”

Related Characters: The Bible Salesman (speaker), Hulga Hopewell (Joy)
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another example of the Bible salesman's pitch-perfect manipulations of the characters in the story. While with Mrs. Hopewell he pretended to be devout and simple, with Hulga he flatters her insecurities about her appearance ("I like girls that wear glasses"), claims to be an intellectual, and attributes his peculiar tastes to a heart condition that might kill him. In other words, the Bible salesman pretends to be exactly the kind of man that Hulga might find relatable or sympathetic, despite her refusal to admit that she has this sort of desire. The Bible salesman has proved himself to be an astute judge of character, while Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga (both of whom pride themselves on their wisdom in understanding who people really are) are shown to be easily misled. Their desire for the Bible salesman to be the person they want him to be have masked their ability to see through his behavior. Though the Bible salesman proves to be the least simple of all of them, the characters' assumptions that they are smarter than him make them unable to suspect his motives. 

True genius can get an idea across even to an inferior mind. She imagined that she took his remorse in hand and changed it into a deeper understanding of life. She took all his shame away and turned it into something useful.

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy), The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is where Hulga's own hypocrisy and superiority become very clear. Even though she believes that, with the Bible salesman, she has met somebody more like her than anyone she has ever known, she still assumes that she is smarter than he is. Further, though she herself has not learned to productively deal with her shame and remorse, she envisions herself being able to transform the shame and remorse she assumes that the Bible salesman feels. This is resonant with her sentimental vision of herself as Vulcan. Like Vulcan, she sees herself as the wise and deformed seductress who can lure somebody to her. In addition, Vulcan, as a blacksmith, is tasked with transforming one object into another; Hulga imagines herself as sort of an emotional blacksmith, rescuing and empowering the Bible salesman. The tenderness and vulnerability apparent in this vision shows that Hulga, who has created immense emotional armor for herself, has one enormous vulnerability, and that is the possibility of somebody actually being able to love her for who she is. 

“In my economy,” she said, “I’m saved and you are damned but I told you I didn’t believe in God.”

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy) (speaker), The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:

Hulga believes that she has "saved" herself through intellect. She believes that she has learned the truth of the world, and can protect herself from harm and artifice by seeing the hypocrisy, negativity, and ugliness of every situation. Because of this, she pities the Bible salesman when he kisses her. She believes that he has felt passion, while she has seen through the illusion of passion to understand that kissing was nothing special, even though she did react physically (with a surge of adrenaline) to the kiss. So here, she is again showing her superiority by telling the Bible salesman that she, a person of reason and intellect, is saved while he, a person she assumes to be governed by a silly kind of faith, is not. Clearly, though, this is an example of Hulga failing to identify the reality of the situation. The Bible salesman is manipulating her, while she is relishing the opportunity to play superior to him and teach him about her worldview. Hulga has fallen victim to her rare sentimentality, and it gives the Bible salesman an opening to exploit her. 

“I don’t have illusions. I’m one of those people who see through to nothing.”

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy) (speaker), The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Bible salesman attempts to goad Hulga into telling him she loves him, Hulga attempts to explain to him that, essentially, she doesn't believe in love. She refers to love as an "illusion" that she can see through to "nothing." Later she says that knowing that there is "nothing to see" is a kind of salvation. She believes that she is telling the salesman things that his inferior intellect will not allow him to understand, and she even pities him and condescends to him, telling him that "it's just as well you don't understand." However, while she is saying all of this she is also clearly falling prey to her own illusions about what is happening between the two of them. Even though she knows she doesn't love him, she seems to believe that he loves her and that what is passing between the two of them is mutual and genuine. This is what makes this emotional "epiphany" of hers so tragic—she can't really "see through to nothing," and the genuine connection she thinks she is experiencing actually only goes one way.

“I am thirty years old,” she said. “I have a number of degrees.”

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy) (speaker), The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a heartbreaking moment in which Hulga expresses her vulnerability almost openly. In the face of the Bible salesman's professions of love, her insistence that there "mustn't be anything dishonest between us" shows her wholehearted belief that what is occurring is genuine, and that she can now reveal exactly who she is to somebody who is likely to love her for it. This is a dark irony, since the reader is about to learn that literally everything that is occurring between the two of them is false.

It is also telling of Hulga's vulnerability and hypocrisy that she was willing to lie to him in the first place, telling him she was more than a decade younger than she really is. Hulga prides herself on embracing who she is and shocking other people, but the fact that all it took for Hulga to lie about her age was a young, simple-seeming Bible salesman to look at her with interest betrays the deep vulnerability at her core, and also the fragile nature of the cynical armor of superiority and negativity she has built.

But she was as sensitive about the artificial leg as a peacock about his tail. No one ever touched it but her. She took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private and almost with her own eyes away.

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy), The Bible Salesman
Related Symbols: The Artificial Leg
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

From Hulga's behavior we have gotten the sense that she is deeply sensitive about the artificial leg, simultaneously feeling deformed by it and using it as a weapon to make others uncomfortable. In this passage, the strange importance of the leg to her is confirmed. The leg, as it embodies her uniqueness and her vulnerability, is almost a sacred object for her, one that she can barely even manage to confront (she handles it "almost with her own eyes away"). This is peculiar for a character who claims to see through the whole world to "nothing." Clearly, the leg is something of a blind spot for her, something that escapes her cynical and piercing analysis. It is telling, too, that the narrator speaks of her caring for the leg "as someone else would his soul." In a sense, as the leg is the key weakness in the cynical philosophies through which Hulga interprets the world, the leg is like her soul. It is the one part of her that is helpless and authentic and vulnerable to others. 

She decided that for the first time in her life she was face to face with real innocence. This boy, with an instinct that came from beyond wisdom, had touched the truth about her. When after a minute, she said in a hoarse high voice, “All right,” it was like surrendering to him completely. It was like losing her own life and finding it again, miraculously, in his.

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy), The Bible Salesman
Related Symbols: The Artificial Leg
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the emotional climax of the story, the moment in which Hulga has an authentic experience of opening herself to another person and allowing herself to be moved. O'Connor writes that in all her stories she seeks to have a character experience a moment of grace, which is a painful transformation that opens them to something beautiful or good. But for O'Connor grace does not necessarily mean salvation or redemption, and it does not mean the character will be spared from pain or violence. However, for this brief moment Hulga allows herself to be transformed by a seemingly pure person asking her to reveal to him her greatest vulnerability, a "truth about her" that she had never allowed anybody to see, though she seems to have always wanted someone to ask. Hulga glimpses here the beauty of instincts that come from "beyond wisdom," which shows her ability for the first time to question the sufficiency of her life and worldview. Here Hulga is doing something completely unexpected (O'Connor has shown her to be a walled-off and cynical character so far) when she agrees to show the man her leg, and she is rewarded for this trust with a feeling resonant with descriptions of Christian faith ("losing her life and finding it in his," as the Christian is supposed to lose his life and find it again in Christ). While the beauty of this moment soon dissolves into terror, the Bible salesman has succeeded in making Hulga glimpse something better than the life she has been living.

It was hollow and contained a pocket flask of whiskey, a pack of cards, and a small blue box with printing on it. He laid these out in front of her one at a time in an evenly-spaced row, like one presenting offerings at the shrine of a goddess. He put the blue box in her hand. THIS PRODUCT TO BE USED ONLY FOR THE PREVENTION OF DISEASE, she read, and dropped it . . . It was not an ordinary deck but one with an obscene picture on the back of each card.

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy), The Bible Salesman
Related Symbols: The Bible Salesman’s Valise
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene ushers in the dark turn of "Good Country People." Hulga has made herself entirely vulnerable to the Bible salesman, who is still pretending to romantically interested in her. However, when he pulls out his valise, which Hulga assumed was full of Bibles, he opens it to reveal that it has just two Bibles in it, one of which has been hollowed out and filled with all kinds of sinful items. It is at this moment that Hulga and the reader truly understand that the Bible salesman, like his valise, is nothing like he presents himself to be; he not good, nor is he simple. 

The line about the salesman presenting each item like "offerings at the shrine of a goddess" is interesting, since the only other time in which the word "goddess" appears in the story is during Hulga's fantasy about being like Vulcan. At the beginning of the story Hulga muses that "the goddess had to come [to Vulcan] when called," a thought that revealed Hulga's desire to be, like Vulcan, a powerful and deformed seducer. In the line about the Bible salesman laying the items out like offerings, though, this earlier thought seems to be turned on its head. Hulga, not the Bible salesman, is the one who has been seduced, and now she realizes that he, rather than being good and simple, is powerfully manipulative and morally deformed.

“You’re just like them all—say one thing and do another. You’re a perfect Christian, you’re . . .”

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy) (speaker), The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

By this point, Hulga knows that the Bible salesman has tricked her, but she remains completely physically vulnerable to him because he refuses to give her back her leg. In wild anger, she lashes out at him with her cynical intellect, making simultaneously a pronouncement about his own hypocrisy and the general hypocrisy of Christianity. She appears to be trying to wound him by insulting what she still seems to believe is his faith. This is another moment of Hulga's sense of superiority blinding her from the reality of the situation. She still thinks she is smarter than the Bible salesman, and for that reason does not believe it possible that he has manipulated her to the extent that he has. However, her tactic fails, since the Bible salesman declares that he doesn't believe "that crap," proving that he might be even more cynical and disillusioned with the world than Hulga herself.  

“I’ve gotten a lot of interesting things,” he said. “One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way. And you needn’t to think you’ll catch me because Pointer ain’t really my name. I use a different name at every house I call at and don’t stay nowhere long.”

Related Characters: The Bible Salesman (speaker), Hulga Hopewell (Joy)
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

Just before the salesman says this, the narrator describes his face as being drained of all the pretense of admiration it had held before. The salesman, then, has exploited Hulga's sense of superiority by appearing to admire her intellect (the thing she puts forward to the world as making her unique) as well as her leg (the thing that she believes actually makes her unique, and the key to her vulnerability). In this passage, the salesman then demolishes everything that Hulga holds dear. He has now clearly outmaneuvered her, which challenges her sense of intellectual superiority, and he makes her leg seem less unique by saying he has stolen many other things like it. The cherry on the cake is that the salesman declares that he, like Hulga, is also using a false name, one that allows him to steal intimate possessions from vulnerable women without being caught. Hulga previously stated that she viewed her name as her "highest creative act," and it crushes her to see that all of these things that she invented in order to give herself power were also all used by this salesman, whom she believed to be simple, to take power away from her. 

“You ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!”

Related Characters: The Bible Salesman (speaker), Hulga Hopewell (Joy)
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

After the previous passage demolished Hulga's sense of uniqueness and self-worth, the Bible salesman leaves her with this last insult. Hulga truly believed that she could protect herself from the world with her negativity and her intellectualized cynicism, but it failed to protect her from someone who managed to beat her at her own game. Hulga's major weakness with this man was that she underestimated him—she believed so haughtily in her own intellectual superiority that she could not consider that maybe this simple man, who seemed like "good country people," could hold a version of her same beliefs and cynicism. She never once suspected his cunning or his dark motives—in fact, she assumed she was the one manipulating him. With this last statement, though, Hulga and the reader know that the Bible salesman was the opposite of what he presented himself to be, and that his charade worked with all the characters because he was able to play so well into each of their vanities and stereotypes. 

“Why, that looks like that nice dull young man that tried to sell me a Bible yesterday,” Mrs. Hopewell said, squinting. “He must have been selling them to the Negroes back there. He was so simple,” she said, “but I guess the world would be better off if we were all that simple.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Hopewell (speaker), Mrs. Freeman, The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

O'Connor ends the story with a crushing display of condescension and irony from Hulga's mother. After she sees the Bible salesman walking through the field with his valise (which, unbeknownst to her, contains her daughter's artificial leg), she belittles the man's intelligence while appearing to make a kind and wise statement about the goodness of simple poor people. Her vague and sentimental statement that "I guess the world would be better off if we were all that simple" provides a deep irony; in this scenario, Mrs. Hopewell, who has never once suspected that the salesman is not who he appears to be, is actually the simple one, and the world is certainly not better off for her blindness.

This closing scene of self-congratulatory and deluded superiority by Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman moves the reader from one dark scenario to another. Hulga has been deeply betrayed, but her betrayal came only after her experience of grace and connection. O'Connor forces the reader to consider that perhaps Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman are not any better off than Hulga, though, as they have experienced neither open betrayal nor transformative grace, and, as such, they are left sitting on the porch still engaging in petty conversations about the people around them.

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The Bible Salesman Character Timeline in Good Country People

The timeline below shows where the character The Bible Salesman appears in Good Country People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Good Country People
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
...has been vomiting. Watching Hulga, Mrs. Hopewell wonders what her own daughter said to the Bible Salesman who had shown up the day before. The narrative then jumps backwards to Mrs. Hopewell’s... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The day before, a Bible Salesman shows up at the Hopewell home, seeming earnest and well mannered, and carrying a valise... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The Bible Salesman responds that he’s “just a country boy” and that “People like [Mrs. Hopewell] don’t like... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
At dinner, Hulga pretends not to hear whenever the Bible Salesman speaks to her. He tells his hosts about his childhood, mentioning that his father was... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
...from her mother. Mrs. Hopewell comments on how dull she found her conversation with the Bible Salesman , yet how kind and sincere he seemed. Soon after, Hulga storms off to her... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The night before, Hulga had lain in bed, imagining intense conversations between herself and the Bible Salesman . She thought about their talk by the fence, when he had made a joke... (full context)
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Hulga shows up to the gate at 10 am the next day—when she and the Bible Salesman had agreed to meet—but no one is there. Hulga did not think to bring food... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
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Disease and Disability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
As the two walk, the Bible Salesman asks Hulga where her artificial leg joins to her body, and Hulga is offended. The... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
They arrive at the old barn, where Hulga had imagined she would seduce him. The Bible Salesman asks if Hulga has been “saved.” She responds, saying that “In my economy . .... (full context)
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
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Disease and Disability Theme Icon
They enter the barn. The Bible Salesman laments that they can’t go up to the loft because of Hulga’s missing leg. She... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
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Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Again, the Bible Salesman demands that she say she loves him. Hulga explains that love is “not a word... (full context)
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
The Bible Salesman then tells Hulga to prove that she loves him. He asks her to show him... (full context)
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
The Bible Salesman asks Hulga to show him how to take the artificial leg off and then put... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The Bible Salesman then takes out one of his Bibles from his valise and opens it, revealing it... (full context)
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Disease and Disability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The Bible Salesman then grabs the artificial leg and places it, along with the rest of his things,... (full context)
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman, busy working, watch the Bible Salesman walk from the woods toward the highway. Mrs. Hopewell concludes that he had been selling... (full context)