Good Country People

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The Artificial Leg Symbol Icon

Hulga treats her artificial leg “as someone else would his soul, in private and with her eyes turned away.” She spends her life hiding it, and when the Bible Salesman wants to see it she at first refuses. When she does let him take it off, she is at her most vulnerable. It is no coincidence that at that same moment she experiences a fleeting spiritual awakening. The leg has come to represent her soul: it is what makes her unique, and it is what makes her vulnerable. Flannery O’Connor always wrote with an interest in the soul; regarding the leg, she said, “We’re presented with the fact that the Ph.D. is spiritually as well as physically crippled . . . and we perceive that there is a wooden part of her soul that corresponds to her wooden leg.” Just as Hulga’s vulnerability because of her missing leg caused her to get an artificial one, the lack of faith in her life caused her to fortify herself with philosophy. But Flannery O’Connor, a devout Christian, presents this as a tragic state of affairs: just as the Bible Salesman proves that Hulga is still physically vulnerable even with her artificial leg, O’Connor shows that Hulga’s spiritual state is still vulnerable despite her deep knowledge of philosophy and her cynical outlook. We can regard this “wooden part of her soul” as the part of Hulga that depends on philosophy and cynicism.

The Artificial Leg Quotes in Good Country People

The Good Country People quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Artificial Leg. 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 was certain that she had thought and thought and thought until she had hit upon the ugliest name in any language. Then she had gone and had the beautiful name, Joy, changed without telling her mother until after she had done it. Her legal name was Hulga.

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy), Mrs. Hopewell
Related Symbols: The Artificial Leg
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a complicated passage that is revealing of both Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga. For Mrs. Hopewell, this shows her cynicism and lack of compassion. She seems to believe that in changing her name from Joy to Hulga, her daughter has done something perverse to personally spite her. She never steps back and tries to understand why Hulga might have wanted to change her name, and she never considers reasons for her having chosen it other than simple perversity. Hulga, though, feels that the name gives her power over other people because it is shocking. For Hulga, the name is an affront to others in the way that her appearance, attitude, and artificial leg are. Hulga feels empowered by embracing what she sees to be the reality of her condition, rather than living with a name like Joy that feels false. However, Hulga likes her name best when only she is willing to use it; she is uncomfortable when Mrs. Freeman uses the name and feels that her privacy has been invaded. This is a key to Hulga's vulnerability; her insecurities about her leg and appearance mean that she embraces ugliness only when she herself is wielding it. When it fails to make others uncomfortable, Hulga's name turns on her and makes her feel vulnerable.

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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…

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy)
Related Symbols: The Artificial Leg
Page Number: 275
Explanation and Analysis:

It's revealing that Hulga associates her name with Vulcan, the Roman blacksmith god. Vulcan is also disabled, and is typically shown to have a limp just like Hulga. Vulcan is known as strong and skilled, though ugly. Importantly, he is powerful and desirable, as he is the lover of Venus (the goddess of love and beauty) despite his deformity. Hulga's identification with Vulcan shows her fantasies and desires; it shows that she wishes to be powerful and to be loved for who she is. What Mrs. Hopewell assumes was a choice made from cynicism and perversity is actually, in a sense, an optimistic and almost sentimental choice in which Hulga seeks to remake herself into the person she wishes to be. This is key to understanding Hulga, who thinks of herself as somebody who sees through the world's artifice through negativity and cynicism. Hulga does not realize that her desires and fears and sorrow make her vulnerable to the same kinds of illusions that she faults her mother and Mrs. Freeman for believing.

On a side note, it is also telling that Hulga, who is insistently atheistic, turns to Roman mythology to make sense of herself. While she never brings up the Christian religion, she has not eschewed religion altogether; she turns to another system of belief to create a metaphor for her world.

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.

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The Artificial Leg Symbol Timeline in Good Country People

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Artificial Leg appears in Good Country People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Good Country People
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
...narrator describes her as blonde, highly educated, and thirty-two years old. She also has an artificial leg . (full context)
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...her leg when she was ten years old in a hunting accident. Because of Hulga’s artificial leg , Mrs. Hopewell notes that she has never “never danced a step or had any... (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
...their talk by the fence, when he had made a joke and commented on her artificial leg , saying that she seemed “real brave” and “real sweet.” On the way to the... (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
As the two walk, the Bible Salesman asks Hulga where her artificial leg joins to her body, and Hulga is offended. The Bible Salesman says that he meant... (full context)
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
...Hulga to prove that she loves him. He asks her to show him where her artificial leg connects to her body. She refuses. The Bible Salesman acts insulted, and says that Hulga... (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 it back on again, and she does. The Bible Salesman then... (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
...she thought he was “just good country people.” She repeatedly demands to be given her artificial leg back. The Bible Salesman comments that he’s surprised that an atheist is so perturbed at... (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 grabs the artificial leg and places it, along with the rest of his things, into his valise . As... (full context)