Good Country People

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The Bible Salesman’s Valise Symbol Analysis

The Bible Salesman’s Valise Symbol Icon

The Bible Salesman’s valise is not what it seems. Like the Bible Salesman, it presents an image of faith and morality, as it appears to be full of Bibles. But once he tricks Hulga up into the loft of the barn, Hulga sees that now there are only two Bibles in it. Not only that, but one of the Bibles is hollowed out and filled with a flask of whiskey, a box of condoms, and a set of pornographic playing cards. Instead of objects representing faith, the valise contains objects representing sin. It is the opposite of what it pretends to be. In this story, the valise functions as a symbol of hypocrisy. In the world O’Connor creates, it is the seemingly faithful who are the worst sinners, and the valise captures the idea that external appearances can be deceiving.

The Bible Salesman’s Valise Quotes in Good Country People

The Good Country People quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bible Salesman’s Valise. 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

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.

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The Bible Salesman’s Valise Symbol Timeline in Good Country People

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bible Salesman’s Valise 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
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...Salesman shows up at the Hopewell home, seeming earnest and well mannered, and carrying a valise full of Bibles. Mrs. Hopewell invites him inside, and he explains that he’s there to... (full context)
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
...but then The Bible Salesman appears. He is wearing a new hat and carrying his valise, which Hulga notes seems to be much less heavy today. (full context)
Appearances and Realities Theme Icon
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Disease and Disability Theme Icon
...immediately climbs up. She says he doesn’t need his Bibles, but he brings up the valise anyway. They kiss. When Hulga’s glasses get in the way, the Bible Salesman takes them... (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 to be hollowed out inside. It contains a flask of... (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 artificial leg and places it, along with the rest of his things, into his valise . As he descends from the loft, he tells Hulga that he has a whole... (full context)