“Good Country People” offers few glimpses of true, authentic faith. More often, the characters demonstrate false claims of devotion. Mrs. Hopewell lies about keeping a Bible at her bedside to give the impression that she is religious. The Bible Salesman, who claims to be devout, turns out to be hiding alcohol, condoms, and pornography inside a hollowed-out Bible. And the protagonist, Hulga, is condescending toward any religious sentiment.
There is one moment in the story, however, that seems to involve authentic faith—when Hulga has an epiphany while removing her artificial leg in front of the Bible Salesman. O’Connor writes that “It was like surrendering to him completely...it was like losing her own life and finding it again, miraculously in his.” She even fantasizes about a life with the Bible Salesman in which “every night he would take the leg off and every morning put it back on again.” Clearly, she is having a spiritual moment that goes beyond everyday experience. Despite her cynicism and her intellectual education, for a moment she considers the possibility of a better, more meaningful existence.
But as soon as Hulga makes herself vulnerable, the Bible Salesman takes advantage of her. He takes the leg and refuses to give it back. He takes out the condoms and the whiskey, making clear that he has been the one tricking her, whereas she believed she was seducing him. This flash of insight Hulga experiences is thus intertwined with her vulnerability and suffering. As Flannery O’Connor has written elsewhere, “Grace changes us and change is painful.” For O’Connor, faith comes with vulnerability and pain—it is the handing over of one’s self, and the acceptance of whatever comes after. Hulga thus gets her first glimpse of authentic faith and pays a high price for it. This unsentimental view of faith permeates O’Connor’s writing, and yet the story also offers the suggestion that there is value in that moment of authentic, vulnerable faith—that there is a worth in such faith regardless of the pain it can expose you to.
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability ThemeTracker
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Quotes in Good Country People
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.
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.
“In my economy,” she said, “I’m saved and you are damned but I told you I didn’t believe in God.”
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.
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.