Good Country People

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Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Good Country People, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Theme Icon

“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 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.

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Authentic Faith and Vulnerability ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Authentic Faith and Vulnerability appears in each chapter of Good Country People. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Authentic Faith and Vulnerability Quotes in Good Country People

Below you will find the important quotes in Good Country People related to the theme of Authentic Faith and Vulnerability.
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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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. 

“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. 

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.