Good Country People

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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.
Hypocrisy Theme Icon

Every character in “Good Country People” believes he or she has the moral high ground, but none of them leads the ethical life they claim to. In different ways, they are all hypocrites, claiming to honor and to have higher moral standards than they actually do.

Mrs. Hopewell, for example, speaks with authority about the difference between “good country people” and “trash.” Throughout the story, she projects an air of moral superiority, but it’s unclear what exactly makes her so much better than the people she looks down upon. When the Bible Salesman visits her home, Mrs. Hopewell says that she keeps a Bible at her bedside—but she’s lying. She views herself as treating Mrs. Freeman with respect, but in actuality looks down on her.

For his part, the Bible Salesman espouses Christian values in order to sin. He lies about being religious to take advantage of others, exactly the opposite of what a devout Christian should do. This reversal is encapsulated in his supposedly Bible-filled valise, which turns out to contain a hollowed-out Bible filled with whiskey and condoms. As Hulga tells the Bible Salesman: “You’re just like them all — say one thing and do another. You’re a perfect Christian.” Hulga’s comment suggests that she sees hypocrisy as connected to religion, but the story as a whole indicates that Hulga’s view of hypocrisy is too limited. It suggests this most powerfully, in fact, with the revelation that Hulga is a hypocrite too. Hulga claims and believes that she has risen above conventional morality by shedding religion and pursuing philosophy in a meaningful way, and she thinks of herself as living a more ethical life than the religious people around her, and yet all of her knowledge only makes her look down on others and scorn them. For all Hulga’s awareness of the hypocrisy of others, she cannot see her own.

Importantly, all of these characters seem righteous and morally consistent when seen from afar. Mrs. Hopewell, for example, strictly follows social norms that make her seem moral and kind (like sitting with the Bible Salesman, because he is one of the “good country people” and it’s polite to welcome a guest), but she does not act this way out of genuine kindness—rather from a sense of obligation and keeping up pretenses. The thin veneer of politeness and social convention masks Mrs. Hopewell’s judgmental and immoral nature, even from herself. This, then, is another form of hypocrisy: she pretends to be genuinely kind and generous, but only is insofar as it gives her the appearance of following social norms.

O’Connor makes clear that this hypocrisy is well hidden, and that everyday life makes it easy to believe that most people are righteous and consistent. At the end of the story, when Mrs. Hopewell sees the Bible Salesman walking by, she thinks to herself that he has been selling Bibles, when in fact he just stole her daughter’s artificial leg and abandoned her. From a distance, all of these characters are ethical members of upstanding society—but when examined more closely, none of them has the integrity they espouse. As Hulga points out, hypocrisy is everywhere, and O’Connor, by also revealing Hulga’s own hypocrisy, reveals that she is even more correct than she realizes.

Hypocrisy ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Good Country People related to the theme of Hypocrisy.
Good Country People Quotes

Nothing is perfect. This was one of Mrs. Hopewell’s favorite sayings. Another was: that is life! And still another, the most important, was: well, other people have their opinions too.

Related Characters: Mrs. Hopewell
Page Number: 272-273
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hopewell believes that she is at the top of a social hierarchy, and unconsciously feels that she is the cleverest and most moral person in her life. However, her analysis of the world around her rests almost entirely on nearly meaningless platitudes like these. She does not seem capable of seeing the world as it is, since she merely applies a cliche that seems appropriate for every situation and then moves on. This is not intelligent behavior, or particularly moral behavior. For instance, her beloved saying that "other people have their opinions too" makes her seem openminded and nonjudgmental, but her insistence on differentiating between "trash" and "good country people" shows how ingrained judgment is in her personality. The narrator states that Mrs. Hopewell says these platitudes in a tone that suggests that "no one held [these opinions] but her," which shows, too, her lack of self awareness. She believes herself to be exceptional, but Mrs. Hopewell is shallow and petty and uninspired like most other people in her life.


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“Her remarks were usually so ugly and her face so glum that Mrs. Hopewell would say, ‘If you can’t come pleasantly, I don’t want you at all,” to which the girl, standing square and rigid-shouldered with her neck thrust forward, would reply, ‘If you want me, here I am—LIKE I AM.”

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy) (speaker), Mrs. Hopewell (speaker)
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

This comment comes in the context of the narrator explaining why Mrs. Hopewell hired Mrs. Freeman, commenting that the "trash" families she had hired before her were not the kind of people she wanted to be around. It is ironic, then, that Mrs. Hopewell's own daughter--someone of high social class and much education--is someone who, like the "trash," Mrs. Hopewell does not want to be around. Mrs. Hopewell is so consumed by her preoccupation with social class, though, that she cannot recognize this parallel. Mrs. Hopewell is unable to acknowledge the reality of even her own daughter's character, preferring to pretend that Hulga could be more pleasant if she tried, and refusing to grapple with the pain and suffering that has made her this way. For her part, this is another example of Hulga responding to the pain and loneliness of her life by purposefully acting "ugly" just to spite her mother.

She thought of her still as a child because it tore her heart to think instead of the poor stout girl in her thirties who had never danced a step or had any normal good times.

Related Characters: Mrs. Hopewell
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a blatant example of Mrs. Hopewell's preference for her petty illusions over looking reality in the face. Hulga's reality does not fit in with Mrs. Hopewell's narrative of her own life, a life that she believes should be good and pleasant and successful because of her class. As such, she cannot acknowledge that her disabled daughter is unhappy and living a life unlike the one Mrs. Hopewell imagined for her. That Mrs. Hopewell prefers to think of Hulga as a child rather than acknowledging that she is an adult further shows her condescension and delusion. Hulga is a full-grown, well-educated woman whose peculiar attitudes and beliefs come from a complex life of suffering and studying, but rather than engaging with this Mrs. Hopewell instead takes the condescending and disrespectful approach of thinking of Hulga as a child who doesn't know who she truly is and might someday grow into someone "normal." This also shows the infuriating reality that Hulga lives with in which very few people are willing to deal with her frankly and honestly, something she craves. 

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. 

“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.

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. 

“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.

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.  

“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.