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 Quotes in Good Country People
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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!”
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.
“I don’t have illusions. I’m one of those people who see through to nothing.”
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.
“You’re just like them all—say one thing and do another. You’re a perfect Christian, you’re . . .”
“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.”