The way characters understand other characters in “Good Country People” is often the opposite of how these characters truly are. Moreover, the way characters present themselves in “Good Country People” is often the very opposite of how they are. The title of the story, “Good Country People,” is meant to be read ironically. Both of the characters whom Mrs. Hopewell describes as being “good country people” turn out not to fit that description at all. The Bible Salesman, who claims to identify with the phrase and presents himself as simple and pious, turns out to be an irreverent womanizer, and he steals Hulga’s artificial leg. Mrs. Freeman, meanwhile, is somber, superior, judgmental, and self-centered throughout the story—not simple and kind-hearted, as Mrs. Hopewell assumes. Mrs. Hopewell’s entire idea of “good country people” depends on her self-conception as being superior to those people, and yet in the story it is very clear that Mrs. Hopewell is no more intelligent, sophisticated, or cultured than the other characters. The very phrase “Good Country People” and the way that it defines reality becomes meaningless and suspect.
Hulga is the centerpiece character of the story, and O’Connor uses her exterior and interior lives to comment on the way that looks can be deceiving. Though outwardly a disabled, grumpy, and short-tempered character, her short and absurd tryst with the Bible Salesman, during which O’Connor enters her complicated mind, reveals Hulga to be a person seeking love and acceptance even as she struggles to master her emotions in a world that has often been cruel to her. Further, to entice the Bible Salesman Hulga tries to modify her own appearance, pretending to be younger than she is, never realizing that the Bible Salesman is hiding who he is in a much more fundamental way.
By the end of “Good Country People,” O’Connor literally illustrates the distance between appearance and reality. The Bible Salesman’s valise appears quite early on in the story, and throughout the story both the characters and we, as readers, believe that it contains Bibles. In fact, at the end of the story the man opens the valise up to reveal just two Bibles, one of which is actually hollow and contains alcohol, playing cards, and pornography. The man who seemed innocent and harmless suddenly becomes a villain, and Hulga must not only deal with the loss of her leg but also the fact that her conception of her own superior intelligence is not as definitive as she had believed.
Appearances and Realities ThemeTracker
Appearances and Realities Quotes in Good Country People
The reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash. They were good country people.
“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 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.
She had a vision of the name working like the ugly sweating Vulcan who stayed in the furnace and to whom, presumably, the goddess had to come when called…
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!”
“Lord,” she said, “he bored me to death but he was so sincere and genuine I couldn’t be rude to him. He was just good country people, you know,” she said, “—just the salt of the earth.”
“I like girls that wear glasses,” he said. “I think a lot. I’m not like these people that a serious thought don’t ever enter their heads. It’s because I may die.”
“I don’t have illusions. I’m one of those people who see through to nothing.”
“I am thirty years old,” she said. “I have a number of degrees.”
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.
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 . . .”
“I’ve gotten a lot of interesting things,” he said. “One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way. And you needn’t to think you’ll catch me because Pointer ain’t really my name. I use a different name at every house I call at and don’t stay nowhere long.”
“You ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!”
“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.”