Good Country People

Class, Identity, and Superiority 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.
Class, Identity, and Superiority Theme Icon

In “Good Country People”, Mrs. Hopewell sees the people of her world as falling into a clear hierarchy. At the bottom is a group of people she calls “trash,” whom she describes as poor, uncultured, and essentially criminal. Next is a group she identifies as “good country people.” These people are poorer than landowners like Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter Hulga, as well as less educated. Mrs. Hopewell champions these people as “the salt of the earth,” as people who are vital to the functioning of the world, since “it takes all kinds to make the world.” Yet, her regard for “good country people” is essentially condescending—she views such people, including her maid Mrs. Freeman and the Bible Salesman, as “good” only in the context of also seeing them as inferior to her and her daughter. Further, there is a sense that it makes Mrs. Hopewell feel even more powerful and “enlightened” that she is willing and able to differentiate between the “good” and “trash” people beneath her on the social ladder.

By shifting into other characters’ perspectives, however, O’Connor suggests the folly of seeing the world in terms of such hierarchy, as well as how subjective it can be. Because Hulga is more educated than everyone else in the story, she sees herself as wiser and able to see things as they truly are. She feels able to define herself (she even renames herself from her given name of Joy to Hulga), and therefore as sitting at the top of the hierarchy. Meanwhile, Mrs. Freeman constantly attempts to express her superiority over her husband and to prove her equality with Mrs. Hopewell and thus considers herself atop the stack. Thus, every character tries to understand herself in terms not only of her social class — how much education or money she has — but also how she compares to the people around her and the attributes she thinks make her stand out. Nearly every character in the novel sees the world, and themselves, in a way that places them at the top of the hierarchy.

The story pushes even further, though, and suggests that seeing the world in terms of hierarchies actually makes one blind to the realities of the individuals in the world. While Mrs. Hopewell, Hulga, and Mrs. Freeman strive to make their identities known and concrete—Hulga, for example, shouts to her mother: “‘If you want me, here I am—LIKE I AM”—the Bible Salesman takes a different approach. He takes advantage of his low social position to get people to sympathize with him. He allows others to see him as they like and then plays into their class-based stereotypes. Mrs. Hopewell sees him as simple, blameless, “good country people,” and he presents himself as such. However, the final revelation of his corruption and shamelessness demonstrates how one cannot assume based on class or even on one’s outward appearance what a person is really like. Ultimately, the Bible Salesman even outsmarts the highly educated Hulga, who assumes he’s a complete dimwit at the start. Through his deceit and cunning, the Bible Salesman manages to con the other three women, each of whom thought she was better than him, and in fact is able to (and motivated to) pull off his con because they assumed they were better than him. In this way, the Bible Salesman further proves both the fragility and danger of believing in any kind of class-based or intelligence-based social hierarchy.

Get the entire Good Country People LitChart as a printable PDF.
Good country people.pdf.medium

Class, Identity, and Superiority ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Class, Identity, and Superiority appears in each chapter of Good Country People. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Chapter length:

Class, Identity, and Superiority Quotes in Good Country People

Below you will find the important quotes in Good Country People related to the theme of Class, Identity, and Superiority.
Good Country People Quotes

By the time Joy came in, they had usually finished the weather report and were on one or the other of Mrs. Freeman’s daughters, Glynese or Carramae, Joy called them Glycerin and Caramel.

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy), Mrs. Hopewell, Mrs. Freeman, Carramae and Glynese Freeman –
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Good Country People quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

The reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash. They were good country people.

Related Characters: Mrs. Hopewell, Mrs. Freeman
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Joy had made it plain that if it had not been for this condition, she would be far from these red hills and good country people. She would be in a university lecturing to people who knew what she was talking about.

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy)
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“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.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Hopewell (speaker), Mrs. Freeman, The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“I am thirty years old,” she said. “I have a number of degrees.”

Related Characters: Hulga Hopewell (Joy) (speaker), The Bible Salesman
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“You ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!”

Related Characters: The Bible Salesman (speaker), Hulga Hopewell (Joy)
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.