Good Country People by Flannery O'Connor is a story that illustrates how deceptive appearances can be and what errors are made when people hide behind their own cliched perceptions instead of thinking clearly about situations. The main plot of the story involving Hulga illustrates this theme. As well as this, O'Connor offers many other references to the theme via the other characters, the events and symbols in the work. An analysis of the story will show how O'Connor incorporates this theme throughout the story, while developing and eventually resolving the central conflict through the experiences of Hulga. By the end of the story, the reader has seen the many problems that arise by accepting cliched perceptions and failing to think independently. It is the plot in combination with the many references to the theme of perceptions that makes the ending effective, leaving the reader with their eyes open wide, much like Hulga herself.
The story opens with the theme of hiding behind one's own perceptions by introducing the character of Mrs. Freeman. The story begins, not be telling the reader who Mrs. Freeman is, but by describing her two expressions, 'forward and reverse.' Mrs. Freeman is introduced as the character that makes up her mind about something and never reconsiders that opinion and also never accepts that she may have been wrong. Opening in this way, establishes the theme of the story, because of the focus on how people appear. It also establishes the theme of how people think and especially, how people can make up their mind about something and then refuse to consider any other option. Finally, by telling the reader how Mrs. Freeman acts, but not who she is, offers a test for the reader's own perceptions. The reader is forced to take the information given about her appearance and try to determine who she is. The reader then, is not only reading about the subject of the story but is also taking part in the subject.
In the next section, the main character Joy is introduced, with Joy later becoming known as Hulga. Joy is immediately introduced by her most obvious characteristics, "a large blond girl who had an artificial leg." Perceptions are also immediately introduced with it said that, "Mrs. Hopewell thought of her as a child though she was thirty-two years old and highly educated."
While Joy is the main character, she is not introduced any further. The reader is left with these small amounts of information about who she is and how her mother thought of her. This again places perceptions as central to the story, while also challenging the reader to apply their own perceptions.
In the next section, the reader learns that Mrs. Freeman is the housekeeper. This section also reflects on the difference between what is represented as truth and what is truth. The reader is told how Mrs. Hopewell refers to them as 'good country people' and claims that they are some of the best people she has ever met. At the same time, the real reason they were hired is given. This illustrates the difference between what Mrs. Hopewell says is true and what is really true. This effectively shows the reader that all is not what it seems and that what is represented is largely false. The reader is left to consider how others would accept Mrs. Hopewell's statements and view the situation as different than it really is. The reader here is given a clear view of the misconceptions present in the situation and how people can be fooled by these.
The character of Joy is introduced again, described as "the large hulking Joy, whose constant outrage had obliterated every expression from her face." Again, the reader is left to wonder the reason for this outrage. The first reference to blindness is introduced as Joy is described as having "the look of someone who had achieved blindness by an act of will and means to keep it." This reference to blindness links to perceptions and how people hide behind their perceptions. This 'act of blindness' means more than being physically blind, it also relates to not seeing reality. This statement adds to the theme while hinting something of Joy's character that will be developed later.
The next development of Joy's character is where the reader is told that she left home and changed her name to Hulga. It is said that, "Mrs. Hopewell was certain that she had thought and thought until she had hit upon the ugliest name in any language." This shows Joy's attempts to hide from who she is and at the same time, try and adapt to her appearance. Her name can be seen as the basic representation of how others see her. It is a name that identifies a person to others. The name 'Joy' is especially ironic, considering the angry person she is represented as being. In many ways 'Hulga' seems like a much more appropriate name. This is something that illustrates how a person has identity and is viewed by others. It also illustrates that Hulga is attempting to match who she is with how she is seen. This passage also includes a statement of why Mrs. Hopewell likes to imagine her as a child, "because it tore her heart out to think instead of the poor stout girl in her thirties who had never danced a step or had any normal good times." This illustrates how Mrs. Hopewell is living partly in pretence to protect herself from pain. This shows how Mrs. Hopewell's perceptions are based on avoidance. In contrast, Hulga's are based on trying to change how she is perceived to match how she feels. These are the two extremes of dealing with the situation, neither of them accepting the reality. This effectively shows what forms avoidance and hiding can take.
The next section of the work introduces Hulga more fully. The accident is described where she lost her leg, her character is described and especially, her anger is expressed. This establishes Hulga as the main character, while also introducing her problem. Her problem on the surface is the attitude of anger, but this is produced by the sad knowledge of what could have been. It is said that, "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." Hulga appears to see through the misconceptions of her mother, yet she is blind to her own misconceptions.
The conflict of the story begins with the introduction of the Bible salesman. As the Bible salesman is introduced, he calls Mrs. Hopewell Mrs. Cedars because the mailbox says 'The Cedars.' This is another comment on the problems that occur by making assumptions. As he enters he is described as noticing the silver. Mrs. Hopewell is described deciding "that he had never been in a room as elegant as this." This is a direct reference to the overall theme of the story. Mrs. Hopewell accepts that the boy is a Bible salesman and so must be a good person. This assumption prevents her from considering that he could actually be a thief or a con artist. By her initial assumptions and the trust she places in him, she makes a major error in judgment that leads to the rest of the events of the story.
These events begin as the boy begins to trick Mrs. Hopewell. In this scene, the boy uses his appearance to convince Mrs. Hopewell. Mrs. Hopewell is cautionary and not easily fooled, but the boy continues to act like a simple boy and eventually he says, "People like you don't like to fool with country people like me!" This statement gets Mrs. Hopewell talking and from this point, the boy introduces himself as Manley Pointer and she is interested in him. The reader has already seen the misconceptions that Mrs. Hopewell operates by. The reader is now seeing how these perceptions can be taken advantage of.
The conflict situation that is the basis for the plot begins as Manley meets Hulga and they agree to meet at the gate. At this point, Hulga tells Manley she is seventeen. This is the first point where how Hulga sees herself is introduced. Up until this point, it was known that the mother thought of her as a child, but not known how she thought of herself. It is seen that Manley manages to fool Hulga, much the same way he fooled Mrs. Hopewell. Manley tells Hulga he might also die too and that he likes girls that wear glasses. Manley also says that they have a lot in common because "they both think serious thoughts and all." This statement especially, makes it clear that Manley is fooling Hulga. Describing himself as intelligent like her, while speaking so poorly, emphasizes that he is not serious like Hulga. Yet, Hulga believes Manley. This shows that Hulga wants to believe what he is saying. This…