Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Good Country People

In my English class I read the short story Good Country People by Flannery O'Connor. It's an intriguing story of a misunderstood woman, Hulga, and how she is deceived by a young man, Manley Pointer. I must admit, I adore this story.

One of the first captivating things we learn is that Hulga, who used to be Joy, changed her name after receiving her PhD in Philosophy, and she has an artificial leg. Unlike her family, she is atheist, and doesn't care about the Southern Belle image. She is seemingly, and consistently rude to everyone she encounters. Her rudeness reminds me of when people hold grudges for ridiculous petty reasons, but it's never really explained fully.

Eventually we meet Manley Pointer when he comes to the house to sell bibles. He is a friendly enthusiastic young man, all of nineteen. Keeping to her southern belle image, Mrs. Hopewell invited Manley into the house, even though when reading her thoughts, she never wanted to. She offers him dinner, and he, of course, accepts. This is much like when someone offers to hang out with you or see you, you don't want to say no and look rude. Any sensible person knows when anything is cancelled or declined it's for the best. Not when you're Southern!

To cut to the chase, eventually Manley talks to Hulga, getting her to go out with him. He seduces him much to her pleasure because she had fantasized it the previous night. When he gets her to a loft in a barn he opens one of his bibles to show us it's a hiding spot where he keeps a flask, condoms, and playing cards. He convinces her to remove her leg, she does so, and he seems to be glad that she opened up. They kiss. Later Manley takes the leg and packs his bible. He leaves Hulga by saying "One time I got a woman's glass eye this way... you ain't so smart. I been believing in nothing every since I was born." The faux Christian who seduces people and steals vital possessions leaves Hulga stranded.

In the end we see Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman gardening, competing with one another unofficially to see who can be the perfect ideal, much like typical teenage girls do. Mrs. Hopewell sees Manley, and brags to her friend about show she knows such a perfect southern gentleman saying, "He was so simple, but I guess the world would be better off if we were all that simple." Ripping an onion from the ground her friend replies, "Some can't be that simple, I know I never could." She reveals a rebellious imperfect side of herself. This is where the story ends, finally seeing someone caught in acting out, like O'Connor had probably hoped she had done.

O'Connor wrote to expose the falsehood of the southern ideals. I see this applies to people in general. All four characters acted out of character in their mind, or when they knew they could get away with it.

I've got to say, I've played the role of Manley Pointer several times lately, and like Manley, when all is said and done, I sit and look at the glass eye and the wooden leg as if they're trophies. Proud and smug.