"Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor is one of her better known short stories. This puts it in impressive company. There's a Flannery O'Connor story in a lot of anthologies, and this is one that turns up over and over.
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If you've read it, you probably understand why. If the story wasn't to your taste, I hope this article helps you appreciate it more.
It starts with a summary and then looks at theme, irony and other relevant things.
Summary of "Good Country People"The Freeman's are tenant farmers working for Mrs. Hopewell, who lives with her daughter, Joy. Mrs. Freeman won't ever admit to being wrong. She visits Mrs. Hopewell every morning at breakfast. They talk about the weather and Mrs. Freeman's daughters.
Joy Hopewell is thirty-two, large and blonde, has a PhD in philosophy, and has an artificial leg. Her mother views her as a child.
Mrs. Hopewell talks up her tenants and their daughters because they're good country people. Mr. Freeman does his work and keeps to himself. Mrs. Freeman is a busybody. Mrs. Hopewell counters this by putting her in charge of everything.
Mrs. Hopewell likes using the same simplistic sayings, to the annoyance of her daughter. Mrs. Freeman joins her in this platitudinous dialogue. Some variation of it is repeated at breakfast, lunch and sometimes supper. Mrs. Freeman would show up during the meal and linger. It tries Mrs. Hopewell's patience, but she wants to hang on to good country people. She's had plenty of tenants who were trash.
She wants Joy to be more pleasant, but she won't change, even for a short time. Her mother excuses her attitude because of her missing leg, which she lost at ten in a hunting accident. When she was away at college at twenty-one, she legally changed her name to Hulga. Mrs. Hopewell continues to call her Joy.
Hulga is rude to Mrs. Freeman, but she doesn't respond to it. She even calls Hulga by her proper name when her mother isn't present. This irritates Hulga. Mrs. Freeman is fascinated by her artificial leg, as she is by other abnormalities and misfortunes.
Mrs. Hopewell would like Joy to smile more and to dress better. She doesn't think college helped her at all. To make matters worse, her degree is in philosophy, which isn't practical. She can't describe her to other people as a philosopher.
Joy also has a bad heart and isn't expected to live past forty-five. She spends her days sitting and reading. She takes an occasional walk, but doesn't really like nature. She finds young men stupid.
On this morning, Mrs. Freeman talks about one of her daughters, while Joy cooks her breakfast at the stove. Mrs. Hopewell wonders what Joy said to the young man.
Yesterday, a young Bible salesman had called at the Hopewell's house. He carried a big, heavy valise. Mrs. Hopewell wasn't interested but invited him in out of politeness. He made a sales pitch based on an appeal to her Christian nature. She turned him down. He said he's too much of a simple country boy for Mrs. Hopewell. She assured him that she loves good country people.
He opens up to her. He wants to devote himself to Christian service. He has a heart condition which has affected his outlook. Mrs. Hopewell is moved by his similarity to Joy. She rashly invites him to stay for supper.
His name is Manley Pointer. Through supper, he talks about his family history and intention to help people. Hulga ignores him after the greeting. He stays until Mrs. Hopewell makes an excuse to get him to leave. Outside, he talks to Hulga. They exchange a few words. She walks to the gate with him. Mrs. Hopewell sees but hasn't asked about it yet.
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In the present, Mrs. Freeman continues talking about her daughters. Hulga takes her breakfast to the table. She knows her mother wants to ask about the salesman. She plans on keeping Mrs. Freeman talking so the opportunity won't arise. The conversation eventually turns to the salesman. Hulga noisily goes to her room.