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Good Country People | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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Good Country People | Symbols


Hulga's Leg

Hulga lost her leg in a childhood hunting accident and now wears an artificial one. Along with her weak heart, this disability makes her dependent on other people. This becomes apparent when Manley Pointer removes her leg and refuses to reattach it. Physically, the leg is a point of weakness that, when exploited, leaves her helpless.

Hulga's missing leg represents her hidden limitations and frailties. She wants to appear strong and steady. She looks down on others for their belief in God and goodness and believes herself strong enough to face the "reality" that life is meaningless. But this show of strength is, ultimately, artificial—it is a wooden leg. When pressed, she reverts to traditional ideas of morality. She is shocked that Manley Pointer, a "Christian" and "good" person, is really a liar and a predator. She is easily victimized and deceived despite (or perhaps because of) her education and her sense of superiority.

As something manufactured and wooden, the artificial leg also represents Hulga's creation of a version of herself that is wooden or emotionless. Her rejection of religion, of others, and ultimately of her true self is embodied in the wooden leg, which becomes a kind of crutch for her unhappiness. "She took care of" her wooden leg "as someone else would his soul," nurturing an aspect of her that is "wooden" or dead, not what is vibrant and alive and engaged with the world around her. When her wooden leg is removed and taken out of her control, the emotionless, logical persona she had created and cherished is shattered. Her mind seems to "have stopped thinking altogether" and overwhelms her with emotions: "Different expressions raced back and forth over her face."

Manley Pointer's Bible

Manley Pointer carries with him a Bible that has been hollowed out and filled with condoms, a flask of liquor, and playing cards with obscene images. This Bible symbolizes Pointer himself. On the outside, he presents as a simple, religious young man who is selling Bibles so he can go into Christian service. He appears eager and sincere. But go beyond the outer shell, and there's nothing "Christian" about him. He's not about the gospel; he's all about liquor, sex, pornography, and gambling. His name isn't even Manley Pointer—this is just one of many aliases he uses to run his con on unsuspecting women.

His Bible may also represent to the author the general hypocrisy of which many "Christians" are guilty. It suggests that Christianity can be used as an outer veneer that covers up an inner darkness or sinfulness. Of course, not all Christian hypocrites take their hypocrisy to the lengths Pointer does. But his Bible is a critique of a certain kind of person—one who cares more about appearing Christian than being Christian and doesn't care who gets hurt in the process.

Hulga's Glasses

Hulga's glasses are a tool to help her see the world more clearly. In the climactic scene of the story, Manley Pointer takes them off her face and places them in his pocket. This symbolizes his ability to control her perception—he chooses what she sees and does not see. This physical reality represents the deeper truth that he chose how she would perceive him. To her, he appeared to be a good, simple Christian boy. However, this was just good acting.

Since the glasses are tied to perception, Hulga's need for glasses may also show that her perception of reality is fundamentally flawed. She does not have clear vision on her own; there is something wrong with the way she sees. This speaks to the larger problem with Hulga, which is that she is blinded by her own expectations and ideas. Like her mother, what she wants to see gets in the way of actually seeing. She wants to see herself as more clever and enlightened than Pointer, and as a result someone with power. In reality, he tricks her and shows she is powerless.

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