Feminism and Historicism play a major part in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Good Country People”, first published in 1955. The story focuses on the importance of identity and the parallels between truth and deception. In “Good Country People”, the Hopewell family, maintain a small farm in rural Georgia with the help of tenants the Freemans. The pious Mrs. Hopewell’s mottos ‘nothing is perfect’ and ‘it takes all kinds to make the world’ are manifested in her unmarried thirty-two year old daughter, Joy who later changes her name to Hulga, wears a prosthetic wooden leg because of a childhood accident. Hulga who has a Ph.D. in Philosophy, cannot advance her academic aspirations because of a weak heart; because of this she must live in her childhood home with her mother. Regardless of her education, Hulga’s mother believes her daughter is completely nonsensical; Hulga’s true fault is that she is ignorant to her own surrounds. She personally finds the faith of her mother, and Mrs. Freeman, senseless because she see it as not authentic. Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga initially trust the traveling Bible salesman, Manley Pointer, who visits the farm; both believe that he is from “good country people”, but soon learn he is not.
The feminist element is an overarching theme in all of Flannery O’Connor’s works; it is imperative to note however that O’Connor did not want to be easily identified as a feminist, she wanted her characters not to deny their femininity but to “exploit it” sometimes to the point of a parody (Smith 35); she wanted her readers to “give credit” to her characters for “employing a clever strategy in attempting to survive in a man’s world” (Smith 35). With this, O’Connor provokes her readers to not only have compassion for her female characters but a bitter reverence in recognizing their strategy in attempting to survive in a man’s world while still maintaining their independence and singlehood. Smith’s article notes that they, all of O’Connor’s female characters, deserve sympathy because: “they’re all faced with an impossible task in having to synthesize aspects of both gender roles in order to maintain their livelihoods” (Smith 35).
The family farm despite the absent economic power of a male character leads the Hopewell women to assume all the open roles while simultaneously maintaining their femininity (Smith 36); they must assume a dual task by acting male in public but privately preserving their womanhood. These gender roles, however, cannot be fully explained without looking at the relationship between mother and daughter; despite their common sex, their relationship is seen as a disturbing force where mother and daughter are at often at odds with each other.
Mrs. Hopewell is a hard working widow who assumes the male role by being the primary care-giver and supporter to her special needs daughter. Hulga, despite her independence streak is determined to make a life on her own; she gives almost a reversed protest against her...