“Good Country People,” is a classic example of the use of irony as a technique for imbuing a story with meaning. Irony works on many different levels through the piece. Examples of this range from O’ Connors use of clearly ironic dialogue to the dramatic irony that unfolds between Manley and Joy-Hulga. However the most obvious examples can be found in O’Connor’s characterization of these, “Good Country People.” The technique of irony is applied prominently to the character’s names and behaviors to present the contradictions between their expectations and their reality. O’Connor uses her characters to explore common notions regarding, “good” and “bad” people. Using their expectations for one another, O’Connor ultimately expose their literal and figurative, “deformities.” Like Joys wooded leg the Irony in, “Good Country People,” embodies that which is hollow and contrived in its characters.
The story is center around a small cast. In it Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter Joy, who had her name changed to Hulga, live on a farm with their tenants Mrs. Freeman’s and her two daughters- Glynese and Carramae. Interestingly, Mrs. Hopewell calls the Freeman Girls, Glycerin and Caramel while refusing to call her own daughter anything but Joy. “Good County People”, is told through the interactions of this dysfunctional gaggle of ladies, and their chance encounter with the Bible selling con-artist Manley Pointer. It is a story of a few not so, “Good Country People.”
The ironic quality of each character’s name is apparent immediately. Joy Hopewell, a woman crippled in a gruesome hunting accident, is depicted as bitter, sullen, and nihilistic. She is anything but well-whishing or Joyful. Her mother named her daughter because she expected her child to be her joy. She hates the name Hulga which Joy choose for herself because of its ugly harshness, as a kind of joke only she understands. Early in the story Mrs. Hopewell describes this situation;
“Her name was really Joy but as soon as she was 21 and away from home, she had had it legally changed. Mrs. Hopewell was certain that she had thought and thought until she had hit upon the ugliest name in any language. Then she had gone and had the beautiful named, Joy, changed without telling her mother until after she had done it. Her legal name was Hulga.”
Joy-Hulga does not hope well for the people around her. For her, life is beyond hope, or belief in anything. In her mind this indifference makes her vastly superior to those around her. O’Connor depicts Joy-Hulga as person deformed physically and spiritually. Although she is highly educated, she lives an unproductive and unhappy life. A state she blames on a weak hart and a missing leg. Conditions that can be seen as allegorical to her presumptuous, embittered nature. She is joyless, relegating herself to the company of individuals who she feels cannot, “understand her, because of her superior intellect. She expects that they are inferior because of their “simple...