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Nihilism In O’connor's Good Country People

1008 words - 4 pages

One’s attitude toward the world and life in general often proves self-destructive. Flannery O’Connor, in her short story, “Good Country People,” uses a variety of rhetoric devices such as symbolism, characterization, and irony to portray how a nihilistic philosophy of life can ultimately lead to ruin. She depicts how people tend to stereotype in ways that prevent them from thinking or seeing clearly, and how it can ultimately lead to devastating consequences.

The short story focuses on the expectations of Hulga Hopewell and the irony of her encounter with a traveling Bible salesman. Hulga, with a PhD in philosophy and a wooden leg, sees herself as an uncompromising cynic in a world of fools, and she believes she has spotted a world-class fool in a Bible salesman, Manley Pointer. As her name implies, this is just wishful thinking: her certainty in her own brilliance and the stupidity of others leads her into a trap that reveals far more truth about herself and the world around her than she would have ever previously thought possible.

Despite her PhD, Hulga, at 32 years old, lives with her mother and has no job or desire to get one, or likelihood of ever having one. Hating both herself and the world for her missing leg, she is in need of the healing powers of love and sex. This is what she sees in Manly, the simpleton bible salesman: perhaps the last feasible opportunity she’ll ever have to experience love and sex. In her high opinion of herself and low opinion of him, she plans to seduce him during their picnic date.

Throughout the story, O’Connor shows how people tend to use clichés in ways that make it easy for them to avoid thinking or seeing clearly. Hulga, who looks at “nice young men as if she [can] smell their stupidity” (5), certainly falls for Manly’s illusion of being a simple, religious country boy. Upon being introduced, Hulga gives him a mere glance before determining him as inferior and second-rate. It turns out, however, that he is in fact much more world-wise than Hulga – it is he that ends up seducing her, as opposed to the other way around. It is she that is left sitting alone in a hayloft without her glasses (which is a loaded image in itself, as she was “not seeing clearly” in the first place) and without her wooden leg.

Of her daughter, Mrs. Hopewell thinks, "She was brilliant but she didn't have a grain of sense" (5). This is a very telling statement. Hulga, an intellectual, would have never thought it possible for such a low-life, seemingly innocent and ignorant boy to have the mental capacity to fool her like he did, to con her out the possession most precious, dear, and personal to her. She is shocked to realize that he is not a “good country person” after all.

Neither Mrs. Hopewell nor Mrs. Freeman is an exception to this mentality. They spend their days in the kitchen criticizing everything they don’t understand. Seeing the con man in the distance, walking away with Hulga’s leg, Mrs....

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