Flannery O’Connor Essay
Flannery O’Connor wrote two stories, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People.” In the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor tells a story about a family going on a trip to Florida. Bailey, the Grandmother, and the Misfit are the major characters of the story with Grandmother being the protagonist. Instead of going to Florida, the Grandmother wanted to go to Tennessee. She tried her best to change Bailey’s mind by telling him about the criminal who was on the loose called the Misfit. Eventually on the trip to Florida, the family meets up with the Misfit when their car turns over. Soon after meeting the family, the Misfit kills the whole family. Also in, the story “Good Country People,” Flannery O’Connor discusses a lady and her disabled daughters. The major characters of this story are Hulga, Mrs. Hopewell, and Manly Pointer with Hulga also being the protagonist. In this story, Hulga is a thirty-two year old woman who stays at home with her mother, Mrs. Hopewell due to her wooden leg that was shot off in a hunting accident when she was younger. Hulga’s name was originally Joy but, when she was twenty-one, she changed it to the ugliest name she could think of. Well, although Hulga was educated with a PhD degree, she was very bitter and treated her mom very badly. One day a Bible salesman came to the house and Mrs. Hopewell invited him in for dinner. After dinner him and Hulga talked and decided to meet later. When the two met, they went to the woods and into a barn. Hulga allowed Manly Pointer, the Bible salesman to take off her leg, which was rare. He then tried to sweet talk her and make her do things she was not comfortable doing. She refused and by her surprise, he took her leg. In this essay, the Grandmother’s selfish, manipulative, talkative, old-fashioned, and silly characteristics in the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” as well as, Hulga’s intelligent, childish, sensitive, and vulnerable characteristics, in the story “Good Country People” written by Flannery O’Connor will be analyzed.
O’Connor allows Grandmother to be a selfish, manipulative, talkative, old-fashioned, and silly character in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” For example, at the very beginning of the story, she was trying to convince Bailey not to go to Florida because she wanted to go to Tennessee to see some people she knew. This shows how selfish she was. Instead of realizing that Bailey was the head of the family and it was his decision where the family went on vacation, she was busy thinking of what she wanted and trying to change his mind. She read Bailey the newspaper about the Misfit being loose from the Federal Penitentiary in Florida. She stated “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience” (1). This shows how manipulative the Grandmother was. She would do and say what she needed to get her way. Grandmother was a very talkative woman also. For example, at the beginning of the trip, she discussed it being a good day for a drive, warned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five, and discussed the scenery. The Grandmother sometimes just liked to hear herself talk. She was just a normal old lady driving a family of young people crazy. Also, Grandmother was old-fashioned. She always made comments like, “People are certainly not nice like they used to be” (3). Grandmother would reflect on the old days in the past when she was coming up. She thought kids just were not the same like they used to be. Grandmother loved her family though. She would sometimes get silly with them, for example when they were at Red Sammy’s, she asked Bailey to dance, but he gave her the evil eye. So instead she danced in her chair and enjoyed herself. Also, in the car she was telling the kids about a big house that had a secret panel with silver in it. This shows that while she did expect respect from her family, she did know how to keep them entertained at times.
Joy/Hulga was an intelligent, childish, sensitive, and vulnerable protagonist in the story “Good Country People.” For example, during the story Mrs. Hopewell could not understand why Hulga had gone to school to get a PhD in philosophy. She would pick up a book that she was reading and it would be like Greek to her. This shows that in that time, a woman was expected to go so high in school. Mrs. Hopewell was embarrassed of her mother having such a degree. Although she was very intelligent, Hulga was also childish. For example, “she went about all day in a six-year-old skirt and a yellow sweat shirt… She thought this was funny” (3). This shows that she would do things just to be different and sort of upset her mom. She tried whatever she could to get up under her mother’s skin. This is an act that a child would use. When Hulga was ten, she was in an accident where her leg was shot off. Because of this, Hulga had to get a wooden leg, which led to her being very sensitive, due to others teasing her growing up. She would not allow people to get close to it, let alone touch it. For example, Manly Pointer asked Hulga if he could see where her artificial leg joins on. Hulga was shocked and uptight about him even mentioning her wooden leg. For a moment she became sensitive to the subject. Without her leg, obviously Hulga is immobile. This makes her very vulnerable. For example, Manly took off Hulga’s leg and she was totally reliant on him. Hulga has kept the knowledge of this vulnerability even from herself and as a consequence has left herself wide open for unfair treatment by the dishonorable Bible salesman. This proves that through the tough hard exterior, Hulga is just a thirty-two year old child. Her mother thinks of her as a child even though she is thirty-two years old, and she behaves childishly, stomping around as loudly as she can with her wooden leg, trying to annoy. She makes the most of her injury, yet deflects pity by thrusting herself into people’s consciousness by being rude and loud.
If one was to compare the two, Grandmother and Hulga, one would find that they both are selfish, stealthy, stay with family, come in contact with villains that change their perspectives, and the antagonists in the stories act as liberators. A way that the Grandmother shows her selfishness, is at the end of the story, she resulted to telling the Misfit to pray. She was using the Lord as her last possible way to get her out of being killed. Also, O’Connor showed how Hulga was selfish when she described the way she would take care of her wooden leg, making sure no one touched it and as someone else would their spirit. Another similarity that the two have is their stealthy ways. Hulga disappeared quietly when it was time to go see the bible salesman. Hulga does not want her mother to get any bright ideas about the two, although she has been imagining herself of what could happen. While, Grandmother got into the car early so that she could sneak her cat in. She knows that Bailey would not be happy with taking a cat into a hotel. Also, the two were both staying with their family members on account they were not able to take care of themselves physically. Hulga had a weak heart and a wooden leg, and Grandmother was an elderly woman. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People” shares another conflict: both of their female protagonists come face to face with villains and the nothingness they believe in. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” the poor mixed up Grandmother’s encounter with The Misfit destroys her but in the end also brings her to repentance: “‘she murmured, ‘Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!’” (10). She is immediately killed after this action but the change in her is clear. In “Good Country People” the conflict doesn’t lead to as dramatic of a change but Hulga’s encounter with Manly Pointer does change her. It changes her by Manly destroying Hulga’s snooty intellectual ideas of nothing and showing what believing in nothing really looks like; he does this by being himself. In the end he declares to Hulga as he is leaving her stranded in the barn, that he does not agree that she is all that smart and that he has believed in nothing for a while, like it is no big deal. This was to knock her down and let her know that she is not all that different by holding a PhD and having a wooden leg. It is interesting when looking at the antagonists of the two stories, Manly Pointer and The Misfit, that in a very strange way despite their despicable ways, they act as saviors for the protagonists. In the case of Manly Pointer, he might believe in nothing, but he also removes Hulga’s ability to stand on her own faulty beliefs in nothing. As she says to Manly before he shows his true self that everyone is damned but some take off their blindfolds and see nothing. But it is only when Manly symbolically pulls off her blindfold by taking away her leg, and showing her real nothing that she can move on to a true salvation. The Misfit also serves as a Messiah for the Grandmother. The Misfit does this by forcing the Grandmother in the end to come to a place where she can see the world unselfishly and reach out in love.
In the two stories, Hulga and Grandmother were also very different in such instances as religion, respect, character traits, and likes and dislikes. For example, the grandmother believed in God and Hulga did not. In “Good Country People,” “Mrs. Hopewell could not say, ‘My daughter is an atheist and won’t let me keep the Bible in the parlor’” to the Bible salesman when he asked why was there not a Bible in the parlor (4). Grandmother also believed in respecting your elders while Hulga constantly disrespected her mother. Grandmother would say that when she was growing up kids would be respectful of their parents. Hulga was so irritated by having to stay with her mom at the age of thirty-two, and not being able to use her doctorate degree that she took it out on her mother. Also, Grandmother was very outgoing while Hulga was more introvert. Hulga was a shy person that did not socialize with many people. Grandmother would talk to whoever would listen. She would walk into the door talking. For example, while at Red Sammy’s restaurant, she hopped into a conversation with the owner about how people were not trust worthy anymore. Hulga would seldom talk to anyone, for example, Manly was trying to strike up a conversation with her throughout the meal but, “Joy had given him one look on being introduced to him and then throughout the meal had not glanced at him again”(5).Joy did not care about what other people thought of her. Another difference between the two was the fact that Grandmother cared about her appearance, whereas Hulga did not. Hulga went to meet Manly with a dirty t-shirt on and some slacks, while when dressing for the road trip, Grandmother was dressed in a navy blue dress and sailor hat. Grandmother was concerned that if something were to happen to her, they would have no problem identifying her as a woman. Hulga was not interested in her appearance, what can be worse than a wooden leg?