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Review of Flannery O'Connor's story "Good Country People" (1955)

Posted: 24 August 2014  
Flannery o'Connor, American author
Above: American author Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)

American novelist Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925. She was the only child of her parents and her father, a real estate agent, died from a terminal case of lupus when Flannery, was 15 - years old, leaving his teenage daughter devastated. Flannery o’Connor was Catholic, which was not the most popular faith in the southern United States which is predominantly Protestant. O’Connor wrote 2 novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960) however she might be best known for her collection of over 32 short stories. O’Connor was a master at showing and not telling as they say in creative writing classrooms. She will give life to characters whose human behaviors are not what they seem but she will not tell you that they are bad people or good people; only her descriptions of their behavior will require you to judge them by their actions rather than their words, therefore she creates a test of morality to see who the reader relates with. A little research into Ms. o’Connor’s life will show that she was also widely recognized as a writer with theological interests who wrote numerous reviews on religious books for a magazine.

Andalusia farmhouse in Georgia last home where Flannery o'Connor lived
Above: Andalusia, a farmhouse in Milledgville, Georgia which is the last place where Flannery O'Connor lived and the house is now a museum.

Good Country People, a short story taking place on a farm somewhere in the south, was written in 1955, when o’Connor was 30 years old, 9 years before she died from the same lymphatic system disease, lupus, which killed her father. O’Connor is compared frequently to William Faulkner for the level of disturbing insight she delivers and their geographical closeness in location in reality and in their prose which plays a dominant role in their writing. About the southern style of storytelling, which is often called “gothic” or “grotesque” O’Connor said:

"Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”- Flannery o'Connor




Favorite quotes from “Good Country People”(1955) by Flannery O'Connor

“Joy was her daughter, a large blond girl who had an artificial leg.” “He leaned over and put his lips to her ear. “Show me where your wooden leg joins on,” he whispered.”

“'What’s the matter with you all of a sudden?' he asked, frowning as he screwed the top on the flask and put it quickly inside the Bible.”

“And I’ll tell you one thing Hulga,” he said using the name as if he didn’t think much of it, “you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!” “Mrs. Freeman’s gaze drove forward and just touched him before he disappeared under the hill. Then she returned her attention to the evil-smelling onion shoot she was lifting from the ground. “Some can’t be that simple,” she said. “I know I never could.”

“The reason for keeping them for so long is because they were not trash. They were good country people.” Explained the narrator in Good Country People, at the same time, displaying in foreshadowing the mentality that will later cause Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter Joy to be deceived.

One identifies the narrator with the 30-year old daughter Joy who has 2 names: Joy, her birth-name, and Hulga- her self-given name, deliberately chosen because most people perceive it to be an ugly name. Although the Joy/Hulga character is absurd from the narrator's point of view for being a disabled, over - educated young woman (with a PhD) living on a farm, she is also lovable and the reader both sympathizes with Joy/Hulga and finds her comical, although Joy/Hulga’s character never laughs or smiles throughout the story and if she makes a joke it is more likely to be mean than funny. However as smart as she is, she doesn't suspect that someone is 'hunting' something which she has.  

Good Country People is the kind of short story that would define the genre in  American short story writing and by extension the whole world, and set the bar so high that future generations of writers would indeed find it difficult to write moralistic but disturbing, meaningful prose without giving it considerable thought. 

by Andrea Boggs

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