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O’Connor’s GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE

O’Connor’s GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE

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Published by gidmj2010
GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE
GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE

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Published by: gidmj2010 on Oct 16, 2013
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balance between the ideal and the practical striving toward the ideal. At itsbest,this attempt to transcend time and to unite with the timeless is like theefforts of an artist who turns reality into static art. Finally,the knights giveup their attempt to reach the visionary:“Slowly the shapes of searching menand horses / Escaped him as he dreamt on that high bed”(21–22).Wilbur associates Merlin’s retreat to his dream with the decline of a civi-lization,the fall of Arthur’s kingdom,and the end of history. In tears,Arthurtells Gawen that “
thishand 
(“Merlin30),which “
[o]nce haled a sword fromstone
(33) and is “
now no less strong
(33),
cannot dream of such a thingto do
(34). However,the accomplishments of Camelot are commemorated inlegends and are bequeathed to succeeding generations. The quests of theknights of the Round Table may have come to an end,but their achievementshave been wrought into art,a medieval tapestry:“Their mail grew quainter asthey clopped along. / The sky became a still and woven blue”(35–36).—ISABELLA WAI,
 Auburn University
NOTE
1.In the November 12,2003,letter to Isabella Wai,Wilbur wrote:“I think I chose to spellGawain’s name ‘Gawen,because I was used to that pronunciation from my studies in MiddleEnglish at Harvard,and didn’t want the reader to hear the name as ga-WAYNE.
WORKS CITED
Wilbur,Richard. “Introduction.
Poe,Complete Poems.
Laurel Poetry Series. New York:Dell,1959. 7–39.———. “Merlin Enthralled.
 New and Collected Poems
. San Diego:Harcourt,1988. 245–46.Zimmer,Heinrich.
The King and the Corpse:Tales of the Soul’s Conquest of Evil
.Ed. JosephCampbell. New York:Pantheon Books,1948.
O’Connor’s GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE
Flannery O’Connor’s Southern landscapes are populated by freaks,misfits,shrewd con artists,murderers,and sometimes just plain ordinary country peo-ple. All her characters are flawed in some way—most are spiritually andmorally corrupt. However,the greatest flaws can often be found in those char-acters with physical impairments; bodily handicaps symbolize the greaterhandicaps of the intellect,the heart,or the soul. In O’Connors tales,the blindcannot recognize the most obvious intellectual truths,and those who are phys-ically crippled are often emotionally or spiritually crippled. In FlanneryO’Connor’s “Good Country People,Joy-Hulga’s physical afflictions—her
233
 
heart condition,her poor eyesight,and her artificial leg—symbolize her emo-tional,intellectual,and spiritual impairments.Joy-Hulga has a “weak heart,”
1
which keeps her from the life she desires.Instead of teaching philosophy at a university,she lives at her childhoodhome,reading philosophy books all day,every day. However,her weak heartsymbolizes her emotional detachment—an inability to love anyone or any-thing. Joy-Hulga “didn’t like dogs or cats or birds or flowers or nature ornice young men”(276). She has neither friends nor acquaintances,no girl-friend stopping by to chat,no man calling her for a date. She does not evenshare a bond of affection with her mother. Although Mrs. Hopewell gen-uinely seems to love her “bloated,rude,and squint-eyed(276) daughter,Joy-Hulga returns this affection with exasperation and disgust. She sulkilywalks the fields with her mother,although it is the family farm that keepsJoy-Hulga knee-deep in philosophy books. This rude and sullen daughteralso avoids conversing with her mother at the dining table,avoiding hermother’s gaze and resentfully standing with her arms folded across her chest.She thinks her mother foolish and silly,unable to understand her anger andpain. Once,in a rage,she screams at her mother:“Woman! do you ever look inside? Do you ever look inside and see what you are
not 
? God!”(276). YetJoy-Hulga never looks at her mother to see what she
is
—a caring and con-cerned mother,although “smug,narrow-minded,ignorant”
2
and overly opti-mistic about life. Joy-Hulga has no compassion for others; all her pity isreserved for herself. Her “weak heart”keeps her from emotionally connect-ing with others. Although Joy-Hulga’s heart condition ensures that she willdie an early death,she emotionally died at age ten,when she lost her leg ina hunting accident.Joy-Hulga also wears eyeglasses.
3
The young Bible salesman,using thepseudonym of Manley Pointer,connects the wearing of eyeglasses to intelli-gence:“‘I like girls that wear glasses,he said. ‘I think a lot’”(284),somehowconflating Joy-Hulga’s eyeglasses with his own intelligence. However,eye-glasses also reflect Joy-Hulga’s intelligence,as she possesses a Ph.D. in phi-losophy. But she is blind to reality,having knowledge only of books andabstract ideas,rather than of people and concrete objects. We learn that hereyes have “the look of someone who has achieved blindness by an act of will”(273) and that “she seldom paid any close attention to her surroundings”(287). Her intellectual superiority is the very thing that has blinded her. Sheproudly claims that philosophy has helped her to see clearly. She remarks toPointer,“some of us have taken off our blindfolds and see that there’s nothingto see”(288),and she proudly proclaims,“I don’t have illusions(287). How-ever,her “number of degreeshas literally provided her with knowledge o“nothing,the central focus of her philosophical studies. The problem is thatshe sees only “nothing.”
234
 
Manley Pointer,a boy with eyes as sharp as “two steel spikes”(289),real-izes how superficial her intelligence is,how easily it can be taken away fromher,and how meaningless it is in the real world. Prior to their picnic,Joy-Hulga daydreams how she will seduce what she believes is an innocent coun-try boy. Her intelligence will keep her from being emotionally involved as itis “all a matter of the mind’s control(286). Her “true genius”will teach his“inferior mind”(284) the true meaning of life. However,Manley Pointer’ssharp,steely eyes can see clearly and he easily strips Joy-Hulga of her intel-lectual armor. He takes away her glasses—the symbol of her intelligence—leaving her vulnerable to his perverted interests:“When her glasses got in hisway,he took them off of her and slipped them into his pocket”(287). The“eyeglasses”of her philosophical degree cover up Joy-Hulga’s poor vision.Stripped of eyeglasses and any relevant use for her education,her true intel-lectual blindness is revealed. Of all the flaws that a character might possess,O’Connor is most concerned with spiritual defects. In this case,Joy-Hulga’sartificial leg relates to her false spirituality,that is,her rejection of religion forphilosophy.
4
Since her leg was shot off in a hunting accident at age ten,Joy-Hulga has worn a false leg,which attaches to the stump at her knee. The arti-ficial leg is “bound in a heavy material like canvas(289),not unlike the bind-ing of one of her philosophy books. O’Connor equates the false leg with falsereligion—that is,with the study of philosophical nihilism. For O’Connor,phi-losophy is an empty and soulless expression of human spirituality,as demon-strated by the following passage rife with intellectual gibberish:
One day Mrs. Hopewell had picked up one of the books the girl had just putdown and opening it at random,she read,“Science,on the other hand,hasto assert its soberness and seriousness afresh and declare that it is con-cerned solely with what-is. Nothing—how can it be for science anythingbut a horror and a phantasm? If science is right,then one thing stands firm:science wishes to know nothing of nothing. Such is after all the strictly sci-entific approach to Nothing. We know it by wishing to know nothing of Nothing.(277)
The “nothing”that Joy-Hulga so devoutly worships is both her lack of a legand lack of a faith. Instead,she has replaced these missing items with an arti-ficial leg and an artificial belief. Indeed,she treats her artificial leg as her soulin her new religion:“She took care of it as someone else would his soul,inprivate and almost with her own eyes turned away”(288).Of course,Joy-Hulga has no choice about her artificial leg; the loss of theleg was something that was done to her,not something that she chose to do toherself. But,did the loss of her leg cause the loss of her religion? Did Joy-Hulga lose her religion because she had no choice? The answer appears to bean emphatic no. No doubt O’Connor saw Joy-Hulga’s anger and lack of accep-tance of her childhood as lacking belief in God’s Providence—a deliberate
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