Symbolism In Good Country Peop Essay, Research Paper
SYMBOLISM IN GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE
Symbolism plays a major role in Flannery O Connor s story, Good Country People.
Multiple objects that are presented in the story appear initially to be merely props, but
the reader later discovers these props to actually be extremely important and
necessary to the dynamics of the story. These props, or objects, symbolically
represent the personalities of the characters who possess and/or use them.
One such object in the story is the wooden leg of Hulga. When the wooden leg is
introduced into the story, the reader is compelled to feel sympathy and pity for Hulga
due to the circumstances necessitating the wooden leg. It is mentioned briefly, with
little description, that the leg was literally blown off in a hunting accident. This
sounds terrible, and is tragic, but what is even more tragic is the way Hulga uses the
wooden leg as a tool for manipulating situations to suit her. An example of this is
when she stomps through the house, deliberately making a loud ugly-sounding
noise. Hulga s physical disability, and use of the wooden leg, symbolizes her as a
whole. More specifically, the leg is strong yet weak at the same time, as Hulga
appears strong to others, but in reality is vulnerable. The leg is strong, not only
because of the obvious fact- it is made from wood, but because it provides Hulga with
support, or in other words, a crutch. At the same time, however, it is weak because if
removed, it would simply be nothing more than a piece of wood. And, in fact, the
wooden leg does eventually prove its weakness in the story. In one second, the
wooden leg goes from being a leg, a fundamental means of support, to nothing except
a piece of wood. At the same moment the leg is removed, Hulga herself goes from
being a strong personality, to a cripple begging for mercy.
Other objects in the story that have symbolic meaning are the eggs that Hulga cooks
for breakfast. It is stated in the story that Hulga puts her eggs on the stove to boil, and
then she stands over them with her arms crossed waiting for the eggs to cook. When
the eggs are placed into the water, they are fragile, but as they cook, they become
hard. This process greatly reflects upon Hulga. Hulga uses the time when the eggs
are cooking to rebuild her wall. This wall is the barrier that she puts between herself
and others, mainly her mother, Mrs. Hopewell. Hulga is, in a sense, making herself
hard like the eggs.
Mrs. Hopewell s name is incredibly symbolic of her character s personality. The
compound word, Hopewell, if broken down, literally means what it says- hope well.
With everything that Mrs. Hopewell s daughter, Hulga, has done in the past and does
in the story, Mrs. Hopewell still has hope that things might change for the best. She
has dealt with her daughter s negativity for years, but has yet to become negative
herself. Mrs. Hopewell is strongly opinionated and set in her ways, but nonetheless,
she does try to look for the good in people and situations.
Another object in the story that has a symbolic meaning is the bible that the boy,
Manley Pointer the bible salesman, carries with him throughout the story. The reader
is led to believe that the bible is simply a regular bible and that Manley Pointer is
simply a good country boy. But this is not the case, as is revealed late in the story.
The image of the bible is obviously related with anything pure, good, nice, or kind,
and many people tend to generalize that anyone holding, reading, or speaking about a
bible must be of the same characteristics. This is what happens to the characters of
Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga in the story. They wrongfully assume, as could the reader,
that Manley Pointer is a reflection of the bibles he is selling. More specifically it is
Hulga that makes the tragic assumption that Manley Pointer is an easy target because
of the connection she makes to the bibles. Hulga believes the bible salesman to be a
na ve youth, possibly blinded by his faith to the evil- the evil being Hulga s plan to
seduce him to get at her mother- sneaking up on him. Hulga is caught off guard
however, when Manley Pointer opens his bible to reveal a flask of whiskey among
other things. This turn of events surprises Hulga, because when the bible is opened,
not only are the contents of the bible exposed, but so is the true character of Manley
Pointer the bible salesman. Therefore, the bible with the items, items related with sin
and evil, hidden inside, is overwhelming symbolic of the image and true character of
The ladder that Hulga and Manley Pointer climb to reach the loft is symbolic of the
climax of the story itself. To the unsuspecting reader, it is expected that atop the
ladder awaits the place in which Hulga will take advantage of the bible salesman.
That, however, is not what happens. Climbing the ladder takes Hulga to a place from
which she cannot return, without the wooden leg of course. Just as having bad
intentions and doing bad deeds will bring someone to a point in life or a place from
which it is not easy to return. The ladder symbolizes the climax of the story and the
journey of Hulga.
It is also somewhat symbolic that Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman were in the
garden at the end of the story digging up onions when they spotted Manley Pointer
exiting the barn. The women, at that time, had no knowledge that the bible salesman
was not the good country boy they believed him to be, but just the fact that they were
digging up onions when he came out of the barn is subtly funny. Mrs. Hopewell and
Mrs. Freeman were digging up stinky onions and Hulga had just been had by a stinky
Flannery O Connor s use of symbolism in this story is ingenious. She artfully
injects objects into the story that makes it almost exciting for the reader to discover
one such object. Some of the things Flannery O Connor uses are obvious, but others
require close scrutiny and possibly several readings to find. Some appear to have
great story value, and others appear only for entertainment of the reader. This
masterful use of symbolism is one characteristic of Flannery O Connor that makes her
a magnificent writer.