The idea of awakening, whether spiritual or physical, is a different experience in individuals. In Good Country People, Hulga represents the typical character in O’Connor’s stories that experience a catharsis after tragedies. Hulga is a well-educated woman who has done little with her life other than reading and writing. She experiences significant challenges in relating with other people because she lacks practical life skills despite her educational attainment. Most importantly, she sees herself as a genius and knows better than anyone else. She is a nihilist or an atheist since she believes in nothing (O’Connor 120). Limited by an artificial leg and a weak heart, she has restricted her life to their home. Hulga’s experiences transform her from a woman who believed in nothing to a person who believes in everything and is left confused.
Hulga is an intelligent young woman. The shallow and pointless conversations between Mrs. Freeman and her mother annoy her. She prefers reading books rather than in the company of other people. Hulga views religion as a time waster and thinks she is above the average Christian believer (Funk 2). Hulga meets a Bible salesperson whom she intends to seduce. Because of her conviction about her superiority, she believes she can easily outshine a salesperson, who turns out to be a cone artist (O’Connor 109). She finds herself connected to her surroundings more than ever and allows the salesman to access her most vulnerable part, her artificial leg. The salesman takes her artificial leg leaving her to reflect that she is not as savvy as she seems to think. The salesman, armed with religion, causes Hulga to lose her leg and elicit a spiritual awakening in her religious beliefs.
Hulga’s experience with the salesman changes her from a person who believes in something to a believer in everything. To find her faith, Hulga has to lose oar of her, i.e., her leg. The loss of her leg symbolizes the loss of part of her past beliefs. She loses the confidence that she is better than everyone. Her loss of a leg in a shooting accident coincided with changing her name from Joy to Hulga (O’Connor 107). Perhaps, her name change symbolized the physical transformation that she went through after losing her leg. In essence, the story around Hulga is about self-realization and a war between strong personal beliefs and the reality of individual vulnerabilities to the immediate environment.
The author’s characterization of Hulga reflects southern society regarding its beliefs and values. Dismissing Hulga’s skepticism as neurotic parody or ideological posture of a true philosophy of life may cause a misunderstanding of the character and the entire writing (Stambovsky 4). By making the protagonist, a Ph.D. in philosophy enhances Hulga’s denunciation of Christianity. The character development is not rationally confused or a superficial version of nihilism. I t is well-constructed to mirror human history. Her rejection of mainstream beliefs signified the rejection of diabolic social constructs, such as women’s position in society.
To sum it up, Hulga represents the typical character in O’Connor’s stories that experience a realization after tragic experiences. Hulga’s transformations take different turns throughout her life. After losing her leg through a shooting accident, she changes her name to find her new self. Self-isolation and reading become her preferred way of life. However, her experience with the Bible salesman forces her to question her beliefs, both in herself and the world. The experience transforms her into a believer of everything and brings her closer to her environment.
Connor, Flannery. A good man is hard to find, and other stories. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955. Print.
Funk, Hannah, “Female Agency: Standing Upon the Artificial Leg of Independence in Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People,” 2019. Making Literature Conference. 2. https://pillars.taylor.edu/makingliterature/2019conference/ce2/2
Stambovsky, Phillip. “Augustinian Evil and the Defeat of High-Modern Nihilism in Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People.”, 2019. https://bit.ly/3qRAY6P