Character Meaning in Good Country People
In “Good Country People,” Flannery O’Connor uses symbolism in the choice of names, almost to the point of being ironic and humorous. These names center around the personality and demeanor of the characters. Hulga, once known as Joy, simply changed her name because it was the ugliest she could come up with. Mrs. Freeman’s name is ironic because she is burdened by the land that she works, so she is not really free. Mrs. Hopewell’s name is also ironic, because she tries to provide hope, but is in fact empty in her talk. Each of these characters’ names, Hulga, Mrs. Freeman, and Mrs. Hopewell, all show the symbolism used by O’Connor.
Hulga, the daughter of Mrs. Hopewell, was actually named Joy at birth. At the age of ten, Joy lost one of her legs in a hunting accident, and from that point on became a depressed realist. At the age of twenty one, Joy moved out of the house, went to college, and legally changed her name to Hulga. Hulga changed her name solely to spite her mother, because Joy is such a beautiful name and Hulga is such an ugly one. Hulga had arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius of its fitness struck her. She saw it as the name of her highest creative act. Hulga also changed her name because of the true way she feels inside. Hulga is the ugliest name she could think of and it shows her inability to love or to become close to anyone.
One of the most important elements of “Good Country People” is the relevance of names. O’Connor’s choice of names seems to give indications about the personalities of the characters and seem to be more relevant to the story than what the reader would commonly overlook as simply being generic character names. For example, Mrs. Hopewell losing her “joy,” both her daughter Joy and her happiness, and the Bible salesman’s own attempt to satisfy himself through her, proves to the reader that, whether by coincidence or not, the...
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