Irony in “Good Country People”
Flannery O’Connor uses characterization, and the themes of good versus evil and the
psychological and physical problems of the characters, to create irony in the story. The
characterization of both Mrs. Hopewell and Joy/Hulga creates irony, which begins with
their names. Then the theme of good versus evil, demonstrated by the belief that
country people are “good”, also creates irony.
The story is about a farm owner, Mrs. Hopewell, her only daughter Joy/Hulga, and a
Bible salesman named Manley Pointer. Joy/Hulga lost her leg at the age of ten due to a
hunting accident and although she gets a very high education, she lives a miserable life
at home with no one to talk to besides her mother and some hired help. She lives with
people who she thinks are inferior to her because of their simple ways, their religious
beliefs, and especially their lack of education. She believes she is superior to them
because she got a PhD in Philosophy. Joy/Hulga shows this superior attitude by failing to
show her mother any respect in the presence of the Mrs. Freeman, when she slams a door
and calls her mother “woman” while her mother was eating with Mrs. Freeman.
Mrs. Hopewell is an old lady who thinks she is in control of everything, and hopes
everything goes well, when in fact nothing goes well, which is ironic because her name is
Hopewell. Her problems start with Joy/Hulga who won’t talk with her, treats her poorly,
and brings her no pride. Mrs. Hopewell can’t figure out why she studied philosophy.
She gave her daughter the name of Joy Hopewell, however, her name is ironic because
she is neither joyful or hopeful. O’Connor demonstrates this irony when “as
soon as she was twenty-one and away from home she had it legally changed . Mrs.
Hopewell was certain that she had thought and thought until she had hit upon the ugliest
name in any language”.
O’Connor uses irony to reveal Joy’s physical and psychological problems in “Good
Country People”. Joy’s artificial leg is the obvious example of a physical limitation. It is
ironic that the only character in the story who seems “normal” is the only one with a
physical disability. It is also ironic that Joy/Hulga’s education failed her at the most
unexpected time. With all of her education and superiority, Joy/Hulga lacked common
sense. Joy/Hulga saw through Manley Pointer when he first arrives, and “had given him
one look on being introduced to him and then throughout the rest of the meal had not
glanced at him again.” Up until the end of the story you believe Joy understands the
situation she is in, and even says to Pointer, “I don’t have illusions. I’m one of the those
people who see through to nothing”. She says this just before Pointer convinces her to
remove her wooden leg and give it to him. He then steals her artificial leg. She then
learns she is not so smart.
O’Connor also uses the theme of good versus evil to demonstrate irony. The “good”
begins with Mrs. Hopewell hiring and “keeping Mrs. Freeman so long was that they were
not trash. They were good country people.” When Manly Pointer arrives at her home
he gains her confidence by stating, “I know I’m real simple. I don’t know how to say a
thing but to say it. I’m just a country boy”, to which she replies “good country people are
the salt of the earth!” “Why I think there aren’t enough good country people in the
world!” It is ironic how Pointer convinced Mrs. Hopewell that he was a good Christian country boy when in fact all he was an evil thief.
Flannery O’Connor uses characterization and the theme of good versus evil to create
dramatic and situational irony in “Good Country People”. He uses the dramatic and
situational irony to show vulnerability and power in the story. Mrs. Hopewell’s name is
used to show a life of...
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