Good Country People Summary

Flannery O’Connor

Good Country People

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Good Country People Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor.

Published as part of her 1955 short story collection, A Good Man is Hard to Find, “Good Country People” is often considered one of Flannery O’Connor’s greatest stories. Through the tale of a Bible salesman visiting a troubled family farm, it explores themes including faith and belief, explorations of humanity as fallen and sinful, and lessons about the ways pride and hubris can lead to a downfall. The story opens on a farm in Georgia where the reader is introduced to Mrs. Freeman, a nosey busybody who rarely admits to being wrong. Mrs. Freeman lives on the farm as a lodger and helps the owner, Mrs. Hopewell, run the household while her husband, Mr. Freeman, helps with farming. Mrs. Hopewell considers the Freemans to be “good country people,” a patronizing phrase she uses for those she perceives to be decent and moral but simplistic and beneath her.

Over breakfast each morning, Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman discuss what they perceive to be the important matters of the day. On this morning, Mrs. Hopewell’s thirty-two-year-old daughter locks herself in the bathroom to avoid their banal small talk, before eventually emerging to cook eggs. Mrs. Hopewell christened her daughter “Joy” and was shocked when she legally changed her name to “Hulga.” Hulga chose the name precisely because she considered it extremely ugly, an act of petty rebellion that reflects her consciously ugly temperament, itself an expression of her resentment for, and rejection of, the stupidity and small-mindedness of those around her. Mrs. Hopewell, who refuses to use her daughter’s new name, suspects she should not have allowed her to leave and gain a PhD in Philosophy because she blames this for the young woman’s bad attitude and atheist beliefs. However, she tolerates Hulga’s anger and resentment because Hulga has a heart condition that means she is unlikely to live to age forty-five. She also needs her mother’s assistance and care because, at ten years old, she lost her leg in a hunting accident and so never got to have “normal” fun while growing up.

When Mrs. Freeman mentions that her daughter, who is fifteen years old, married, and pregnant, has been experiencing morning sickness, Mrs. Hopewell thinks about her own daughter’s love life. To Mrs. Hopewell’s shame, Hulga has shown no interest in the local men because she considers them tediously unintelligent. Mrs. Hopewell wonders whether there might be something between Hulga and a Bible salesman who had come to dinner the day before. The man had quickly won Mrs. Hopewell over by presenting himself as a simple rural lad, another example of “good country people.” Hulga was less impressed and tried to convince her mother to get rid of the man so they could eat their dinner in peace. However, this changed when the man claimed to have a heart condition, causing Hulga to weep at the thought of meeting someone who could understand her own illness. Hulga insisted that the man join them for dinner although, still convinced of her superiority, she then ignored him throughout the meal. Mrs. Hopewell spent two hours talking to the salesman, at least partly to prove that she really does respect “good country people.” After she finally had asked him to leave, she was surprised to see him talking with Hulga in the road outside the house.

Back in the present, Hulga, having stormed off to her room, remembers lying in bed all night thinking about the conversation she had had with the salesman. During their talk, the man had referenced her prosthetic leg and called her “brave” and “sweet.” He had also said he liked girls with glasses because it made them look intelligent and that he only liked intelligent, self-aware girls. Having both flattered Hulga and appealed to her sense of superiority, he had invited her to come on a picnic the next day. Hulga had agreed but when they do actually meet up, he offends her by asking where her prosthetic leg joins her body, although she soon forgives him. Privately, Hulga had been planning to corrupt what she sees as his naïve Christian faith by seducing him, but she is shocked when he moves first and kisses her, an experience she finds unremarkable.

When the two climb up into a hayloft and kiss more, the salesman tries to get Hulga to say that she loves him but she refuses. However, by appearing extremely innocent and decent, he does manage to convince her to show him how to remove her leg. Once he knows how to do this, he takes Hulga’s leg and refuses to return it. At this point, it becomes apparent that it is not him but Hulga who is naïve, a fact which becomes increasingly obvious when he gets out a Bible that has been hollowed out to contain a whiskey flask, pornographic playing cards, and condoms. The salesman again refuses to return Hulga’s prosthetic leg and implies that he wants to have sex with her before he returns it, possibly even indicating that he is prepared to rape her. She accuses him of Christian hypocrisy for behaving in this way, but he simply laughs at her naïve assumption that he truly is a Christian. He then climbs down from the hayloft with Hulga’s leg and tells her he will add it to a collection of “souvenirs” he has acquired through similar deceptions. He also mocks her by saying she is not as superior to him as she thinks because he does not believe in God either. With that he leaves her trapped, unable to climb down from the hayloft without her prosthetic leg. In the final scene, Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman, both convinced of their superiority to the “country boy” and utterly unaware of how he has fooled them all, watch the Bible salesman leave and speculate that they could never be as simple and uncomplicated as him.