Deception has served a lot of purposes for most individuals. There are people who intentionally mislead others to take advantage of their weaknesses and gullibility for their own personal interests. On the other hand, there are individuals who are, at some point in their lives, emotionally and physically scarred and choose to mask their resentful experience by retreating from one world into another world.
In Flannery O’Connor’s “Good People Country,” these forms of deceptions are exemplified to illustrate the moral ugliness of people as a result of the brokenness of human nature. This Christian orthodoxy is not Hulga’s belief at all. Her self-made identity is of an elite intellectual, rising above such superstition. Christian morality, in the story, seems at first to be represented in the story by a travelling Bible salesman named Manley Pointer.
To some extent, the plot he engenders is an old joke: He is a travelling salesman trying to seduce the daughter. Seduce her he does, but not by appealing to her emotions—Hulga denies that she has any. Rather, he sees her true weakness: intellectual pride. Hulga’s self-created identity is that of the great intellect (she holds a Ph. D. in philosophy) among country bumpkins, and by pretending to succumb to Manley’s bumbling professions of love, she can prove that there is no such thing.
She intends to demonstrate that what is called “love” is simply a hypocritical disguise for lust. Love, she thinks, is as illusory as Christianity, the other myth in which Manley seems to believe: “I don’t have illusions. I’m one of those people who see_through_to nothing” (O’Connor section 8). Yet the joke is on her. Manley, it turns out, is not the Christian he claims to be: He is a con artist who uses Hulga’s pride to attempt to win from her not only sexual favors but also her prosthetic leg.
Her reactions to his attentions reveal her hypocrisy: She is outraged, like a traditional belle whom Hulga would hold in contempt, at his frank sexual proposition. She also is mentally bested by the young man. The story ends with Manley disappearing in the distance with Hulga’s prosthetic leg, leaving her to question her presuppositions about her own identity while she awaits an embarrassing rescue in a hay loft.
O’Connor, Flannery. “Good Country People. ” In El-Bey, Z. (Ed. ), Flannery O’Connor Complete Stories. Franklin Center: Z. El Bey, 2009.