Good Country People by Flannery O Connor is an excellent example of irony in literature. From beginning to end it has a steady procession of irony, much of it based on the title of the story: Good Country People.
In the beginning of the story we meet Mrs. Freeman, wife of the hired hand. She and her husband have been working for Mrs. Hopewell for four years. The reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash. They were Good Country People, according to Mrs. Hopewell. Ironically one of the first things we learn about Mrs. Freeman is that her previous employer has called her the nosiest woman ever to walk the earth. Then, as the story progresses, we learn she has a special fondness for the details of secret infections, hidden deformities, assaults upon children . It seems that for a good country person she has a perverse curiosity in the macabre. She particularly enjoys hearing all the details of how Joy/Hulga had her leg literally blasted off in a hunting accident.
As the story moves on we can see the conflict between Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter Joy/Hulga. Joy/Hulga treats her mother with disdain, and does everything she can to emphasize her own individuality. She professes to believe in nothing. She is a proud intellectual and has little doubt of her belief in nothingness. However, ironically in the end she is proven to be very much like her mother in that she falls prey to the same na ve stereotypes as her mother.
As we first meet Manley Pointer he is trying to sell Mrs. Hopewell a Bible. When she is not interested, he apologizes and plays on her sympathy by saying, I m just a country boy .People like you don t like to fool with country people like me! When confronted with this Mrs. Hopewell exclaims good country people are the salt of the earth! and there aren t enough good country people in the world . Seeing that he has found Mrs. Hopewell s weakness for Good Country People, Manley proceeds to play up his being a country boy. Not even from a place, just from near a place. Then in what I believe to be just another attempt to gain sympathy, Manley tells Mrs. Hopewell that he has a heart condition and may not live long. This gains him an invitation to dinner, which he gladly accepts. Yes Manley Pointer is a fine example of Good Country People. NOT! And we are only just getting to know him.
After dinner Manley Pointer secretly asks Joy/Hulga to go on a picnic with him the next day. She agrees and during the night she plans to seduce him. She imagines that she easily seduces him and that then, of course, she had to reckon with his remorse. Being of superior intellect she imagines that she takes his remorse in hand and changes it into a deeper understanding of life. She would take all his shame away and turn it into something useful.
In the ultimate display of irony the tables are turned. Joy/Hulga is the one seduced by what she perceives as an innocent Bible salesman. Then after she has totally submitted to him and allowed him to see and remove her artificial leg. Manley Pointer reveals his true character, that of a sleazy, but cunning atheist. At the same time, Joy/Hulga is exposed as a girl whose naivete sharply contradicts the air of superior intellect she purveys. Due to this ironically Joy/Hulga becomes the one that is forced into a deeper understanding of life. Paradoxically Manley Pointer in a symbolic way has taken her shame away by taking her artificial leg, although he had no plans of doing her any good. True to the irony of his being Good Country People Manley Pointer has no intentions of helping Joy/Hulga deal with her remorse.
Dorothy McFarland describes this irony in similar fashion in that Hulga surrenders to love in a scene in which her physical grotesqueness is not only emphasized but becomes the very means of love s expression and fulfillment. Though this scene of the Bible salesman removing Hulga s wooden leg is objectively ludicrous (and O Connor s handling of it is full of irony), Hulga herself is, for the first time, completely without irony (39).
Although the character of Joy/Hulga at this point in the story may be completely without irony, the story itself is rich in irony from beginning to end. Particularly the phrase good country people has become increasingly ironic. Right down to the end of the story when, (speaking of that good country person , Manley Pointer) Mrs. Hopewell says, I guess the world would be better off if we all were that simple. Ironically as she speaks Manley Pointer is making off with her daughter Joy/hulga s wooden leg and her eyeglasses, after abandoning her in the loft of the old barn.