Flannery O’Connor’s definition of a good story is one that needs “every word in the story to say what the meaning is” and “involves, in a dramatic way, a mystery of personality.” When I first read this definition, I didn’t understand what she meant in any concrete way, but after reading her short story “Good Country People,” I agree that these aspects are what make the story so engaging.
The story had a really interesting structure, beginning with who was narrating the story/who the story was about. At first, I thought that the story was being told from Mrs. Freeman’s point of view, but she turned out to be more of a background character. Then, I thought the story was about Mrs. Hopewell, but while it is told partially from Mrs. Hopewell’s perspective, in the end the story is really about Hulga. When combined with the twists and turns of the plot itself, these narrative misdirections give the reader a sense that the story is unfolding before them and anything could happen next. I felt like I didn’t know where the story was going until the very end, and so the story really did need every word to get its final meaning across.
“Good Country People” also creates a “mystery of personality” in the character of Manley Pointer (or whatever his real name is). The innocent country Christian persona he presents turns out to be a disguise he uses to take advantage of people and steal from them, as he does with Hulga and her prosthetic leg. This mystery creates intrigue throughout the story but also continues once the story is over, with the reader left wondering who this character really is and why he acts the way he does.