Contrasting Ideas Within “Good Country People”

In Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People”, O’Connor uses many contrasting ideas, such as beauty, joy, faith, and their opposites. These contrasts cause the main conflicts throughout the story.

One of the main characters is named Joy Hopewell, however she is ironically characterized as neither joyful nor hopeful. Her “remarks were usually so ugly and her face so glum” (2) and she would generally treat her mother and Mrs. Freeman with disrespect and contempt. This attitude most likely resulted from her losing her leg at ten years old, leading to a disconnect with the name “Joy.” This inner conflict was then shown through Joy changing her name to “Hulga.”

Through the name Hulga, O’Connor also shows a contrast between beauty and ugliness. Ms. Hopewell thought her daughter’s new name was ugly, and was mad that “she had gone and had the beautiful name, Joy, changed” (2). Ms. Hopewell puts a lot of emphasis on beauty, despite seeing it in a less conventional way. She believed that “people who looked on the bright side of things would be beautiful even if they were not” (3). Ms. Hopewell values beauty and positivity, whereas Hulga values the opposite. This contrast motivates their actions throughout the story, and is the root of their differences. Similar to Hulga’s internal conflict, this contrast caused conflict between her and her mom.

Finally, O’Connor shows the contrast between those who don’t think they believe in anything, and those who actually don’t. Hulga says she’s “one of those people who sees through to nothing” (8). She thinks this makes her different from Pointer because he supposedly believes in god. However, she ultimately shows that she isn’t actually indifferent towards everything when she gets incredibly protective over her wooden leg. When Pointer notices that this means she does have beliefs and values, he gets angry, revealing that he’s been lying to her. He says that he doesn’t actually “believe in that crap!” (9) when she asks him about his supposed Christianity. Despite what both of them said, they were only putting on a front. Once they exposed their true selves, their contrasting values and beliefs caused conflict between them.

The Binary in “Escape From Spiderhead”

Within the Spiderhead, there’s an established binary between the criminals and the “humane.” Absenti makes sure to enforce this by reminding the criminals that they are lesser than. He’s “always reminding [Jeff] about [his] fateful night” (58) because he wants to remind Jeff that he’s a murderer. He does a similar thing later in the story by telling Jeff about all the crimes that Rachel has committed, painting her in an extremely negative light. By establishing this binary, he makes it seem like they deserve the torture they’re going through.

Then, in contrast to the criminals, he establishes himself as being a good person. He’s constantly trying to prove this to Jeff, saying things like “Am I a monster?” (68) and “I’m a person. I have feelings” (72). However, despite his attempt to categorize himself as the better of the two options in the binary he’s created, his actions prove that he’s just as bad as the other murderers in the Spiderhead. He’s fine with killing Rachel and Heather, whereas Jeff “had not killed, and never would” (81).