Irony in ‘Good Country People’

In Flannery O’Connor’s short story, ‘Good Country People’, she writes an unusual story about a group of rural people and the two sided lives that they live. One of the main points used throughout the story is that of the title “Good Country People” which is repeated throughout and used as a framework by which the characters want to present themselves as. Good country people are to be deemed simple minded and one sided by the reader. Yet the irony is that the reader is proved simpler by the end of the short story as their assumptions are turned against them. O’Connor uses the simple belief that many people hold towards country people to add an element of shock with a quick turn of events.

This turn of events is exemplified through the actions of a traveling bible salesman, who is initially characterized as a good country person. Most of the story follows his interactions with another country family, and the first majority of the story is a very boring accounting of these actions. This all changes when the bible salesman tricks the daughter of the family into giving him her prosthetic leg, before running off and reveling that he is actually a cruel person. This change of pace can seem startling to readers after so much monotonous buildup, but demonstrates mastery by O’Connor in proving to reader that they should never make assumptions about a group of people.

Bad Readers and Good Writers, a Response to Nabakov

In Nabakov’s essay ‘Good Readers and Good Writers,’ he writes about the qualities that make a good reader and a good writer, and the reaction that occurs when the two of them combine. One of the main points that he writes about is how a reader should never relate themselves with a character that they read about, because every well-written character should be strikingly independent.

I fundamentally disagree with this idea, because it bases itself on the idea that just because a reader and a character have different qualities, the reader cannot still put themselves in the shoes of said character. Just because a character I read about does not have the same looks or experiences as me, does not mean that I can’t empathize with their struggle. In fact, I believe that a truly good writer forces their readers into the perspective of the characters that they read about to the point that seeing themselves in the character is an inevitable byproduct.

Nabakov would strongly disagree with this statement, characterizing relation with a character as ‘bad reading’ however this sentiment is another of which I disagree. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a bad reader as long as that person is reading and interpreting the information presented to them. Everybody reads, perceives, and develops differently when a story is presented to them, so to label a certain way of reading right or wrong seems very one-sided to me.

However, overall Nabakov does present an interesting thesis despite its flaws, which can be studied in order to further understand the use of stories and literature.