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Good Country People

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Webster's dictionary defines humor as "a quality that appeals to a sense of the ludicrous (laughable and/or ridiculous) or incongruous." Incongruity is the very essence of irony. More specifically, irony is "incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the expected result." Flannery O'Connor's works are masterpieces in the art of literary irony, the laughable and ridiculous. The absurd situations, ridiculous characters, and feelings of superiority that O'Connor creates make up her shocking and extremely effective, if not disturbing, humor. I say "disturbing" because O'Connor's humor, along with humor in general, most often contains the tragic. Throughout her works, specifically "Good Country People," O'Connor uses her humor to humble and expose the biases of the overly intellectual and spiritually bankrupt.

"Good Country People" starts with the introduction of Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Hopewell. O'Connor's most blatant humor is found in the revealing of these two characters, a simple humor for simple people. Immediately, the reader begins chuckling at these two from a decided feeling of superiority over them. Their sacred clichйs and gossip routine automatically make the reader want to put them both in the category of "good country people," which, in itself, is an ironic title in that it suggests an immediate air of superiority by bothering to judge a class of people that are generally considered to rest somewhere towards the bottom of society's social order.

The narrator only compounds the laughable idea that these women are up to par with the average reader--after all, O'Connor was a well educated woman, writing for the literate--when he/she notes Mrs. Hopewell's "charitable" pride of Mrs. Freeman: Mrs. Hopewell liked to tell people that Mrs. Freeman was a lady and that she was never ashamed to take her anywhere. The reader is inclined to laugh even harder at this, a terrible irony, after having already established both ladies as simple, "good country people." Of course, most of the true irony or humor found in O'Connor's stories is not found in the immediate and obvious. If we were to consider only Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman in the context in which they are presented to us in the beginning of the story, then we would have to conclude that O'Connor is in fact making fun of the faithful. Fortunately, she is a much better writer with a much deeper intent than that; as the story develops, so does the integrity of the "simple people." This eventual increase in status is something unexpected, especially since O'Connor supplies the reader with a perfectly acceptable, intellectual character with which to relate: Joy, or more fittingly, Hulga.

In meeting Hulga, O'Connor's humor starts to get slightly more complicated. This is where she really begins to combine the tragic with the comic. Hulga is Mrs. Hopewell's daughter, and she is introduced to the reader as a 32 year old, highly intelligent, and, in Mrs. Hopewell's opinion, overly educated, one-legged, dying child. Her brand of misery would not be funny if it were not for the fact that she is, indeed much like a child, despite her PhD. The brand of superiority that Hulga feels towards the "salt of the earth" is tied with the reader's accepting in the area of social grace. In a social context the reader, once again, gets to feel superior while reveling in the irony of a 32 year old doctor of philosophy wearing the clothes of a six year old and stomping around as if having a tantrum. Still, in general, Hulga aids in the reader's feelings of superiority over the "simpletons." A good example of this is Hulga's association of Mrs. Freeman's daughters, Glynese and Carramae, with glycerin and caramel.

Hulga offers more feelings of superiority to us in the choosing of her name. Like stomping around on her artificial leg, Hulga uses her name to assert her individuality to her mother. The Irony in this is that her mother believes Joy does it to spite her, while Hulga really does it with the idea that her mother has to accept her, as she is, by using it. The reader feels superior to Mrs. Hopewell knowing that she does not understand this concept while the reader does. It is not until the bible salesman comes into the picture and offers himself to Hulga that we start to see the true irony of her character and then O'Connor's true intent--her ultimate "joke."

The mingling of the bible salesman and Hulga serves further to tip the coin onto its tragic belly. However, the initial entrance of the bible salesman, Manley Pointer, humorous in its own right, offers a sort of slapstick humor, lacking much of the tragic tension found in every other scene. The slapstick feel of this scene is due to its simplicity. His youth and awkwardness, his supposed innocence, are out of place with his obvious wheeling and dealing



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