In an interview with
Atlanta Magazine (1963), O’Connor states ‘Southern writers are stuck with
the South and it’s a good thing to be stuck with’ (Magee 108).
Much like Southern writers, Joy, the protagonist in O’Connor’s Good Country
People, is “stuck” in the South with her mother; however, Joy refuses to
become a personification of Southern culture. Joy’s greatest limitation
is her inexperience with emotions and affectionate interaction with people.
O’Connor first introduces Joy,
Mrs. Hopewell’s daughter, as a “large blonde girl who had an artificial
leg” (271). At the age of ten, Joy was in a hunting accident where
she lost her leg. Joy’s leg is her greatest vulnerability and Manly
Pointer exploits this physical handicap. When Joy takes her artificial
limb off, “she [feels] entirely dependent on [Manly Pointer]” (289).
In addition to her artificial leg, Joy has a heart condition which forces
her to live on the farm with her mother. Joy is much better suited
in an academic setting where her intelligence and philosophical expertise
can be appreciated: “Joy had made it plain that if it had not been for
this [heart] condition, she would be far from these red hills and good
country people” (276). Joy has acquired a great deal of education
which limits her from relating to her mother’s and the Freeman family’s
southern mentality and mindset.
As soon as she turned twenty-one
and got away from home, Joy changed her name to Hulga. Joy views
herself as completely grotesque and searches for a name equally as ugly:
“[Joy] arrived at [Hulga] first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and
then the full genius of its fitness had struck her” (275). Joy’s
altered name is a reflection of her self-image and personality – she continually
makes rude comments to her mother and sustains ugly facial expressions.
In the opening of the short story,
O’Connor writes that Mrs. Hopewell, Joy’s mother, “thought of her daughter
as a child though she was thirty-two years old and highly educated” (271).
Joy (Hulga) had many childish manners: “all day [she wore] a six-year-old
skirt and a yellow sweat shirt with a faded cowboy on a horse embossed
on it” (276). When Manly Pointer requested her age, she replied seventeen
Joy is a Ph.D. recipient in the
field of philosophy. While Joy values formal education, Manly Pointer
is much more equipped for the real world. Hulga has little experience with
love or affection; she has had great experience with schooling, but is
not very educated in life.
Magee, Rosemary. Coversations with Flannery O'Connor.
University Press of Mississippi: Jackson, MS, 1987.