The short story “Good Country People” written by Flannery O’Connor was published in 1955. The protagonist, Joy Hopewell, lives with her mother, Mrs. Hopewell, in a small Southern community. Joy’s childhood was cut short after a hunting accident that lead to her losing her leg. Her very optimistic mother named her Joy; however, Joy cannot stand this idea, so she decides to rename herself the ugliest name she can think of: Hulga. Hulga/Joy has a PhD in philosophy and completely rejects her mother’s Christian values. Her mother isn’t happy with her academic endeavors because she thinks it had a negative effect: “She could not help but feel it would have been better if the child had not taken the PhD” (O’Connor 730).
Hulga’s disfigurement causes her to retreat from the physical world into the world of the intellect. She sees herself as the most intellectual person in town and looks down on her mother and Mrs. Freeman. In the story, Hulga is deceived by a man that claimed to be a Bible salesman named Manley Pointer. However, his intentions were to seduce Hulga so he can steal her prosthetic leg. This leaves helpless Hulga alone to question her own identity while waiting for someone to come rescue her.
The story “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates is about a young girl named Connie who is oddly similar to Hulga. The story was published in 1966 and was also set in that time as well. Connie is the stereotypical self-absorbed, boy-obsessed teenager who comes off the exact opposite of Hulga: “[Connie] had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors” (Oates 683). Hulga is an intellectual who devotes almost no time thinking about the issues Connie’s obsessed with. In the story, a man named Arnold Friend shows up on her doorstep and demands that she goes with him. Connie’s innocence is ripped away by this demon. He threatens to hurt her family if she doesn’t go with him, so she sacrifices herself and goes with Arnold Friend.
Hulga and Connie are similar in the way they were brought up. Both their fathers were absent and believed their mothers no better. Hulga believed her mom to be incredibly naïve and all too hopeful. Connie believed her mother to be too righteous and simple; she got away with nearly everything and found it amusing when her mother believed what she said.
They’re also similar in a way that they distance themselves from the people around them. The both see themselves superior; Hulga intellectually and Connie with her beauty. Hulga’s incredibly cynical personality allowed her to be constantly annoyed at the people around her. They were all too pointless for her and spent the majority of her time alone. Connie’s shallowness made her stand alone; she resented her sister June because she’s the picture-perfect daughter and ignores her mother because of her constant nagging about June.
Throughout the story, both characters seem relatively static characters, but at the end, they both are left changed by the people around them. Hulga is left in utter disbelief about what Manley has done. We are left to wonder if she changes from this experience. Even teenage Connie learns something she never expected; she rose above the everyday routine and did something meaningful for once. Her heroic gesture saved the lives of her family.
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