[Jonathan Rogers's summer discussion of Flannery O'Connor's short stories continues with "Good Country People." You can read the full discussion at his blog.]
The irony in “Good Country People” is thick and layered. The joke is on Joy-Hulga, and it is an especially mean joke–or, in any case, it appears to be. But the episode in the hayloft, ironically, is also an offer of grace. Hulga has poured her whole self into that wooden leg (I’ll let you work out all the symbolism contained therein). It’s what she has instead of a soul (“She took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private and almost with her own eyes turned away.”) For this devilish figure, the Bible salesman, to take her wooden leg is the cruelest thing he could do. It is as if he is stealing her soul. Except that being stripped of that ugly idol of self is exactly what Joy-Hulga needs from a spiritual standpoint.
I don’t know that there is any evidence in the story that Joy-Hulga receives grace. But the shock of self-realization, as painful as it is, is at least a step in that direction. A few weeks ago we discussed O’Connor’s idea that the devil is always achieving ends that are not his own. Do you see that dynamic at work in this story?