Humor of Flannery Oconnor
Aaron Kalman Professor Suppes Art of Literature 15 September 2012 Humor in “Good Country People” Flannery O’Connor has always liked to use various types of humor and irony in her stories centered around the dark, tragic, and uncomfortable ways of life. She uses these literary techniques to mask what she is truly trying to say. “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor is a prime example of humor and irony which makes fun of the simple, intellectual, as well as the incongruous people in the world.
The most blatant and simple type of humor is found while observing the flat characters of Mrs. Freeman and Mrs.
Hopewell. These two women begin the story by participating in routine gossip with one another. Their constant bickering and desire to feel superior to the other is humorous because of how uneducated they sound. O’Connor puts them in the category of “good country people” due to the fact that they are pure, simple, and honest. This is ironic because good country people are referred and compared to as trash multiple times in the story. Another example of irony includes when Mrs. Hopewell said that the Freemans were a “godsend,” but the reason she had hired them was that there were no other applicants.
Despite Mrs. Freeman being extremely nosy, Mrs. Hopewell ironically refers to her as a “lady and that she was never ashamed to take her anywhere or introduce her to anybody they might meet” (O’Connor 379). O’Connor uses these two women to lighten up the mood of the story before introducing Mrs. Hopewell’s atheist and pessimistic daughter Joy. The humor that the author uses when describing Joy is more complex and tragic than any other character in the story. As a well-educated 32 year-old, Joy is not a pleasure to be around. Joy constantly suffers through tantrums and still dresses like a six year-old.
While reading O’Connor’s description, it is hard not to laugh at the way she acts towards her mother as well as visitors. Joy “slams doors, stomps noisily around on her wooden leg, and is in constant outrage” (O’Connor 378). An example of her disruptive behavior is when she associates Mrs. Freeman’s daughters, Glynese and Caramae, with Glycerin and Caramel. Joy changes her name to Hulga, which is ironically more suited to her personality. Her mother believes she does it to spite her, but Hulga really does it with the idea that her mother has to accept her by using the new name.
This light humor becomes darker when Hulga gets ready to go on a date with the sadistic bible salesman, Manley Pointer. The bible salesman known as Manley Pointer contains a comical sense which makes taking him seriously extremely hard. First of all, the name he chooses to use is extraordinary in its own right. Manley Pointer has a cartoon character approach to him as he enters Mrs. Hopewell’s house. An example of this type of characterization is shown when O’Connor states that the man “fell forward into her hall…as if the suitcase had moved first, jerking him after it” (O’Connor 382).
Manley Pointer has a youthful and awkward approach to his customers mixed in with a hint of cleverness. Mrs. Hopewell states that “she never liked to be taken for a fool” (O’Connor 383). Her statement is ironic because of the slyness used by Manley to trick Mrs. Hopewell into inviting him over for dinner. As Manley fools Mrs. Hopewell, he begins his devilish act with Hulga. The climax of the humor in “Good Country People” occurs when Manley Pointer and Hulga go on a date.
Manley and Hulga’s date begins with some comical light humor as Hulga tries to dress up in slacks, a dirty white shirt, and some vapex she finds in the medicine cabinet in order to seduce the bible salesman. This is humorous because its shows her ineptitude to do a basic task despite her having a PhD. Hulga thinks she is making Manley fall in love with her as he kisses her head to toe; however, ironically Manley is secretly seducing her. Her downfall occurs when she gullibly gives up her soul by entrusting Manley with her wooden leg. He then takes her leg and runs off into the distance with it, leaving Hulga stranded up in the hayloft.
Satirically, the only person Hulga has ever given herself up to steals her life and breaks her heart. Throughout “Good Country People,” dark, uncomfortable, tragic as well as lighter and simple humor are all used by O’Connor. This and some situational and literal irony allowed all types of characters to be made fun of by the author. The ingenious humor and necessary irony by Flannery O’Connor in “Good Country People” are what make her story brilliant. Works Cited O’Connor, Flannery. “Good Country People. ” Meyer, Michael, ed. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.