Analysis Of Hulga’s Attitude Towards Her Leg In Good Country People By Flannery O'connor

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In “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor, the character of Hulga Hopewell is shown to be extremely protective of her artificial leg. The readers get to know from the remarks of the narrator that none but Hulga has ever touched the prosthetic leg. Hulga used to take care of her artificial leg as if her soul was personified in that prosthetic leg. Hulga’s prosthetic leg symbolises two main ideas, i.e. the leg stands-in for her soul as well as fragmented and broken identity. Hulga’s attitude towards her leg is one of prized possession which makes her character even more cynic and mystic.

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Hulga’s leg, as the readers discover from the story, was shot off accidentally during a hunting expedition at the age of thirteen. Flannery O’Connor does not give the readers much detail as to whose fault it was but the readers only get to know that the leg was blasted off. The prostheses of Hulga, therefore, apparently seem to be an image of her vulnerability. The readers are bound to be sympathetic to Hulga once they are introduced to it. However, the wooden leg has been an instrument for Hulga to manipulate the situations as per her desire (O’Connor 277). The sinister utilisation of the wooden leg coupled with her physical disability reflects Hulga’s soul effectively. Hulga’s soul, much like her prostheses, is both strong and vulnerable at the same time. Just like Hulga makes an appearance to be strong but her soul is quite vulnerable in reality. The narrator observes that Hulga takes care of her prosthetic leg as someone else would her soul, attentively and privately. Hulga’s prostheses are like her soul in the sense that both of them are different in appearance and reality. Since the prosthetic leg is made of wood, it is physically strong. Apart from that, the leg also offers Hulga all the necessary support by acting like a crutch. However, as the readers move forward in the story, the obvious weakness of the leg is quite visible. The leg, being a prosthetic object, immediately loses its value once detached from Hulga’s body. The same is applicable for Hulga as without the artificial leg her strong personality it immediately reduced to that of a cripple. Alternatively, it can also be said that the leg resembles her soul also by being non-existent. Hulga, being an atheist, does not believe in the soul and the prosthetic leg is also not real. Therefore, both of them complement each other by nearly being unreal (O’Connor 280).

The author observes that Hulga is as sensitive about the prosthetic legs as a peacock would be of its tail. So, the pride Hulga associates with the leg are unmistakable. It is obvious that the prosthetic offers Hulga’s soul a certain kind of independence from the judgements of society. The sturdiness and bluntness of the leg resemble Hulga’s soul in terms of being a non-confirm to societal expectations. The artificialness of the prosthetic leg also adds to Hulga’s self-loathing soul. Her lost leg had already inculcated a sense of self-hatred inside the soul of Hulga. Hulga’s soul has an inclination towards unattractive which is even more intensified by the prosthetic leg. The prosthesis, despite offering a sense of strength to Hulga is quite unattractive. Therefore, the prostheses only append to Hulga’s ideology of unattractiveness. It is as if, like the prostheses, Hulga also gets a certain kind of pleasure from projecting herself as unattractive.

Hulga’s attitude towards her leg suggests that she is quite sadistic and nihilistic. The fact that Hulga is so heavily attached to her prosthetic leg could also reflect her grief, isolation and oddity. The distinctiveness that the leg adds to Hulga’s character somehow increases her constant outrage against the world around her. The attitude of Hulga towards her prosthetic limb also reflects how fragmented Hulga is. The author observes that Hulga is ‘as sensitive about the artificial leg as a peacock about his tail’. In Christian arts, the peacock is considered to be a symbol of a soul that is imperishable (O’Connor 282). So, irrespective of Hulga’s general nihilism, her approach to her leg is a contradictory combination of nihilism and aestheticism. To elaborate, it can be said that at her core, Hulga longs for a soul that is imperishable. Though, at some point, it might seem that Hulga doesn’t have a soul, however, judging how intimately Hulga is attached to her artificial leg only reflects it to be as intimate as her soul. However, the traumatic experience that Hulga had to go through desolates her and leads her to abandon God. This overall nihilism in Hulga’s life indicates a spiritual deformity that goes beyond his physical deformity. Apart from that, Hulga’s intimate affinity towards her artificial leg is also reflective of the deadness in her soul along with a general characteristic distortion (O’Connor 284). Since soul defines morality, Hulga’s affinity towards her artificial leg characterises the corruption that permeates her soul. Since Hulga is quite detached from her soul, her character is also deprived of coherence and integrity. On the other hand, the leg brings out Hulga’s artificiality that is only intensified through her colossal efforts to be a sharp intellectual. Hulga’s self-proclaimed spiritual bareness also indicates that somewhere in her life, she is in need of emotional support. In an alternative explanation, Hulga’s affinity and sensitiveness to her artificial leg might also be interpreted as her willingness to expressing her femininity. However, in broad terms, Hulga’s wooden leg reflects her cold, controlled and intellectual bent of mind through which Hulga wants to triumph over love and affection.

Manley Pointer, as shown in the story, has an obsession for disabled objects that can be instrumental in replacing lost things. For Manley Pointer, Hulga’s leg turns out to be a collectable when Manley comes to know about her disability. The primary objective of Manley is to steal Hulga’s leg and by stealing her leg Manley is symbolically reaping of Hulga from the most prized possession of her. Hulga’s claim to be intellectual and not attached to any mortal object is resented By Manley Pointer when he steals Hulga’s leg. Hulga’s apparent nihilism and atheism are symbolically challenged by Manley is his perversion by his attempt to make Hulga corrupt. Hulga is blinded by her intellect and philosophy which makes her extremely audacious. The fact that Manley steals her leg proves that even someone as intellectual as Hulga can be easily misleading (O’Connor 290). On the other hand, Hulga claims to be as an atheist and as someone who detests love. However, Hulga is seen to be offering her artificial leg to Manley who by profession is a Bible salesman as an act of complete sacrifice. Apart from that, Hulga, before knowing Manley, wanted him to go against his principles. This is evidence of Hulga’s fantasy to hurt anything that Manley Pointer holds dear. However, as the role reversed, the readers eventually find out that it is Hulga who ended up in losing her prised and most sensitive possession, her artificial leg.

Hulga who claims to be a nihilist also expresses an intense feminine longing to surrender and submit to Manley. Thereby, when Manley steals her leg, he also ripped her off her artificial and put on identity. When Manley Pointer leaves Hulga in a distressed and helpless state, he apparently wants Hulga to be humiliated because of her condescending attitude. It is evident that Hulga’s manipulation has been overridden by Manley through a feeling of power and accomplishment (O’Connor 289).

That Manley steals Hulga’s artificial limb also symbolically personifies how crooked Hulga’s entire belief system is. It is only after Manley steals Hulga’s artificial limb she realises the overall emptiness and damage of nihilism. It is as if by being intimate with Manley, an otherwise atheist and nihilistic Hulga almost begins to trust the Christian worldviews (O’Connor 289). Manley’s apparent destruction of Hulga by stealing her artificial leg is a symbolic representation of the inherently destructive nature of nihilism. Nihilism works up until a man/woman has the power or ability to keep up with it. Just like Hulga’s apparent obstinate and unyielding nature when she had her artificial leg. Nevertheless, when Hulga is deserted by Manley after he steals her leg, nothing much is left in Hulga’s life to keep her nihilistic perspectives alive.

“Good Country People” has an inherently complicated plot which unravels the detrimental results of nihilistic belief system. Hulga’s nihilism is a pursuit to deny any meanings associated with life. However, her quest with Manley pointer suggests that the outcome of nihilism is hideous. The unworthy treatment of the others by Hulga only turns out to be insipid at the end of the story. The fact that Hulga used to treat others along with Manley not as equal as her intellect is reflective of her personal ideologies which are often detrimental and destructive.

Works Cited

  • O’Connor, Flannery. Good Country People. 1955, pp. 276-290.
10 Jun 2021

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