Flannery O’Connor’s characters are often physically deformed in an analogous relationship to their inward deformities. O’Connor felt that a loss of spirituality was an inward deformity (McEntyre 333). In order to get this point across to her readers, she uses freakish characters to illustrate their inner moral shortcomings with their outward physical deformities. O’Connor’s characters are riddled with complex symbolic deformities, such as Hulga (Joy), in Good Country People. Hulga has a wooden leg, which can be interpreted as analogous for her wooden soul. In O’Connor-esque fashion, Hulga is sadistically separated from her wooden leg, i.e. her wooden soul, when she mistakes a Bible-salesman for a Bible-believer.

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Hulga discovers that she lives a life of platitudes, just like her mother whom she resents for having simple beliefs. The degrees of differences between O’Connor’s characters in Good Country People are explored via their distorted outward behaviors. These behaviors are in conflict with their inner thoughts and beliefs. Ultimately, this is the contrast that O’Connor employs in order to bring to light moral deficiencies. The spiritual void that her characters have displaces them from society, and displaces them spiritually—O’Connor is concerned that her readers are displaced as well. She illustrates this problem with moral and physical freakishness in her characters.

O’Connor wrote in letters to and from an anonymous correspondence: “My audience are the people who think God is dead. At least these are the people I am conscious of writing for” (Popova). Therefore, O’Connor literally “pulls out all the tricks” in order to illustrate that God is not dead. Through moral or physical freakishness, O’Connor is able to displace her characters significantly from what is considered normal. O’Connor’s character displacement serves as a catalyst for the reader to recognize their own moral shortcomings. The theme of displacement in Good Country People is experienced most significantly by Hulga. O’Connor attributes physical and moral freakishness to Hulga which ultimately reveal her moral shortcomings. Hulga’s mother, Mrs. Hopewell, aggravates Hulga’s intellectual estimation of her own self with parochial beliefs. Mrs. Hopewell’s simplicity is evidenced by the clichéd statements that she spouts. Hulga feels superior intellectually to her mother because she has a PhD in Philosophy. However, in a grotesque twist, Hulga’s latent parochial beliefs surface and undermine her judgment of Manley Pointer, the traveling Bible salesman who eventually steals Hulga’s leg and her soul.

Hulga is a displaced person because she believes that she is morally superior to her mother, but as it turns out she is equally gullible. Hulga is left in the top of a barn, missing her leg. The reader understands that Hulga is helpless without her leg, but moreover, that Hulga is spiritually crippled. Hulga is permanently displaced from society and more importantly, God. O’Connor’s purpose in shocking the audience with Hulga’s predicament is that she believes her audience lacks faith in God. To get her readers to consider her beliefs, O’Connor argues that: “…you have to make your vision apparent by shock-to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures (McEntyre 333). Hulga is the epitome of a large startling figure from which O’Connor screams at her reader.

Because Hulga has one leg, and she is a seething and hateful creature, it is difficult to imagine that any man would fall in love with her. The freakishness of a traveling Bible salesman seducing Hulga so that he can add to his prosthetic collection shocks the reader into reconsidering their own possible unexamined beliefs. Hulga makes the mistake of judging Pointer based on what he “does” and not on who he “is”. Whereas Pointer hits the mark with Hulga and judges her exactly for who she is: “…you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!” (O’Connor 291). Much like O’Connor’s inversion of the bad and good in A Good Man is Hard to Find, the characters in Good Country People are those who are displaced from expected norms.

The effectiveness of displacement is found in the contrast between norms, and what is ethically right: “…displacement runs throughout O’Connor’s work, and it is essentially a displacement from the world of the one true God, a theological displacement, although within the context of the story it is more social, based on the nature of the freak’s position in the society” (Galloway). Hulga and her mother are foils for each other in that Mrs. Hopewell represents a person who believes in everything without examination, whereas Hulga believes in nothing without any examination. Hulga’s advanced PhD does little do assist her spiritual intelligence.

By identifying with O’Connor’s anomalous characters, O’Connor’s displaced characters cause the reader to reevaluate their own moral shortcomings. O’Connor aims to shock the reader into having a spiritual epiphany when the reader identifies with characters, such as Hulga. The reader, at some point, might have shared Hulga’s condescending view of her mother. The reader will implicitly identify with Hulga, and feel the shame that Hulga experiences when her wooden beliefs are carried off by Manley Pointer in the form of her wooden leg: “…the moment that we allow ourselves to grasp them [O’Connor’s characters] …brings us to a renewed recognition of our own flawed characters and sinfulness” (McEntyre 332). O’Connor forces the reader to reevaluate their own beliefs by displacing Hulga in Good Country People. Like Hulga, the reader is left to figure out who would be considered “good” country people…for none of the characters in this story qualify.