Mrs. S. Aiken
Sept. 30, 2009
The Meaning Behind Their Names
Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic writer who liked to attack opposing religious views through her stories, debases the fundamentals of Nihilism in her story “Good Country People.” O’Conner uses multiple direct descriptions to get her point across as well as several types of symbolism. The symbolism used in the characters’ names tells much about the character as well as giving the story another layer behind the literal descriptions provided. Glynese, Carramae, Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. Hopewell, and Manley Pointer, and Hulga (Joy) Hopewell carry more than just titles in their names. These names give subtle insight to the meaning of O’Connor’s story.
Mrs. Freeman has two daughters. Glynese and Carramae (which Hulga calls Glycerin and Caramel) are only brought into the story as indirect characters, but their names suggest their purposes in it. Glycerin, a redheaded eighteen year old with many admirers, irritates Hulga because she has not ever had attention from males. Caramel, a fifteen year old whom is already married and pregnant, reminds Hulga that she will never have any attention from males. Therefore, Hulga transforms the normal names into ones that identify with things that disgust her. Glycerin (a component of fat or oil used in soap) and Caramel (a sickeningly sweet desert) become antagonistic of Hulga’s abnormal life.
Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Hopewell serve as opposite sides of Hulga’s life. Mrs. Freeman, a free thinking, free speaking realist who is fascinated with disease and deformity, brings Hulga a gossip’s real life view of the world free from the bonds of good Christian morals. Mrs. Hopewell brings (as the name implies) hope through good Christian values. She sees the good in anyone and is proud of her ability to make good a bad situation. Therefore Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman become the little Angel and Demon sitting on Hulga’s shoulder, not forcing their opinion, but constantly attempting to spread their influence from the breakfast table.
Manley Pointer’s name has special significance because it is not his real name. His first name, Manley, signifies that he will fill a void in Hulga made by lack of any significant male presence. His last name, Pointer, implies that he will reveal, or point out something in Hulga’s life. However this is a false name and therefore the male presence he fills is truly empty. The revelation provided about her life is about falsities. The best physical description to mirror his name comes with the Bible he takes out in the hay loft. A hollowed out bible filled with secular, and perverse items brings his character’s true meaning to light. He is a true Nihilist, and he shows Hulga what it truly means to believe in nothing.
Hulga Hopewell was not always named as such. She was once Joy Hopewell until an accident caused her to lose her leg and change her outlook on life. She responds to both names. To her mother (Mrs. Hopewell) she is Joy, but to Mrs. Freeman she is Hulga. This duality of names suggests a dual life. Hulga has callused herself through knowledge and suppressed her innocent ten year old self into the thing she is most ashamed of, her artificial leg. O’Conner uses the name Joy to show the Christian side, and Hulga to show the perverse, Nihilistic vantage points of Joy’s life. It has been twenty two years since the accident and Mrs. Hopewell still calls Hulga (even though she had her name legally changed) Joy. O’Conner uses this number on purpose. During the crucifixion of Jesus he refers to Psalms 22 which tells of a cry of anguish and a song of praise. This once again suggests the duality if Hulga’s character, a Christian girl who has buried her faith and innocence in the science of the world. This leaves her believing in nothing and proud of it. Enter Manley Pointer.
Flannery O’Conner’s story leaves Hulga with her innocence stolen, and her belief structure destroyed. O’Conner uses many layers of symbolism to bring about this demise of nothing worshipers. However, the names utilized give the reader quick inferences of the character’s personality and purpose. From Hopewell as hope, to Hulga as hideousness, O’Conner has labeled the characters with a great deal of thought toward her ultimate purpose. A purpose of affirming Christian values, and debasing secular views.