Blindness, or, the lack of awareness, whether it concerns one’s self or the world around them, is a common affliction suffered by the majority of humankind. Those without the insight or experience to rid themselves of their ignorance and naïve notions are doomed to suffer from their consequences, such as the susceptibility to arrogance and self-importance and the destruction of relationships. In the short story, “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor, the characters suffer from self-delusion as well as blindness to the outside world; however, O’Connor offers them a figure of grace in hopes of opening their eyes.
The characters in the story suffer from blindness to their true selves, which harms their relationships with each other. Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman are two characters that experience such blindness, as they are unaware of the reality that they are simple and naïve, but believe themselves to be wise. The self-delusion that Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman suffer from cause them to believe that they are wise and superior to the simple-minded. The characters’ use of clichéd, and, in their opinion, deep and wise statements serves as an example of their self-importance. Mrs. Hopewell states clichés such as, “nothing is perfect”, daily, “as if no one held them but her”, with the constant agreement of Mrs. Freeman (O’Connor 2). She, in turn, thinks that “[nothing] had been arrived at by anyone that had not first been arrived at by her” (O’Connor 2). O’Connor’s use of free indirect discourse from Mrs. Hopewell’s point of view also illustrates her misconceptions concerning herself. She believes herself to have “no bad qualities of her own” and to be “a woman of great patience” (O’Connor 2). The two characters believe themselves to be very wise and open-minded.
Mrs. Hopewell even has the arrogance to believe that she is superior to Mrs. Freeman, who, in her opinion, is a “good country [person]” whose bad qualities “she was able to use[…] in such a constructive way” so that she would be helpful (O’Connor 2). The characters’ misconceptions of themselves prove to be detrimental to them. Mrs. Hopewell, experiences the consequences of her inflated sense of self-importance, as her daughter, Hulga, is aware of her mother’s arrogance, which proves to be detrimental to their relationship and understanding of one another. Mrs. Freeman suffers as well, as she believes that she can do no wrong and “[can] never be brought to admit herself to wrong at any point” (O’Connor 2).This shows her stubbornness and her unwillingness to become aware of her own faults and ignorance, and to be cured of the blindness she suffers from. The characters’ self-delusion is caused by their own inability or subconscious refusal to acknowledge the reality of their true selves and their significance in the world they live in. In reality, Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman prove to be naïve and simple-minded, but very stubborn in their ignorant views. They believe that the simple and nonsensical clichés they state on a daily basis operate as truths, the philosophies that they live by, and this leads them to assume that the world is much more simple-minded than it actually is. To them, the world is limited to the naïve notions and misconceptions they hold about it.
Throughout the story, Mrs. Hopewell also proves to be very simple-minded, as she expresses her ignorant views concerning her daughter’s education. She believes that “it [is] nice for girls to go to school to have a good time,” not necessarily to get an education, and that philosophy “had ended with the Greeks and Romans” (O’Connor 4). When her daughter, Hulga, who is frustrated with her mother’s vain simple-mindedness, demands that she “look inside and see what [she] is not”, Mrs. Hopewell remains clueless, dismissing the remark as one of the “strange things” Hulga usually said (O’Connor 4). Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman’s ignorance is ironic, as they prove to be just as simple-minded and “dull” as the “good country people” they had looked down on (O’Connor 14). Their lack of awareness towards their true selves causes Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman to become arrogant and to ignore the reality of their simple-mindedness and naiveté.
The protagonist, Hulga, also suffers from self-delusion, which is shown through her conviction of her superiority to others due to her higher education. She believes herself to be superior to the “good country people” around her because of her Ph.D. in philosophy. One example of such people is Manly Pointer who seems simple-minded and innocent. Hulga regards him “with amusement but with pity”, and acts condescendingly towards him, reckoning that she seduced him (O’Connor 10). She has the arrogance to reason that her own “true genius can get an idea across even to an inferior mind” (O’Connor 9). Due to his lack of education, Hulga sees Manly as an substandard being, measuring his worth as a human being with his education. She plans to give him “a deeper understanding of life…..[and to take] all his shame away and turn it into something useful” (O’Connor 9). Hulga views herself as Manly’s saviour, similar to a Jesus-figure for the poor, ignorant, country boy. In her mind, she elevates herself to a god, a true genius, one who is always in control. She is blind to her true nature and thinks of herself as being far beyond the simple country life she leads. In reality, Hulga is naïve and foolish, as she falls for Manly’s ruse and is eventually forced to abandon the put-together and superior image she had made for herself.
Despite how much she brags about her intelligence and pities Manly, Hulga falls for his trap. She surrenders her artificial leg, something that she “took care of [as] someone else would his soul,” to him, eventually falling for him to the point where she was thinking that she would “run away with him” (O’Connor 12). Irony is displayed as the boy whom she had called a “baby” is now conning her and exposing her own immaturity and vulnerability. The boy she had mocked for his stupidity is now making a fool out of her, and this is a blow to Hulga’s ego. Manly humbles Hulga with his scheme, and also shames her for her past narcissism as he informs her that “[he is] as good as [her] any day of the week” (O’Connor 13) Hulga is now left without her leg or her eyeglasses, vulnerable and helpless, contrary to the independence and rebelliousness she had shown earlier in the story. The reality of her vulnerability and insecurity due to her leg which she had tried to hide with her arrogance and knowledge is uncovered. The characters in the story display the lack of awareness towards their true selves, creating an idealized image of themselves and tenaciously believing it, causing them to become arrogant.