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Seth Cassel
April/May 2006

Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman as Sinners in "Good Country People"

In "Good Country People," Flannery O'Connor employs the characters Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman to identify a different type of sinner in addition to Hulga Hopewell and Manley Pointer. Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman, as sinners, "add to the story's thematic unity" (Paulson 49). O'Connor sees Hulga and Manley as "the aggressively evil, who commit overt acts against person, property, or spirit" (Walters 106). These obvious sinners deceitfully attempt to seduce each other. O'Connor presents Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman as less apparent sinners. She sees them as simplistic, content to make judgments solely on superficial qualities. Mrs. Hopewell mindlessly conforms to society's standards when judging her daughter and places people into categories based on "class and kind" (Paulson 50). Mrs. Freeman has an obsession with people's physical problems, and thus like Mrs. Hopewell, focuses on the superficial. Flannery O'Connor, a pious Christian, illustrates that one who refuses to stray from conventional, simplistic thinking is at fault just as is one who commits blatant acts of immorality and deceit.

Mrs. Hopewell has a one-dimensional approach to life, displaying conformity and simplicity in her view of society, which O'Connor condemns (Paulson 51) as sinful. Mrs. Hopewell does not approve of her daughter becoming a philosopher, an intellectual profession that she has trouble understanding due to her simplicity. She believes that one "could say, 'My daughter is a nurse,' or 'My daughter is a schoolteacher,' … You could not say, 'My daughter is a philosopher.' " (O'Connor 420). Mrs. Hopewell "cannot conceive of the life of the mind and, rather than try, she ignores it" (Cash 171). O'Connor furthers the reader's perception of Mrs. Hopewell's flawed character, when Mrs. Hopewell ignorantly concludes that philosophy is, "something that ended with the Greeks and Romans" (O'Connor 420). Conforming to society, she would rather her daughter pursue a more traditional profession like a schoolteacher or a nurse. Furthermore, Mrs. Hopewell's simplistic nature leads her to judge other people superficially. This flawed nature is evident when she describes Mrs. Freeman as "the type that had to be into everything" (O'Connor 417) and other tenant farmers as "the kind you would [not] want to be around you for very long" (O'Connor 418). Mrs. Hopewell simplistically places people into basic categories because she thinks of people in terms of class and kind (Paulson 50).

Mrs. Freeman, like Mrs. Hopewell, prefers to simply focus on the superficial aspects of others. Mrs. Freeman dwells on that which is literally right in front of her, such as the physical abnormalities of a person. She has a "special fondness for the details of secret infections, hidden deformities, assaults upon children. Of diseases, she preferred the lingering or incurable" (O'Connor 419). As a substitute for contemplation of a person's character or situation, Mrs. Freeman exhibits a flawed and shallow character by superficially choosing to focus on physical deformities. Thus, Hulga's deformity, rather than her character, attracts Mrs. Freeman. "Something about her [Hulga] seemed to fascinate Mrs. Freeman and then one day Hulga realized that it was the artificial leg" (O'Connor 419). Like one who thoroughly masters an idea and has an understanding of it, Mrs. Freeman feels that she understands people based on their physical deformity or illness. Similarly, Mrs. Freeman's accounts of her daughter's pregnancy are not focused on her excitement of having a new grandchild and how it will affect their family. Rather, her comments center on how ill the girl is: "she thrown up four times after supper… and was up twict in the night after three o'clock"(O'Connor 420). Mrs. Freeman's narrow-minded focus on a person's deformity or suffering (Asals 102) replaces deeper thought given to a person's character or situation.

Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman's relationship allows them to engage in regular, daily conversations, which sound scripted, reflecting the women's superficiality and shallowness. Their dialogue is filled with clichés in which they both claim to have an understanding of the deeper nature of people:

'Everybody is different' Mrs. Hopewell said.

'Yes, most people is,' Mrs. Freeman said.

'It takes all kinds to make the world.'

'I always said it did myself.' (O'Connor 417)

Both Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman replace actual thoughts with mechanical clichés, constructing a fake "philosophic world-view" (Walters 29), which "serve to explain all circumstance and account for all exigencies" (Walters 64). Their dialogue is a rehashing of familiar ideas and "lacks a range of responses to life" (Paulson 51).

Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman look at the world through different perspectives, yet never look beneath the surface or past the obvious. Their discussion about Glynese points out these different, but superficial views:

'Glynese gone out with Harvey Hill again last night,…' [Mrs. Freeman said] 'She had this sty.'

'Hill,' Mrs. Hopewell said…, 'is that the one who works in the garage?'

'Nome, he's the one that goes to chiropractor school,' Mrs. Freeman said. (O'Connor 423)

Mrs. Hopewell tries to identify the young man dating Glynese not through questions about his personality, but rather specifically focuses on his position in society. By asking about his job, Mrs. Hopewell simplistically tries to place him into a category based on type and kind (Paulson 50). As Mrs. Freeman continues, she delves into the personal, physical details of a problem, a sty that her daughter had during the date. She goes into unnecessary detail about how it was remedied. Harvey Hill, "kept on a-popping it several times until she made him quit. This morning,… she ain't got no sty." (O'Connor 423) Clearly, her description of the date focuses on the superficial, and frankly the disgusting, instead of recounting anything meaningful about the event, such as whether they got along or if they will go out again. The relationship and ongoing conversations between Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman allows them to reinforce each other's superficial views of the world, as each is incapable of perceiving beyond the apparent.

O'Connor condemns Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman as sinners because of their simplistic, superficial approach to life. At the end of the story, O'Connor uses irony to further point out the two women's nature when they see Manley Pointer leaving:

'Why, that looks like that nice dull young man that tried to sell me a Bible yesterday,' Mrs. Hopewell said, squinting. 'He must have been selling them to the Negroes back in there. He was so simple,' she said, 'but I guess the world would be better off if we were all that simple.' …

'Some can't be that simple,' she [Mrs. Freeman] said. 'I know I never could.' (O'Connor 430)

The reader has come to realize that the nice, dull young man, Manley Pointer, is in fact a malicious fake. However, the women have superficially judged him to be a simple country boy. They also believe themselves to be insightful and perceptive. O'Connor uses verbal irony to point out that in fact Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman are the simple ones. Instead, it is Manley Pointer who uses thought to trick others. Thus, O'Connor, a devout Christian, presents the idea that there is another type of sinner in addition to people who are obviously deceitful like Hulga and Manley. O'Connor suggests that people should take an objective look at themselves to see if they are sinners because of overt immoral behavior like Hulga and Manley, or sinners as a result of judging others superficially and perceiving life simplistically like Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman.

Works Cited
Asals, Frederick. "The Double." Modern Critical Views: Flannery O'Connor. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 93 -109.

Cash, Jean W. Flannery O'Connor: A Life. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2002.

O'Connor, Flannery. "Good Country People." An Introduction to Fiction. 9th ed. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005. 416-30.

Paulson, Suzanne Morrow. A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne Publishers,1988.

Walters, Dorothy. Flannery O'Connor. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1973.

Works Not Cited
Ditsky, John. "Good Country People: Overview." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Watson: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. McDonogh, Owings Mills, MD. 13 Apr. 2006 .

Tuck, Dorothy. "On O'Connor's Book "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." Bloom's Major Short Story Writers: Flannery O'Connor. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999. 35 - 36.