“Woman, Do You Ever Look Inside?” There are many themes within Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People”. Religion is definitely one of the more prominent themes that the story holds. Like most of O’Connor’s works, it plays a big part in the actions or characteristics of the main characters. This is all on the surface however. The more important and less accentuated theme is the various facades the characters create for themselves. These facades prevent them from facing their true “grotesque” selves. These facades also hide their weaknesses that they have no wish to face ort just can’t understand. People must be comfortable with every aspect of themselves, because certain people, who in this story are represented by Manley Pointer’s character, can easily exploit their weaknesses. He’s “good country people” and “the salt of the earth” as Mrs. Hopewell refers to Manley Pointer who really is a demon that they must face. A demon to remind them of their weaknesses.
Beginning with Mrs. Hopewell, the title of the story comes from what she likes to call the poorer and less fortunate people that live off the land and work their whole lives just to hang on to some scrap of a life. This is how she views these people. She believes that they are good country people not a bad seed among them, that they are all eager to help out and bow in humility to the upper class. The gullible nature of Mrs. Hopewell betrays her true vision of a situation. She is one of those people who are all goody-goody to people who they view as less fortunate. She’s a person that commends or speaks for the people she knows nothing about. Altogether this is her true weakness that is taken advantage of by Manley Pointer. One of Mrs. Hopewell's favorite sayings, "Nothing is perfect", is seen in the very beginning of the story. Her saying was just that, a saying. The quote acts as foreshadowing for what her attitude towards life will be. We later find out that she is right, but that she does not live by her credo. Manley Pointer exploits this weakness as soon as she opened her door. Showing up as a pathetic bible salesman with an ailing heart (which is coincidentally exactly what Joy-Hulga had) laying the old guilt trip on Mrs. Hopewell on how no one wants to deal with a simple country boy like himself, he attacks her weakness right at the heart of it. Not more than two minutes after he knocked on the door, he ends up eating dinner with them and at the conclusion is even invited to return any time he’d like. His persona blinds Mrs. Hopewell and prevents her from being somewhat suspicious of Manley. At the end of the story, we see that Mrs. Hopewell is still clouded by her weakness and refers to Manly as simple as he passes through a field by Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman. Unlike Mrs. Hopewell, Joy-Hulga faces and comes to a realization of her weakness.
Joy-Hulga, who had grown cynical and cold as she grew up with only one leg and heart ailment, creates an image that she is smarter and better than the rest of the characters in the story. Her education and self-absorption seemed to instill this attitude in her to greater extent than if she hadn’t studied and read so much. Her weakness is the feeling of power she believed she gained from her studies. She refers to herself as a person who “sees through nothing”. Little does she know that she is stating her greatest weakness by saying this. Her hidden desires cause her several problems later on. After years of education and self-absorption, Joy-Hulga felt that she had no weaknesses. "Science wishes to know nothing of nothing" and this is the credo followed by Joy-Hulga. Her line of thinking turned out to be a weakness in itself. Her weaknesses are so prominent and hurtful from her childhood that she doesn’t want to be reminded of them. Manley Pointer puts Joy-Hulga into a position where she feels in control. "She took all his shame away and turned it into something useful". She believes that she is manipulating Manley, but it is he who is doing the manipulating. She lets her guard down because she feels in such great control and becomes comfortable with Manley. She is being manipulated from the start, and no amount of education can stop the fact that she doesn't see it coming. As soon as she admits to loving Manley Pointer, he sees the opening to completely destroy the façade she worked so hard to create her whole life. Before Joy-Hulga even knows it, her glasses are off and Manley has removed her leg. Physically she is broken down, but the real damage is done mentally. She knows that all control of the situation is out of her hands, and she once again feels the discomfort felt during her childhood days. Manley Pointer exploits joy-Hulga’s weakness to the fullest extent, because she never sees it coming. Joy-Hulga believed she was superior because she learned to “see through nothing”, but she doesn’t realize that Manley has known this much longer than she which is even more prominent coupled with his seemingly lack of conscience.
Manley is the only character in the story that has no apparent weakness. Taking into consideration the religious theme within the story, he takes on a persona of a devil-like character. He seems to be an almost omniscient character, which would fall in line with a powerful type of being. Being the protagonist in the story he acts not on an individual level, but more of a level revolving around mankind. His use of religion as a tool to carry out his acts of degradation and deception support this persona. He even says to Joy-Hulga, “I hope you don’t think I believe in that crap.” Other things that represent this devil-like character is the hollow bible in which he kept instruments of a sort of sin. A definite clue to this is also when he also states to Joy-Hulga that He uses a different name every place he goes. The fact that the devil is referred to by many different names in all different regions of the world and different time throughout history shows another similarity between Manley Pointer and the devil. Manipulation and degradation seem to be his only objectives in life. At the conclusion of the story when Manley is passing by Mrs. Freemen and Mrs. Hopewell, the onion shoots that they are picking are even referred to as “evil smelling” the moment he passes.
Mrs. Freemen is more of a minor character in the story but she is referred to as having two emotions, “forward and reverse”. This is important because when a person is forced to go in reverse they must face something or learn something they don’t want to know about themselves. This seems to be what happens during the course of the story for Joy-Hulga. Although all the characters in the story are stuck in reverse, the only character that is forced to realize her weakness, which destroys the façade that she created is Joy-Hulga. It seems that in this story as in life the most high and mighty suffers the greatest fall. Joy-Hulga was the one who perceived herself to be the high and mighty of the characters. This attitude is displayed with many of her comment to Mrs. Hopewell. Perhaps when Joy-Hulga remarks to Mrs. Hopewell, “Woman, do you ever look inside?” she should’ve taken her own advice.