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Free Study Guide: A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor - BookNotes

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Mrs. Hopewell
Mrs. Hopewell owns and runs a farm and keeps hired help. She is also afraid of her daughter, who lives with her. Mrs. Hopewell is not a religious woman, but she does have some faith that all will be well--with hard work and decent decision making and a little pleasantness to sweeten things up. She is somewhat resigned to her fate, trying to keep the farm going and keeping her daughter alive.

Mrs. Freeman
She has only two modes, we are told in the opening lines--forward and reverse. Mrs. Freeman is a talker and a busy-body, and knows how everything should be and which way it should go. She is very obsequious with her employer. She has two daughters--Gynese and Carramae--and a husband who works for Mrs. Hopewell.

Joy (or Hulga) Hopewell
Joy got her leg shot off in a hunting accident when she was ten--she has had a wooden leg ever since. She has gone to college and has several degrees, including a Ph.D. in philosophy. She is sullen, and has a bad heart and is expected to die young. She is also very cynical, and doesn't get along well with anyone. She is unhappy, but stays where she is.

"Manly Pointer"
This is not his real name, we find out late in the story. Manly is a bible salesman, and a young man with a lot of schemes on his mind. He has two personalities, and matches his wits to Hulga's. He appears simplistic and turns out conniving.


Mrs. Hopewell doesn't know what to do with her mean daughter. She is protective of her, but also had some hopes for her which become more unlikely all the time. She does not like "trashy" people and always wants to depend on "good country people" to see her through.

Protagonist and Antagonist

If Mrs. Hopewell is the protagonist, and Manly the antagonist, Joy/Hulga is both. Joy is resentful of her mother, and makes her life difficult. She also tries dropping her guard (and trusting) Manly, who takes terrible advantage of her. Manly uses both Mrs. Hopewell and Joy for his own gain or amusement.


Hulga goes on a walk with Manly to a secluded barn, in order to seduce or get seduced. He seems to like her, but also has some bizarre requests. He immediately wants her to trust him, to "love" him, to show him her artificial leg and show him how to take it off and put it back on. When she decides to trust him, the question becomes whether he is trustworthy, or out for a weird thrill.


Manly takes the leg away from Hulga, gives her a lecture about her high-flying, educated attitude, and takes off--leaving her flabbergasted, alone, on one leg, some distance from her mother's house.


Mrs. Freeman has her own ideas, and will never admit herself wrong. Every morning she comes in to talk to Mrs. Hopewell as she has her breakfast. Joy, Mrs. Hopewell's daughter, who has an artificial leg and is thirty-two and highly educated, listens to them. Mrs. Freeman talks about her two daughters--one is fifteen, married and pregnant--and Joy listens. Joy calls the daughters Glycerin and Caramel.

Mrs. Hopewell likes to say that the Freemans and their girls are good country people, and Mrs. Freeman is a lady. When Mrs. Hopewell checked out their references, before she hired them, one gentleman told her that Mrs. Freeman was a problem--into everyone's business. Mrs. Hopewell, who had no other real possibilities, decided to hire them anyway and put Mrs. Freeman in charge of knowing everything Mrs. Hopewell was good at seeing people's usefulness, and the Freeman's had been with her four years. Nothing is perfect is one of Mrs. Hopewell's favorite sayings.

Mrs. Freeman always knows everything before anyone else. I always said so myself is one of her favorite sayings. Joy used to listen to the women talk over breakfast, Mrs. Freeman hanging in the doorway and her mother getting a bit impatient. Mrs. Hopewell had had plenty of other people before, who didn't work out. Then she'd walk the farm with Joy, who was so glum that Mrs. Hopewell told her not to come along if she was going to be like that. Joy told her that she'd just have to take her as she was. Mrs. Hopewell excused these kind of remarks because of the leg, shot clean off in a hunting accident. Thirty-two, and never danced a step! Joy legally changed her name to Hulga--Mrs. Hopewell figured she had chosen the ugliest name she could find and refused to call her that. Hulga didn't like the Freemans, until she figured out that Mrs. Freeman and her girls could distract her mother from her focus on her. And Mrs. Freeman was fascinating: you simply couldn't insult the woman, or if she was mad at you it would be a mystery why. And, then, one day, Mrs. Freeman just started calling her "Hulga," but never around Mrs. Hopewell. Hulga/Joy didn't like Mrs. Freeman using her new name. It was as if Mrs. Freeman were being too personal, had come to close to some secret of Hulga's. then Hulga figured it out: Mrs. Freeman was fascinated by the artificial leg--she could listen to the story over and over again, from Mrs. Hopewell, and be freshly engrossed each time.

Hulga stumped into the kitchen each morning--she didn't have to, but she seemed to like being unpleasant. Mrs. Hopewell thought that Joy could be attractive, if she wanted to be. People who look on the bright side can be beautiful, even they aren't, she thought--and said aloud. She was sorry Joy had got the Ph.D. Now there would be no more school to send her off to, where she might meet some nice young people. But there was another problem anyway: Joy had a weak heart and probably wouldn't see forty-five anyway. If it weren't for this, Joy might at least be at some university, lecturing to young scarecrows like herself--instead of home dressed in old clothes and stumping around the house all sullen. She was brilliant, without a grain of sense. And she said things that Mrs. Hopewell could not understand, talking about how Mrs. Hopewell could never look inside herself, that someone named Malebranche was right. All Mrs. Hopewell had said was that a smile never hurt anyone.

Unfortunately, Joy's Ph. D. was in philosophy. You could say your daughter was a teacher--or a chemical engineer, even--but you couldn't say your daughter was a philosopher! Joy looked at young men like she could smell how stupid they were. Joy read books that no regular human could understand--gibberish.

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