uring class discussion, students proposed that Manely Pointer was used to diminish the budding sexuality projected through Joy’s pursuit of independence and seduction. A deeper analysis of his character, however, would be that Pointer was used predominantly as a masculine counterpart to Mrs. Freeman’s exploitation of other characters’ weaknesses and her secretive perversion.
Flannery O’Connor introduces Mrs. Freeman as an emboldened character through descriptions of her “forward expression” and “black eyes” that can permeate one’s inner thoughts (481). Such qualities are what enable her to challenge her subordinate position relative to her employers, Ms. Hopewell and Joy. Mrs. Freeman assumes a role of superiority by encouraging Mrs. Hopewell to become dependent upon her for companionship and gossip, while also exerting power over Joy—a character impenetrable by the efforts of anyone else. Her effects are expressed through the way she reverses Joy’s identity as “Hulga” and toys with the name, purposely tagging it on to the end of sentences and “penetrat[ing] far enough beyond her face to reach some secret fact” (484). After Manley Pointer’s visit, the narrator describes how “Mrs. Freeman was looking at [Joy] as if they had a secret together” (489). Through these private interactions, it seems as if Mrs. Freeman had become enlightened of some truth unrecognized by the self-righteous Ms. Hopewell, whether it be sex, sin, or fraud.
An aura of dominance is established exclusively by Mrs. Freeman until the introduction of Manley Pointer. Manley similarly feigns understanding and comradery with Mrs. Hopewell, constantly breezing over her points and over-indulging in conversation. He reveals his true self once alone with Hulga, reinstating a personal interaction capable of making her feel unguarded. Just as Mrs. Freeman finds entertainment with her name, Manley repeats “Hulga… Hulga. Hulga,” expressing curiosity and infatuation with something she intended to be shocking and abrasive (490). The ugliness Joy has used as a shield is also broken down when he tells her she is “brave” for dealing with her stumped leg, echoing the rejection of disgust and fear that she uses to keep people at a distance (491).
The removal of her leg soon exacerbates Joy’s ill-placed trust and introduces Pointer’s fetish with disabilities. His obsession is suggested before this point, as he continuously inquires her to tell where her “wooden leg join on” (491). This sexual fixation reaches its climax when she finally satisfies his request by removing her leg, and he boasts of his collection of other parts, such as his presumedly former lover’s glass eye.
This perversion connects back to before Pointer’s introduction, when the narrator mentions Mrs. Freeman’s own fixation upon Joy’s disability. While she may not have had an array of artificial parts stowed away, “Mrs. Freeman had a special fondness for the details of secret infections, hidden deformities, assaults upon children” (484). It is reasonable to deduce that her obsession may not be sexual, yet she is still described to relish in the re-telling of Joy’s tragedy. This fetish, which is introduced early in the story and then resurfaced in the affair between Pointer and Joy, is attributed to both Freeman and Pointer in order to translate traits of manipulation and control. Both characters are considered “simple,” yet are revealed to possess an obsession over the weaknesses of others and their own opportunity for dominance.
In regard to the sexual expression of Mrs. Freeman’s character, its inclusion was not as straightforward as with her infatuation with disability. The descriptions of sexuality that allow me to still connect her Manley Pointer’s erotic advancements are much more subtle. The most obvious example occurs twice within the story, the first time being when Joy and her mother are eating at the table, and the second being after the introduction of Manley Pointer. When Mrs. Freeman “[lifts] the back of her skirt slightly” as she stands by the heater, I interpret her actions to be pointing toward a sexual presence in both herself and Joy (483).
The servant and the Bible salesman’s two worlds eventually collide in the final paragraph, when the narrator makes clear that these similarities were intentional. As Manley Pointer fades into the distance, Mrs. Freeman’s “gaze drove forward and just touched him before he disappeared,” creating metaphoric imagery of their two characters coming to convergence (495). This connection is finally drawn after both have successfully asserted their sexual and intellectual dominance. Mrs. Freeman then proceeds to pull “evil-smelling” onions from the ground and claim that she could never be as “simple” as her male counterpart (495). Here, Mrs. Freeman uncovers that the ignorant idea that both her and Pointer are harmless creatures is the root from which they can flourish under the façade of innocence and simplicity.
This scene is the final triumph of two characters that without meeting, understand one another. O’Connor’s intention of these two characters throughout the story was to reveal the underlying menace of “good country people” and those who the higher class overlooks as subordinates. Underneath the nose of Ms. Hopewell, both Manley Pointer and Ms. Freeman take advantage of Joy and exert their power over the ignorant.
O’Connor, Flannery. Good Country People. The Norton Introduction to Literature. 2016.
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