Ambiguity in O'Connor

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"Besides the neutral expression that she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings.  Her forward expression was steady and driving like the advance of a heavy truck.  Her eyes never swerved to left or right but turned as the story turned as if they followed a yellow line down the center of it." p.167

"Mrs. Freeman's gaze drove forward and just touched him before he disappeared under the hill." p.195

-From Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People" in A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories


O'Connor's characterization here is really creative.  The first description of Mrs. Freeman's expression also incorporated her personality of one who never considers options or opinions other than the one that is obvious to her.  She lets the obvious "drive" her through life without ever considering other ideas or possibilities.  At the end of the story, she does the same thing when she sees Manley Pointer leaving the woods where he has just stolen her daughter's false leg and left her stranded in the loft of a barn.  Mrs. Hopewell says, "Why, that looks like that nice dull young man that tried to sell me a Bible yesterday...He was so simple,...but I guess the world would be better off if we were all simple" (194).  Mrs. Hopewell believes that he is, as she says, "a nice young man" who is kind and would never do anything that was very wrong.  After this line, the second quote above is written.  Then Mrs. Freeman replies, "Some can't be that simple,...I know I never could" (195).  These segments are all so ambiguous that they can be interpreted in two different ways.  One way is that Mrs. Freeman is so oblivious to everything except herself that she cannot see that Pointer is a fake, and another is that she thinks he is a fake because she says she could never be as "simple" as him.  We never know if Mrs. Freeman respects him for his simple service to the Lord, or if she rejects him for a feigned simplicity, or if she suspects, or even knows, that he is more malicious than he appears.  O'Connor's ambiguity is one of my favorite aspects of her writing because it allows the reader to guess or imagine a variety of possibilities for each story.



Greta Carroll said:

Erica, I really enjoyed your entry, you make some good points! I think Mrs. Freeman’s comment about how she could never be simple is ironic. Because from what we have seen of Mrs. Freeman, I would not say she is simple (in the nice, country way). She seems to constantly be judging other people, observing, and silently making opinions. She is certainly simple in that she doesn’t have very worthwhile or deep thoughts, but she likes to pretend she is one thing on the outside (that she is so impartial), on the inside she is very judgmental. I think Mrs. Freeman’s comment about not being able to be as simple as him, is meant to draw our attention to how she is not quite what she appears to be, just as is the case with the Bible salesman.

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