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April 23, 2006

Aww shucks, it's nothing

O'Connor, '''Good Country People'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“’Science, on the other hand, has to assert its soberness and seriousness afresh and declare that it is concerned solely with what-is. Nothing – how can it be for science anything but a horror and a phantasm? If science is right, then one thing stands firm: science wishes to know nothing of Nothing. Such is after all the strictly scientific approach to Nothing. We know it by wishing to know nothing of Nothing’” (175).

This passage is interesting for a couple of reasons. O’Connor capitalizes the “N” in some cases and not in others. This is sort of the way we use the word “god” in the generic sense, but when we write of Christ’s father, we capitalize the G in God.

That passage says science is concerned with what-is or that which exists. Nothing is the absence of something or “that which does not exist.” So if science is right then it wishes to know nothing of “that which does not exist.” Such is after all the scientific approach to “that which does not exist.”

Does this mean God? Is O’Connor trying to send a message? Especially when Manley Pointer (great innuendo) says “’You just a while ago said you didn’t believe in nothing. I thought you was some girl!’” (193). And on page 194 he yells, “you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!” It’s just an interest reoccurrence of the word “nothing.”

When Pointer stalks off with Hulga’s wooden leg - the aspect Pointer said made her different – then he leaves her with (you guessed it) … nothing.

Posted by MattHampton at April 23, 2006 12:48 AM


The passage quoted here was not written by O'Connor, but by German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Ultimately, the comparison noted here between God and Nothing is somewhat coherent, because for the Nihilists (Heidegger is not a nihilist, but this passage is nihilistic in a very Nietzschean way) God is Nothing and Nothingness is God. Joy/Hulga is cast as Nietzsche's Ubermensch or Superman, one who asserts his will to power simply to assert his individual being, and correlation's are also seen here between Joy/Hulga and Dostoevsky's Underground Man, who prefers suffering to comfort, as long as the suffering is on his terms. This is seen in passages such as when Joy has "...the look of someone who has achieved blindness by an act of will and means to keep it," or by the fact that she changes her name just to assert her autonomy.

I think that, with the scene in the barn loft, O'Connor is trying to articulate the fact that, in order to truly be a Christian, one must cast aside the pride that Joy/Hulga has. All too often we Christians speak to God as Hulga did to her mother: "If you want me, here I am - LIKE I AM." By stealing her leg/autonomy, Pointer, as stated here, leaves Hulga with nothing and, as Christ says, unless we give up everything and approach Him with nothing, we cannot be his disciples.

Posted by: billy at September 14, 2007 10:24 AM

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