Breaking from a Patriarchal Society

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Jeremiah Dickson
Prof. Bishop
ENGL 1102
17 February 2010
Breaking from a Patriarchal Society
Flannery O??™ Connor, one of the unique literary voices to emerge in the 1950??™s, was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925. O??™ Connor often used American challenges to depict the characters and setting in her socially centered short stories. O??™ Connor??™s Good Country People is a representation of a contradiction in society??™s outlook on women and men. In the Good Country People, Gilbert and Gubar??™s stereotypical image of a monster-like woman was significantly depicted. Flannery O??™ Connor uses Joy-Hulga to illustrate Gilbert and Gubar??™s terminology of a monstrous woman in her time period.
Joy legally changes her name to Hulga in pursuit to emphasize her individuality in the world. The name Hulga brings forth a sense of aggressive behavior, and Mrs. Hopewell finds her daughter??™s name to be the ugliest name in any language (O??™Connor 174). When Joy changes her name to Hulga, she allows it to correspond to a change in her personality. Mrs. Hopewell overlooks her daughter??™s abrupt changes in attitude because of her disabilities, but Hulga uses her monstrous outbursts to release her frustration about how she feels about her life. The goal in Hulga??™s mind is to find a name that has a negative connotation. Hulga believes that, One of her major triumphs was that her mother had not been able to turn her dust into Joy, but the greater one was that she had been able to turn it herself into Hulga (175). In changing her name, Hulga was able to change the denotation that was associated with her previous name, Joy. Hulga feels as if she has summed up her entire life??™s story by creating this new name. Joy uses her new name to form a new identity that conflicts with her mother??™s beliefs and society??™s patriarchal philosophy. Hulga sees the changing of her name as a way she can express how less she cares about male dominance.
Although her mother does not accept it and still calls her Joy, the legalizing of the name Hulga brings her some satisfaction in life. Mrs. Hopewell shows her discontentment in her daughter??™s new name by symbolizing it as a broad blank hull of a battleship (174). A patriarchal ideology is significantly displayed in Mrs. Hopewell??™s attitude towards the image associated with Joy??™s new name. The Hopewell??™s live in a male-centered era which conflicts with Hugla??™s portrayal of a superior identity. Joy-Hulga, on the other hand, feels the legalization of the name puts her on the same level or better than that of a man because it gives her authority. Through the laws of marriage, only men have the power to legally change the last name of their spouse. Hulga keeps her last name, but as an alternative she changes her first name because she feels it will give her power that only men are perceived to possess. The changing of the name Joy to Hulga resembles Hulga??™s ambitious drive to gain the superior authority men have. Although she has legally changed her name, Mrs. Hopewell hopes her daughter will one day conform to patriarchal views of a woman, but to Hulga that would be taking away her power.
With a determination to make her existence on the world, Hulga receives her PhD in philosophy. During a hunting trip when Hulga was ten years old, her leg was shot off and for the last twenty-two years she has a wooden leg as a replacement. She does not let the fact that she has a fake leg hold her back from getting an education pass the level that her mother is comfortable with. Along with her artificial leg, Hulga suffers from a heart condition that forced her to stay home with her mother. In a way she uses her education to balance out her disease and disability. Mrs. Hopewell thought her aspiration to be far from these red hills and good country people is foolish and impossible due to her weak heart (175). Hulga??™s strong desire to leave the farm and pursue her own independence shows an unfeminine quality that was frowned upon in her era. All Mrs. Hopewell wants is for her daughter to look at the bright side of things for a change. Mrs. Hopewell criticizes her daughter??™s education by saying, she could not help but feel that it would have been better if the child had not taken the PhD (175). Not only does Hulga feel that her education sets her apart from the people she lives with, but it places her above society as well. Mrs. Hopewell believes her lack in common sense and pleasantness originates from her receiving the PhD in philosophy.
Although Hulga claims she believes in nothing, her wooden leg and her education serve as icons in her unclaimed beliefs. As a child Hulga felt ashamed of her wooden leg, but as her independence increases so does her faith in her false leg. When being asked about her leg, Hulga reflects back on the fact that As a child she had sometimes been subject to feelings of shame but education had removed that last traces of that as a good surgeon scrapes for cancer (183). Her education adds to her individuality and soon follows suit as a major symbol in her beliefs. Receiving a PhD was a reflection of her strong ability to neglect her flaws and make her own territory in a place where she felt she did not belong. Mrs. Hopewell picks up one of Hulga??™s philosophy books and began to read and discovers a passage was underlined in blue pencil and it stated, ??¦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 (176). From all her knowledge in philosophy, Hulga claims she believes in nothing, yet her actions conflict with her feelings. Hugla??™s drive for success has been based on her disabilities throughout her entire life.
Hulga??™s wooden leg and education allows her the freedom to not be conformed to society??™s expectations of a woman. The changing of her name focuses directly on the building of her individuality, which breaks the patriarchal image of women in her time period. Society??™s depiction of women has changed over the years and it gives woman the opportunity to be an individual without being considered a monster.
Work Cited
O??™Connor, Flannery. Good Country People. 1955. Diyanni, Robert. Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama.2nd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008. 172-185. Print
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