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A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND
GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE
PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
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.
Yesterday a bible salesman had stopped by the house. Mrs. Hopewell saw Joy talk to him as he was leaving--what could she have possibly said to him? He had shown up at the door, all sweaty and nearly collapsed with hauling a big case of bibles. Not bad looking, and wearing a bright blue suit and yellow socks. He had sharp features, sticky brown hair.
He called her Mrs. Cedars, 'cause that's what it said on the mailbox: The Cedars. Ha! He fell into the hall and shook her hand and laughed again. He got serious about the bibles, and wouldn't be put off when Mrs. Hopewell said she didn't want to buy one. He said he knew she believed in "Chrustian" service, and that she ought to have a bible in every room of the house. Mrs. Hopewell thought Joy would have something to say about that. She told him her dinner was burning, and he didn't get up but said he was just regular country people and real simple.
Well, she could appreciate good country people. He brightened, and introduced himself: Manly Pointer, from way out in the country past Willohobie. Mrs. Hopewell invited him to dinner, though Joy suggested, aside, that she get rid of him. Joy had been listening.
Mrs. Hopewell goes back to the parlor to get him. He tells her he appreciates her honesty, that only country folks are like that anymore. She agrees, and hears Joy in the other room, snorting. He tells Mrs. Hopewell that he has a heart condition--it turns out to be the one Joy has. He stays for dinner and tells Mrs. Hopewell his life story. She is very nice, to make up for sullen Joy. He wanted to be a missionary. He tells her everything all over again before he finally leaves, promising to come back and visit sometime.
On his the way out, Mrs. Hopewell notes Joy standing by the road. She sees the young man confront Joy directly. Amazingly, they walk off together.
The next morning, Mrs. Freeman comes in and tells about her older daughter and the offers of marriage she has received. Joy is there, and Mrs. Hopewell mentions the bible salesman and Mrs. Freeman mentions that she saw him but Joy says nothing, turns red, and stomps out of the room.
She'd arranged to meet him at ten, out by the gate. She had thought about him all night, and also thought the whole thing was a big joke, but there was something to the conversation they had had. There was something in his eyes which seemed familiar.
She told him she was seventeen and told her he admired her--the leg and all. He liked girls that wore glasses and thought a lot. He thought a lot. He was going to die. She said she was, too. He said they had a lot in common, and asked her to meet him tomorrow. She had spent the night imagining that she would take him out to the far barn and seduce him, then deal with refusing him anything else. She'd just educate him.
She went out to meet him, and thought she'd been stood up. Suddenly, he popped out of the bushes and said he knew she would come! She doubts this, but asks him why he brought his bible case. He says, You can never tell when you might need the word of God, and she steers him across the field. After a bit he asks her about her leg--where does it join on? She is mad, but then they talk about God--she doesn't believe and he finds this unusual--and then he kisses her, sloppily. She had never been kissed, and found it dull. She pities him. As she walks on, he tries to keep the path clear for her, and asks can they sit down somewhere, and is she saved? She doesn't believe in God, in anything, really, but there is a barn over there. . .
They make for it rapidly, and when he notes the hay loft, and says it's too bad she can't climb up there--her leg and all--she does just that. He climbs up after her, and, again, brings his bible case. He wants her to say that she loves him, he wants to see her leg, and he wants her to show him how to take it on and off. She decided that this boy is pure innocence--amazing. She shows him the leg and lets him take it off.
But he takes it out of her reach and won't put it back on. She demands. He opens his case and takes out some booze, swigs, offers her some, says, Wait. He has a condom and some dirty pictures he lays out. She says she thought he was good country people. He says he is just as good as her--what's eating her all of a sudden? She says she thought he was a Christian. He says he don't believe that crap, he just sells bibles--and he wasn't born yesterday. She yells for her leg. He puts her leg in his bible case and clips it shut and heads out the loft hole, telling her he once got a woman's glass eye the same way as this, and that she ain't as smart as she thinks she is--he's believed in nothing since he was born! She sees him disappear across the field.
In the garden, Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman see him emerge from the field and strike on up the road. Mrs. Hopewell says he was entirely simple, and the world would be better off with more like that. Mrs. Freeman says that some people, like her, could never be that simple.