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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

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•  Using the Video
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•  Activities
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Activities: Author Activities

Flannery O'Connor - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Flannery O'Connor Activities
  • In Mystery and Manners O'Connor describes "Good Country People" as a story in which "a lady Ph.D. has her wooden leg stolen by a Bible salesman whom she has tried to seduce." Admitting that, "paraphrased this way, the situation is simply a low joke," O'Connor goes on to discuss the significance of the wooden leg as, among other things, a symbol of Hulga's wooden soul and emotional disability. "As the story goes on," O'Connor continues, "the wooden leg continues to accumulate meaning. The reader learns how the girl feels about it; and finally, by the time the Bible salesman comes along, the leg has accumulated so much meaning that it is, as the saying goes, loaded. And when the Bible salesman steals it, the reader realizes that he has taken away part of the girl's personality and has revealed her deeper affliction to her for the first time." Begin your discussion of the story by asking your students to think about O'Connor's simple paraphrase; then use that discussion to open up the multiple layers of meaning within the story.

  • The title of "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" comes from a warning to drivers that they should drive carefully. "Good Country People" begins with a description of Mrs. Freeman that characterizes her as very much like a car with three gears--neutral, forward, and reverse. Ask your students to think about O'Connor's apparent preoccupation with automobiles and travel. How might such references relate to the development of the federal highway system in the 1950s? What do these stories seem to be saying about an increasingly mobile population?

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