It may appear that Manley's "weak heart" is a falsehood, contrived to gain sympathy and increase his Bible sales. Manley is a liar and a fraud, but his "heart condition" is a genuine aliment (186). Throughout the story, he is often tired and out of breath. He arrives at the Hopewell house "on the point of collapse" and on his way to the covert picnic with Hulga, is twice described as "panting" when he speaks (185, 190-191). When last seen by Hulga, he is "struggling" over the hill as he flees with her leg (191). He rambles for hours about his life in front of Mrs. Hopewell after he reveals his medical condition. Much of what he tells her consists of lies (his ambition to be a missionary), but it is unlikely Manley is creating two hours of pure falsehood. It is possible that he is being truthful in some points, such as his heart. In addition, his heart condition is another parallel between Manley and Hulga, besides his clothes and nihilistic worldview. Finally, it foreshadows his doom. This may be small consolation to Hulga, but his imminent death is a reminder that judgment is coming, and his victory is temporary. Nihilism may appear to win temporarily, but meaningful philosophies of life will eventually be victorious.
By exposing the religious shortcomings of Southern society, O'Connor has illustrated a larger point: beliefs are only as strong as the person who holds them and only as real as the person willing to face them. Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga each independently, yet paralleled, struggle to face the reality that their strategies for dealing with life are inadequate because they are self-deceptive. O'Connor allows the reader to experience this cognitive dissonance by use of the third person point of view, showing that what is clear to the reader should be, but is not, clear to the person. In comparison, the flaws and contradictions are so apparent in Southern society that O'Connor feels they should be easily seen yet struggles to understand why they are currently not.