An Analysis of the First Paragraph of O’Connor’s The Artificial Nigger

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An Analysis of the First Paragraph of O’Connor’s The Artificial Nigger ?In “The Artificial Nigger,” Flannery O’Connor commingles characteristic Christian imagery with themes evocative of her Southern setting. In this essay, a close reading of the first paragraph of this story elucidates the subtle ways in which O’Connor sets up these basic themes of redemption and forgiveness. An additional paragraph will examine the ramifications of this reading on the intertwined racial aspects of the story, which are connected by a common theme of master/servant imagery, which is integral to the first paragraph. In this story, the key character is named Mr. Head, which immediately signals to the reader that this character is suggestive of rationality and perhaps especially pride (as in the expression “having a big head”). This is appropriate given that Mr. Head’s change throughout the story will emphatically revolve around his spiritual and Christian-oriented awareness of the plight of man and the problem of pridefulness. Mr. Head “awakens” (indeed, the whole story regards his awakening) in the night to a room “full of moonlight.” From the very beginning, elements of light and dark are vying in the story’s background, and in this case, it is a light that shines through the darkness. O’Connor, through the uses of dashes, alerts the reader to the moonlight being “the color of silver,” the first of many silver/gray references throughout the story. It is hard not to equate this references to the thirty pieces of silver that Judas received for betraying Jesus. Such a reference is consistent with the story’s themes of betrayal and forgiveness (even though Mr. Head’s denial of his grandson Nelson is perhaps more reminiscent of Pete... ... middle of paper ... ...nship between blacks and whites exist without such interchangeability. Such a reading suggests that African Americans are often the vehicle through which Southerners experience powerful lessons of hatred (as in Nelson’s first experience with the black man on the train), pride (when Nelson witnesses his grandfather’s witty rejoinder to the stuffy black waiter), sexuality (Nelson’s run-in with the black temptress in the Atlanta ghetto), and even redemption (as they witness the statue in the story’s penultimate moment). No matter that Nelson has only recently learned what a “nigger” is, never mind that the statue itself is plaster and one eye is “entirely white” – the overturning of the master/servant relationship is only possible when firmly on the white side of the segregated line; this reality ensures that all the “niggers” in this story remain “artificial.”

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