Grandson’s Lesson in Flannery O’Connor’s The Artificial Nigger

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Grandson’s Lesson in Flannery O’Connor’s The Artificial Nigger “He’s never seen anything before,” Mr. Head continued. “Ignorant as the day he was born, but I mean for him to get his fill once and for all.” P.254 This quote which comes early in the text of Flannery O’Connor’s “The Artificial Nigger,” is of great significance for understanding this novel as a whole. The quote comes from the beginning of this short story when the Grandfather (Mr. Head) is on the train with his grandson (Nelson). Mr. Head utters this quote to the man sitting next to him on the train. Mr. Head decided to take Nelson to Atlanta to see the city where Nelson was born and to teach him some things along the way. There are countless instances in the text that show that Nelson indeed has not seen anything before and that he is indeed very ignorant. Early in the story, Mr. Head feels the need to warn Nelson about what he will see in Atlanta. “You may not like it a bit (Atlanta),” Mr. Head continued. “It’ll be full of niggers.” Even though this didn’t seem to bother Nelson, the grandfather felt the need to warm him since he was “ignorant as the day he was born.” Shortly thereafter, while on the train to Atlanta, a “tan” man walks down the aisle of the train. Again, Mr. Head has to instruct Nelson that a person, who is tan, is still “considered a Negro.” Its almost as if Nelson has been sheltered his entire life. That one short quote from page 253 couldn’t sum up Nelson’s life any more. Other examples of Nelson’s sheltered nature include Mr. Head’s insistence on showing Nelson the toilet and sinks in the bathroom of the train and the dinning car and how the city’s sewer system works. Nelson can’t seem to take it all in fast enough. On the train he is in awe of everything he sees and passes, and while walking the streets of Atlanta, all the stores, people and sights leave young Nelson dumbfounded. While all of this is true, this quote I chose to do my close reading on is significant in its foreshadowing. Granted, Mr. Head showed Nelson much on their Atlanta trip, he also taught Nelson a great lesson in mercy, forgiveness and being like Christ. Toward the end of the story, Nelson bumps into a woman who accuses him of breaking her ankle.

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