Artificial Nigger

In every society, the elders are known to serve as role models for younger

generations. The elders equip themselves with the wisdom throughout their lifetime to

benefit their youth. They pass on the knowledge, traditions, and moral values of the

previous generations to the next. Even though there is always some degree of conflict

between the older and the younger generations, the experiences of the childhood will

forever leave their mark in the mentality of the youth. In The Artificial Nigger by

Flannery O’Connor, Mr. Head emerged to be a key figure that attempted to convey the

legacy that characterized the South to his grandson. The first impression of Mr. Head

was illustrated to be a wise and morally responsible old man. Despite his old age and

impoverished life, his character and his will were strong. O’Connor emphasized how

man was very well suited for the role of being a moral guide for young people from the

statement, “His eye had a look of ancient wisdom as if they belonged to one of the great

guides of men” (281). His grandson Nelson emerged to be the figure that would seek

guidance from him. Nelson had a dream of being better than his grandfather in all

respects. Every parent desires their child’s capacities to exceed their own capacities. Mr.

Head’s response to that situation was not what would be expected from an elderly man.

His attitude towards Nelson resembles that of a competing sibling or a friend. They are

similar not only in their behavior, but also in their appearance, “they looked alike enough

to be brothers” (282). Thus, from the beginning it is evident to the reader that Mr. Head

is the man that is not suited for his role of guiding youth into the bright future.

Grandfather and grandson are engaged in a battle of wills, and at the center of this

battle is the issue of knowledge. Both want to claim knowledge of the city. It was

important for Mr. Head to be better than his grandson. On the day of their trip to the city

his goal was to be the firs one up. And yet, he was defeated. His reaction indicates the

shallowness of character. Rather than thanking Nelson for cooking, he was trying to

exert his superiority upon his grandson. His “wisdom” and “knowledge” were far beyond

the ones posed by Nelson. Mr. Head’s defeat gave him the inspiration to beat the boy in

any other respect possible without showing a weakness of his own. Over the course of the

plot the most important thing for Mr. Head was to avoid any possibility of appearing

foolish and suffering embarrassment in front of Nelson. Mr. Head had a definite

advantage over Nelson due to his age and life experiences. Nelson, on the other hand,

was raised in isolation. Due to his restricted childhood, he was not able to recognize the

three people moving down the aisle on the train as African Americans. Mr. Head

immediately took his chances to laugh at the boy by pointing out his ignorance. To

further ridicule Nelson he leaned in triumph across the aisle to another passenger saying,

“That’s his first nigger” (285). But to all his horror, Mr. Head was not immune from

ridicule himself. When later on it was discovered that he left their lunch the train, Nelson

sneeringly noted, “I would have kapeholt of it” (288). His grandfather, unable to take yet

another insult, retaliated the only way he could in that situation. He threatened to leave

him behind. Nelson turned white from the prospect of being left alone in the city. That

clearly indicated that the boy lacked experience and confidence that is necessary to

maintain his ground in his unusual competition with his grandfather.

In the city, though, the knowledge which has granted Mr. Head the upper hand

escapes him. Los in the black neighborhood and once again felt humiliated by Nelson,

Mr. Head is ready for revenge. The moment of the greatest triumph for Mr. Head was

also the moment of his greatest demise. He arrogantly thought that the boy would have

“mighty sorry time” (290) without him, and he decided to teach him a lesson once and for

all. A sixty year old man trying to prank his ten year old grandson would be considered

shocking and ridicules by many readers. When the boy was resting, he hid and waited for

Nelson to wake up. Due to his impatience of waiting for Nelson to wake up, he