In O’Connor’s “The Artificial Nigger” the essences of prejudice and degradation are captured to a great extent. Reality shows us with needless consistency people in a need to feel better about themselves only achieve it by being better than someone else. Therefore every opportunity at hand, including racism, is taken advantage as a form of gratification. Mr. Head, the grandfather, is an example of one of these people. He is in competition with seemingly everyone he encounters while in a day trip to the City. Racism is just one of the ways he utilizes to demean others while elevating his own self-image. O’Connor’s depiction of a Southern, and close-minded person goes into the extreme depths of what constitutes as well as produces an imprudent racist.
Mr. Head, a self-proclaimed missionary, plans on taking his grandson, Nelson, to Atlanta city. Intending to introduce Nelson to the focal point of his racist teachings. However, Mr. Head’s subconscious motives are to have Nelson believe his grandfather’s existence in his life is indispensable. He hopes Nelson dependency upon him increases. Doing so would not only make his own self feel superior but also satisfy his own dependency needs. He’s content with the thought that once Nelson has had the opportunity in experiencing the city. He will “be content to stay at home for the rest of his life”(251).
His only comforting thoughts, as he laid to sleep before the day of the trip, were not of turning Nelson into a racist however, of “thinking how the boy would at last find out that he was not as smart as he thought he was”(251). Degrading anyone, including his own grandson, is another way by which Mr. Head can feel satisfied with himself. He welcomes and anticipates the point at which Nelson questions his own intelligence. Towards the beginning of the story Mr. Head belittles Nelson rationalizing once arriving in the city “he will’ve been there twict”(250). Considering Atlanta was his place of birth Nelson believed it to be true. Logically Nelson made sense nevertheless, “Mr. Head had contradicted him” (250). Irony is first present here as Mr. Head continuously accuses Nelson of being ignorant, yet Mr. Head is the one displaying ignorance in every spoken.
From the beginning of the story Mr. Head is seen as a character extremely selfish and only concerned with one self. O’Connor reveals Mr. Heads way of thinking to better understand his persona. Her characters are seemingly study cases and in reading thoughts we first begin to see personality disorders. Many such disorders are responsible for unreasoned thinking. I believe mental conditions are a definite underlying factor if not contributor to racial prejudices.
Waiting for the train to stop for them, the day of the trip, Mr. Head secretly fears it will not do so, “which case, he knew Nelson would say, ” I never thought no train would stop for you,”(252). The fears Mr. Head had experienced are not typically common within the emotionally stable rather by the antisocial. As soon as Mr. Head and Nelson walked down the aisle of the car train. He lacked respect for any around him. Although it was early morning and people were sleeping, Mr. Head’s volume awoke the passengers; he paid no attention to the rustling he caused by being rude.
While en route to the city an event happens that portrays indefinitely the actions of someone, Mr. Head, with low self-worth. What took place in less than a minute revealed to Nelson what was behind all the hatred his grandfather had for Blacks. A group of three, tan-colored people proceeded down the aisle where Mr. Head and Nelson sat. Mr. Head then tells Nelson they were “niggers,” and immediately afterwards insults his intelligence. Mr. Head belittles Nelson simply because of the lack of recognition towards Blacks. I feel a student is only as good as his teacher. Mr. Head says his student, Nelson, is oblivious to how blacks appear, despite all of his years in learning. O’Connor develops in further detail Mr. Heads inhibitions. It’s obvious Mr. Head lacks parental, as well as teaching skills. I am aware O’Connor didn’t intend to apply any one theme to this story as well as any of her other works however, she clearly illustrated here how “Ignorance begets Ignorance.” Nelson “felt that the Negro had deliberately walked down the aisle in order to make a fool of him and he hated him with a fierce raw fresh hate”. He now understood why his grandfather disliked them. The foundation of Nelson’s hatred didn’t commence with the color of the people’s skin but with the feeling he was made a fool of. His grandfather’s insecurities are then put into practice with him along side what motivates racism behavior. What hopes we saw in Nelson to be distinct from his grandfather begin to deteriorate.
O’Connor’s usage of the word “ignorant” has ironic roots as well. In mid-century when this story, I believe, was written. The definition of “nigger” was closely related to the word ignorant, compared to how it defined today, which is a derogatory term. O’Connor’s various ways buy which she executes her intents are not, as always, clearly seen or can be easily stated. The relation between Mr. Head’s ignorant actions and the point he calls Nelson ignorant are aspects far too coincidental to ignore. In calling Nelson ignorant he is calling him what he so obviously detests and considers unworthy. Racism is another masked form to put people down to feel about them selves. It’s a shield to hide the truths about people with low self-esteem. Racists denounce entire cultures and regard them and below them. Mr. Head went as far as to place his grandson, a small version of Mr. Head, along side with “niggers”. He’s acknowledging the faults his grandson has right beside his own. The two are even liked to brothers. So in saying anything about Nelson person he’s saying it unto himself. His own culture’s shortcomings are becoming progressively evident to him.
Mr. Head has the ill-mannered audacity to deny the child as his own. While in the city they had the misfortune of their way to the train station. After having been lost for hours they took a moment to rest. Nelson was extremely exhausted and fell asleep quikely. When Nelson awakened he was shocked to see no sign of his grandfather, who was hiding so to teach him a lesson. Nelson dashed off in a desperate search. Nelson ran into an elderly lady, most likely because he felt flustered as any child would to be separated from their caretaker. All of the woman’s groceries had scattered due to the impact the two experienced. When arriving at the scene Mr. Head not only failed to comfort his anxious child. But when told he would be the one held responsible for any medical bills subsequently. He simply replies “This is not my boy, I’ve never seen him before”.
O’Connor again makes it clear Mr. Head is not a person whom can be regarded upon as being mentally justified. Even the woman whom Nelson ran into “dropped back, staring with horror, as if they were so repulsed by a man who would deny his own image”. He truth he was denying himself.
Mr. Head does experience a revelation, which I think was more of O’Connor than a typical Mr. Head. “He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it”. (270) Realizing wrongdoings are common, amending them is the concept that people tend to ignore. O’Connor undeniably inserted her renowned Christian epiphany. So Mr. Head, now faced with a choice, I believe chooses to ignore his enlightenment. His character throughout the story displayed ignorant, adolescent, frightful behaviors. I find it hard to believe him altering his manner. He’s acknowledged his dependency on Nelson and Nelson now is conforming to him. As they stood watching the train fade into the distance, he comments, “I’m glad I’ve went once, but I’ll never go back again”. (270) Nelson finally concedes to have experienced the city once, not twice as he adamantly claimed. For Mr. Head choosing to do nothing is a choice in itself.
“The Artificial Nigger” is a great story, which can be used to help better understand what sorts of underlining factors come into play when people have deep hatreds of distinct cultures. Not commonly can a racist attribute all his hate to the color of ones skin. There are almost always other issues, which can be linked back to low self worth. Such as if someone of a different race was promoted while another looked over. Those are such beginnings of racist thoughts and later actions.