The Artificial Nigger

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"The Artificial Nigger"
Author Flannery O'Connor
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Southern Gothic
Published in A Good Man Is Hard to Find
Publication type single author anthology
Publication date 1955

"The Artificial Nigger" is a short story by Flannery O'Connor. It was published in 1955 in her short story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find. The title refers to statues popular in the Jim Crow-era Southern United States, depicting grotesque minstrelsy characters. Like most of her other works, the story reflects O'Connor's Roman Catholic beliefs and acts as a parable.

Plot summary[edit]

Mr. Head and his ten-year-old grandson, Nelson, live in a small rural town in Georgia, and Nelson is visiting Atlanta for the first time since his birth. Nelson is sure he will enjoy the city, but his grandfather tells him that he is naive, and pokes fun at Nelson during their train ride because he has never seen a black person.

After seeing some impressive buildings, Mr. Head takes Nelson to see the less-impressive side of the city, including the sewer system which reminds Nelson of hell. Mr. Head then walks Nelson through the predominantly black section of town where they get lost. Not wanting to ask anyone there for directions, Mr. Head finally acquiesces to Nelson's requests and allows the boy to ask a black woman for directions. The situation is embarrassing for Nelson and the grandfather.

They remain lost, and Nelson runs into an older white woman, knocking her down. When the crowd demands to know who is responsible for the boy, Mr. Head denies knowing him. Nelson feels betrayed and loses respect for the grandfather.

Eventually, a stranger points them to the train station and along the way they pass by a figurine of a black lawn jockey from which the story gets its title. Mr. Head says "They ain't got enough real ones here. They got to have an artificial one.".[1] As they stand together staring at the "Artificial Nigger," both man and boy experience a redemptive epiphany as they simultaneously recognize in the figurine a symbol of human suffering and the imputed mercy that comes from such suffering. The story ends with them leaving the city and, after getting off the train, standing at the station in a mild state of shock. Mr. Head experiences again this mysterious divine mercy, and Nelson says that he's glad he went "but I'll never go back again!" [2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ O'Connor, Flannery (1955). A Good Man is Hard to Find & Other Stories. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-15-636465-2. 
  2. ^ Flannery O'Connor: an introduction (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1991), pg. 173-183