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
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Head, symbolically undergirding all of humanity. The symbolism reminds this reader of the Irish poet Brendan Kenneally’s line: “to serve the age, betray it.” The act of betraying and the resultant Christian forgiveness, this reading suggests,is fundamental to humankind’s existence on earth.

O’Connor continues with the moonlight imagery, but casts it in dichotomous terms. The moon’s light spilling into the bedroom “paused as if it were waiting for his permission to enter” but upon entering, “cast a dignifying light on everything.” References indicative of servitude continue with the depiction of the trousers thrown upon the chair “like the garment some great man had just flung to his servant” and in the characterization of the chair “stiff and attentive as if it was awaiting an order.” Such portrayals set up for the reader the curious relationship between Mr. Head and his grandson, where the roles each character plays often switch – Mr. Head’s “moral lesson” that he expects to teach Nelson is successful, but a similar moral lesson is taught to Mr. Head through Nelson, who becomes the agent of forgiveness who facilitates a deeper understanding within his grandfather’s soul. The connection between father/son and/or master/servant is often overturned in this story.

In finishing this first paragraph, O’Connor comments implicitly on the servant imagery by

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