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An Analysis Of The First Paragraph Of O’connor’s The Artificial Nigger

1059 words - 4 pages

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 of rationality and perhaps especially pride (as in the expression “having a big head”). This is appropriate given that Mr. Head’s change throughout the story will emphatically revolve around his spiritual and Christian-oriented awareness of the plight of man and the problem of pridefulness. Mr. Head “awakens” (indeed, the whole story regards his awakening) in the night to a room “full of moonlight.” From the very beginning, elements of light and dark are vying in the story’s background, and in this case, it is a light that shines through the darkness.

O’Connor, through the uses of dashes, alerts the reader to the moonlight being “the color of silver,” the first of many silver/gray references throughout the story. It is hard not to equate this references to the thirty pieces of silver that Judas received for betraying Jesus. Such a reference is consistent with the story’s themes of betrayal and forgiveness (even though Mr. Head’s denial of his grandson Nelson is perhaps more reminiscent of Peter’s denial of Jesus). More importantly, the moon’s color fills the floor boards with silver, according to O’Connor’s phrasing, which extends the Judas metaphor significantly: the act of betrayal is underneath Mr. 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...

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