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Dark Like Blood

"The Artificial Nigger"

"They stood gazing . . . as if they were faced with some great mystery, some monument
to another's victory that brought them together in their common defeat" (230).
Flannery O'Connor's "The Artificial Nigger" (1955)

 

Points of Reflection

Flannery O'Connor's "The Artificial Nigger" (1953; 1955), 210-31

1. Mr. Head apparently feels confident enough in his sixty years’ experience that he could tell the grave moon “age was a choice blessing” (210).  Is such confidence well-deserved?

2. perform a close reading of the narrator’s description of Mr. Head in the tale’s third paragraph (210), and use these observations to form an argument about Mr. Head’s character throughout the story

3. on what “moral mission” (211) does Mr. Head intend to lead his ten-year-old grandson, and is it a success?  Does he achieve what he set out to achieve?

4. the narrator tells us the two males “looked enough like to be brothers . . . for Mr. Head had a youthful expression by daylight, while the boy’s look was ancient” (212).  Do the story’s events prove that they are, in character as well as appearance, more alike than dissimilar?

5. it’s relatively simple to identify Mr. Head’s attitude towards African-Americans at the beginning of the tale.  What is it at the story’s end?

6. what is O’Connor’s own, emergent attitude towards racism in this period?  What does the story itself, that is, suggest about racial prejudice?

7. the boy seems rather aggressively defiant of his grandfather initially; does his mentor gradually win over the boys’ respect?

8. does the grandfather’s self-confidence constitute sinful pride, from a Judeo-Christian perspective?

9. what draws the boy towards the black woman who gives him directions—is it more her race or her gender (223)?

10. over the course of the story, the young boy becomes increasingly vulnerable and pliable (223, 224, etc.).  Does the grandfather properly use or abuse his grandson’s temporary malleability?

11. what of the grandfather’s later vulnerability; does his grandson respond appropriately?

12. does the grandfather become either a better or a worse person before the end of the story, or does he remain unchanged?

13. to what purpose does O’Connor insert the scene with the “artificial Negro” (229-30)?

14. what role does O’Connor assign to suffering in human movement towards Divine mercy (230-31)?

15. consider the explicit, didactic nature of the tale’s end relative to the more subtly delivered morals embedded in O’Connor’s other work.  Does the directness of this message make the tale more, or less, pleasing as a work of art?  To answer this, you must first decide what art should accomplish.


"from Un Biblia Sacra" (1969)
Salvador Dalí



Dr. Paul Marchbanks
pmarchba@calpoly.edu