role models for youngergenerations. The elders equip themselves with the wisdom throughout theirlifetime tobenefit their youth. They pass on the knowledge, traditions, and moralvalues of theprevious generations to the next.
Even though there is always some degreeof conflictbetween the older and the younger generations, the experiences of thechildhood willforever leave their mark in the mentality of the youth. In The ArtificialNigger byFlannery O’Connor, Mr. Head emerged to be a key figure that attempted toconvey thelegacy that characterized the South to his grandson. The first impressionof Mr. Headwas illustrated to be a wise and morally responsible old man. Despite hisold age andimpoverished life, his character and his will were strong.
O’Connoremphasized howman was very well suited for the role of being a moral guide for youngpeople from thestatement, “His eye had a look of ancient wisdom as if they belonged to oneof the greatguides of men” (281). His grandson Nelson emerged to be the figure thatwould seekguidance from him. Nelson had a dream of being better than his grandfatherin allrespects. Every parent desires their child’s capacities to exceed their owncapacities. Mr.Head’s response to that situation was not what would be expected from anelderly man.
His attitude towards Nelson resembles that of a competing sibling or afriend. They aresimilar not only in their behavior, but also in their appearance, “theylooked alike enoughto be brothers” (282). Thus, from the beginning it is evident to the readerthat Mr. Headis the man that is not suited for his role of guiding youth into the brightfuture.
Grandfather and grandson are engaged in a battle of wills, and at thecenter of thisbattle is the issue of knowledge. Both want to claim knowledge of the city.It wasimportant for Mr. Head to be better than his grandson. On the day of theirtrip to the cityhis goal was to be the firs one up. And yet, he was defeated. His reactionindicates theshallowness of character.
Rather than thanking Nelson for cooking, he wastrying toexert his superiority upon his grandson. His “wisdom” and “knowledge” werefar beyondthe ones posed by Nelson. Mr. Head’s defeat gave him the inspiration tobeat the boy inany other respect possible without showing a weakness of his own. Over thecourse of theplot the most important thing for Mr. Head was to avoid any possibility ofappearingfoolish and suffering embarrassment in front of Nelson. Mr. Head had adefiniteadvantage over Nelson due to his age and life experiences.
Nelson, on theother hand,was raised in isolation. Due to his restricted childhood, he was not ableto recognize thethree people moving down the aisle on the train as African Americans. Mr.Headimmediately took his chances to laugh at the boy by pointing out hisignorance. Tofurther ridicule Nelson he leaned in triumph across the aisle to anotherpassenger saying,”That’s his first nigger” (285). But to all his horror, Mr.
Head was notimmune fromridicule himself. When later on it was discovered that he left their lunchthe train, Nelsonsneeringly noted, “I would have kapeholt of it” (288). His grandfather,unable to take yetanother insult, retaliated the only way he could in that situation. Hethreatened to leavehim behind. Nelson turned white from the prospect of being left alone inthe city. Thatclearly indicated that the boy lacked experience and confidence that isnecessary tomaintain his ground in his unusual competition with his grandfather.In the city, though, the knowledge which has granted Mr.
Head the upperhandescapes him. Los in the black neighborhood and once again felt humiliatedby Nelson,Mr. Head is ready for revenge.
The moment of the greatest triumph for Mr.Head wasalso the moment of his greatest demise. He arrogantly thought that the boywould have”mighty sorry time” (290) without him, and he decided to teach him a lessononce and forall.
A sixty year old man trying to prank his ten year old grandson wouldbe consideredshocking and ridicules by many readers. When the boy was resting, he hidand waited forNelson to wake up. Due to his impatience of waiting for Nelson to wake up,hedemonstrates his immaturity by waking him up with a loud noise.
Nelson wasscared todeath to discover that he was alone. His panic and loss of any sense ofreason clearlyindicated that despite all of his cockiness, Nelson was still a childtotally dependent uponhis grandfather for care and security. Mr. Head on the other hand wasinsecure himself,and the denial of his own grandson in the face of potential dangerindicates his rottenmorals that were falling apart under pressure of time. Mr. Head’s actionclearly horrifiedand repulsed everyone, “The women dropped back, staring at him with horror,as if theywere so repulsed by man who could deny his own image and likeness that theycould notbear to ay hands on him” (291). He had disgraced himself and betrayed theperson whobelieved in him the most. And yet he was still victorious as a result ofthe boy beingscared to the point of telling Mr.
Head that he never wants to go back tothe city.Throughout the progression of the plot, Mr. Head adopted all possible meanstoprevent the changes in the society from affecting his or Nelson’s lives. Itseems that hewas able to perform his “moral mission” of locking the boy in the past.However, thatemerged to be impossible for him. The city itself was the origin of newvalues andchanges. The inhabitants of the city represent the future. Mr.
Head andothers like himhad no future as a result of their entrapment in their past. It was onlymatter of timebefore traditional way of life would be overtaken by innovation. Hisdesperate straggleto freeze the time in fact only accelerated the process of change. It wouldnot be thatlong until the time when Nelson fully comprehend the extend of the betrayaland lie thathe was given that faithful day in Atlanta.
Mr. Head had won that dayagainst Nelson, buthe lost against the society that sees betterment in the future.O’Connor herself believes into the brighter future despite the seeminglypessimistic depiction of the future of the South. The change in people wasapparent inthe man who was walking his two bulldogs. No longer were the dogs used astool forkeeping slaves under control, they became a hose pet. The “artificialnigger” serves greatimportance in the story. The statuette represent far more than meets theeye. It wasseparated from the rest of yard by a wall, just as black people weresegregated from white.
And just as the plaster that once held the statuette cracked so did thebonds of slavery.The piece of brown watermelon represents the rotten values of Mr. Head andall of thosethat he represented. And just as rotten food thrown in the garbage, so isthe fate thatwould be expected for the old traditions of the South.The country was the cradle of the civilization, but just as one cannot stayin thecradle forever it is only a matter of time before old conservativetraditions will give wayto the brighter future. When they were reunited by the mysterious”artificial nigger”, Mr.
Head and Nelson returned home. It seems that O’Connor depicted the futureof Nelson tolie along the same direction as Mr. Head’s past, but Nelson is just a boyand he chose toreturn to his home to mature, to become an adult that could face thechallenges of life.His curiosity and his destiny would steer him into the city again. Perhapsnext time hewould see that there is more to the city than what was conveyed by hisgrandfather. SinceMr. Head went to the city twice on his own will despite all his hate forit, Nelson wouldeventually follow the same path.
The future seems more exiting and brighterin the city.It is like a drug that captivates the person from returning to theirprevious state of life.The day will come when Nelson will feel the call of the civilization andleave his olddwelling just as his mother had done before him. Mr. Head has won a battlethat tookplace on that day, but ultimately he had lost in the long-term perspective.Once an imageis planted, the curiosity about it will never fade away. He exposed hisvulnerability toNelson, and no longer was the same powerful and knowledgeable figure thatNelsoncould trust without reservation.
Even Mr. Head himself had experienced adeep religiouschange that might make him a better guide for grandson.