‘The Artificial Nigger’ by Flannery O’Connor

‘The Artificial Nigger’ is also located in a shifting political landscape, but in the US. The two main characters move through an unsettling experience culminating in the sighting of a statue leading them to an awareness of sorts. In a rural town of Georgia, Mr Head and his grandson, Nelson prepare for a trip to Atlanta. They argue about whether or not Nelson will recognise “a nigger”. After a stressful day in the city, Mr Head and Nelson see a plaster figurine of a black, lawn jockey on a lawn. This is their moment of reckoning. Mr Head says, “An artificial nigger!” which the boy repeats, in the “exact same tone.” Mr Head explains the statue is there because “they ain’t got enough real ones here. They got to have an artificial one.” The statue elicits an emotional response from the old man and his grandson and they reach an understanding of their familial bond and “all the mystery of existence”, but, as the reader appreciates, they remain unaware of their racist attitude and their wider connection to humanity. 

First published in A Good Man is Hard to Find, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1955

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