Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

O’Connor adapts various traditional literary devices to her story of Mr. Head and Nelson. The most obvious strategy is the idea of a journey, which provides both the structure and the content of the tale. Just as Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn travel to make external and internal discoveries, so grandfather and grandson in “The Artificial Nigger” voyage to foreign territory and see not only new sights but also new selves.

In the classical version of the journey, a guide plays an important role in helping the traveler find his way and his goal. Ironically adapting the figure of the guide, O’Connor describes the grandfather as “Vergil summoned in the middle of the night to go to Dante, or better, Raphael, awakened by a blast of God’s light to fly to the side of Tobias.” Mr. Head does indeed lead Nelson, but he guides him to wonders that neither mentor nor follower anticipates.

Still another traditional image is that of moonlight, which both distorts and illuminates. At the beginning of the story, when Mr. Head awakens to discover “half of the moon five feet away in his shaving mirror,” he finds in its “dignifying fight” confirmation of his delusive self-image, his self-righteous notion that he is “one of the great guides of men.” At the end of the story, when the travelers return from their trip, the moonlight is once again shining, but this time the light is clarifying, not misleading. Nelson and Mr. Head have returned, a reminder of T. S. Eliot’s words in Four Quartets (1943): “Home is where one starts from/ . . . And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” Nelson says this in his own words: “I’m glad I’ve went once, but I’ll never go back again!”

The Artificial Nigger Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Asals, Frederick. Flannery O’Connor: The Imagination of Extremity. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982.

Asals, Frederick. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”: Flannery O’Connor. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1993.

Caruso, Teresa, ed. “On the Subject of the Feminist Business”: Re-reading Flannery O’Connor. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.

Lake, Christina Bieber. The Incarnational Art of Flannery O’Connor. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005.

O’Gorman, Farrell. Peculiar Crossroads: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Catholic Vision in Postwar Southern Fiction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004.

Orvell, Miles. Flannery O’Connor: An Introduction. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Paulson, Suzanne Morrow. Flannery O’Connor: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1988.

Rath, Sura P., and Mary Neff Shaw, eds. Flannery O’Connor: New Perspectives. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996.

Robillard, Douglas, Jr. The Critical Response to Flannery O’Connor. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004.

Spivey, Ted R. Flannery O’Connor: The Woman, the Thinker, the Visionary. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1995.