role role of being a moral guide

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role models for youngergenerations. The elders equip themselves with the wisdom throughout their
lifetime to
benefit their youth. They pass on the knowledge, traditions, and moral
values of the
previous generations to the next. Even though there is always some degree
of conflict
between the older and the younger generations, the experiences of the
childhood will
forever leave their mark in the mentality of the youth. In The Artificial
Nigger by
Flannery O’Connor, Mr. Head emerged to be a key figure that attempted to
convey the
legacy that characterized the South to his grandson. The first impression
of Mr. Head
was illustrated to be a wise and morally responsible old man. Despite his
old age and
impoverished life, his character and his will were strong. O’Connor
emphasized how
man was very well suited for the role of being a moral guide for young
people from the
statement, “His eye had a look of ancient wisdom as if they belonged to one
of the great
guides of men” (281). His grandson Nelson emerged to be the figure that
would seek
guidance from him. Nelson had a dream of being better than his grandfather
in all
respects. Every parent desires their child’s capacities to exceed their own
capacities. Mr.

Head’s response to that situation was not what would be expected from an
elderly man.

His attitude towards Nelson resembles that of a competing sibling or a
friend. They are
similar not only in their behavior, but also in their appearance, “they
looked alike enough
to be brothers” (282). Thus, from the beginning it is evident to the reader
that Mr. Head
is the man that is not suited for his role of guiding youth into the bright

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Grandfather and grandson are engaged in a battle of wills, and at the
center of this
battle is the issue of knowledge. Both want to claim knowledge of the city.

It was
important for Mr. Head to be better than his grandson. On the day of their
trip to the city
his goal was to be the firs one up. And yet, he was defeated. His reaction
indicates the
shallowness of character. Rather than thanking Nelson for cooking, he was
trying to
exert his superiority upon his grandson. His “wisdom” and “knowledge” were
far beyond
the ones posed by Nelson. Mr. Head’s defeat gave him the inspiration to
beat the boy in
any other respect possible without showing a weakness of his own. Over the
course of the
plot the most important thing for Mr. Head was to avoid any possibility of
foolish and suffering embarrassment in front of Nelson. Mr. Head had a
advantage over Nelson due to his age and life experiences. Nelson, on the
other hand,
was raised in isolation. Due to his restricted childhood, he was not able
to recognize the
three people moving down the aisle on the train as African Americans. Mr.

immediately took his chances to laugh at the boy by pointing out his
ignorance. To
further ridicule Nelson he leaned in triumph across the aisle to another
passenger saying,
“That’s his first nigger” (285). But to all his horror, Mr. Head was not
immune from
ridicule himself. When later on it was discovered that he left their lunch
the train, Nelson
sneeringly noted, “I would have kapeholt of it” (288). His grandfather,
unable to take yet
another insult, retaliated the only way he could in that situation. He
threatened to leave
him behind. Nelson turned white from the prospect of being left alone in
the city. That
clearly indicated that the boy lacked experience and confidence that is
necessary to
maintain his ground in his unusual competition with his grandfather.

In the city, though, the knowledge which has granted Mr. Head the upper
escapes him. Los in the black neighborhood and once again felt humiliated
by Nelson,
Mr. Head is ready for revenge. The moment of the greatest triumph for Mr.

Head was
also the moment of his greatest demise. He arrogantly thought that the boy
would have
“mighty sorry time” (290) without him, and he decided to teach him a lesson
once and for
all. A sixty year old man trying to prank his ten year old grandson would
be considered
shocking and ridicules by many readers. When the boy was resting, he hid
and waited for
Nelson to wake up. Due to his impatience of waiting for Nelson to wake up,
demonstrates his immaturity by waking him up with a loud noise. Nelson was
scared to
death to discover that he was alone. His panic and loss of any sense of
reason clearly
indicated that despite all of his cockiness, Nelson was still a child
totally dependent upon
his grandfather for care and security. Mr. Head on the other hand was
insecure himself,
and the denial of his own grandson in the face of potential danger
indicates his rotten
morals that were falling apart under pressure of time. Mr. Head’s action
clearly horrified
and repulsed everyone, “The women dropped back, staring at him with horror,
as if they
were so repulsed by man who could deny his own image and likeness that they
could not
bear to ay hands on him” (291). He had disgraced himself and betrayed the
person who
believed in him the most. And yet he was still victorious as a result of
the boy being
scared to the point of telling Mr. Head that he never wants to go back to
the city.

Throughout the progression of the plot, Mr. Head adopted all possible means
prevent the changes in the society from affecting his or Nelson’s lives. It
seems that he
was able to perform his “moral mission” of locking the boy in the past.

However, that
emerged to be impossible for him. The city itself was the origin of new
values and
changes. The inhabitants of the city represent the future. Mr. Head and
others like him
had no future as a result of their entrapment in their past. It was only
matter of time
before traditional way of life would be overtaken by innovation. His
desperate straggle
to freeze the time in fact only accelerated the process of change. It would
not be that
long until the time when Nelson fully comprehend the extend of the betrayal
and lie that
he was given that faithful day in Atlanta. Mr. Head had won that day
against Nelson, but
he lost against the society that sees betterment in the future.

O’Connor herself believes into the brighter future despite the seemingly
pessimistic depiction of the future of the South. The change in people was
apparent in
the man who was walking his two bulldogs. No longer were the dogs used as
tool for
keeping slaves under control, they became a hose pet. The “artificial
nigger” serves great
importance in the story. The statuette represent far more than meets the
eye. It was
separated from the rest of yard by a wall, just as black people were
segregated from white.

And just as the plaster that once held the statuette cracked so did the
bonds of slavery.

The piece of brown watermelon represents the rotten values of Mr. Head and
all of those
that he represented. And just as rotten food thrown in the garbage, so is
the fate that
would be expected for the old traditions of the South.

The country was the cradle of the civilization, but just as one cannot stay
in the
cradle forever it is only a matter of time before old conservative
traditions will give way
to 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 future
of Nelson to
lie along the same direction as Mr. Head’s past, but Nelson is just a boy
and he chose to
return to his home to mature, to become an adult that could face the
challenges of life.

His curiosity and his destiny would steer him into the city again. Perhaps
next time he
would see that there is more to the city than what was conveyed by his
grandfather. Since
Mr. Head went to the city twice on his own will despite all his hate for
it, Nelson would
eventually follow the same path. The future seems more exiting and brighter
in the city.

It is like a drug that captivates the person from returning to their
previous state of life.

The day will come when Nelson will feel the call of the civilization and
leave his old
dwelling just as his mother had done before him. Mr. Head has won a battle
that took
place on that day, but ultimately he had lost in the long-term perspective.

Once an image
is planted, the curiosity about it will never fade away. He exposed his
vulnerability to
Nelson, and no longer was the same powerful and knowledgeable figure that
could trust without reservation. Even Mr. Head himself had experienced a
deep religious
change that might make him a better guide for grandson.

Categories: Traditions


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