The Artificial N—– by Flannery O’Connor, 1955
The magic trick:
Demonstrating the way people create their own narratives within their own little worlds
This is a very simple trick. O’Connor shows us the way Mr. Head is the king almighty of knowledge and experience to Nelson in their home. She then goes on to utterly destroy that construct through the rest of the story as the scenery expands into the big city. Mr. Head’s wisdom is exposed as exaggeration if not downright ignorance, and Nelson’s perception of his father figure is forever changed. It is a sad process that happens in nearly every single father-son relationship at some point.
Simple structure. Ah, but maybe it’s not so simple. By the end of the story, Nelson has moved beyond disgust with Mr. Head’s ignorance and put the blame squarely on the city. It is not difficult for the reader to project Nelson’s life from here. He will work to keep his own world small, growing up with increasingly angry feelings toward both the city and black people. He has missed the point entirely. He will only continue the cycle of close-mindedness and self-loathing. That’s a lot of layers going on here, and I didn’t even mention this story’s infinitely interesting take on race. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
The boy slid down the seat. “You said they were black,” he said in an angry voice. “You never said they were tan. How do you expect me to know anything when you don’t tell me right?”
“You’re just ignorant is all,” Mr. Head said and he got up and moved over in the vacant seat by the man across the aisle.