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Artificial Nigger and Judgement Day (Analysis Essay in regards to Color)

It is very interesting how society characterizes individuals by way of colour. Flannery O’Connor associates the role of color in regards to race. Through her depiction of race, apart from colour, she draws a link between the roles people play in society. Not only do these elements of race refer to colour and positions in society, but they go even deeper to reveal the authors’ disposition. Two works, “The Artificial Nigger,” as well as “Judgement Day,” present both a level of similarity as well as a level of dissimilarity and contrast in this regard to “colour” playing a key role in race and society. “The Artificial Nigger” is the story of Mr. Head and his grandson Nelson who travel to Atlanta, only to find themselves lost.

The nature of these characters is further deepened and taken directly to the realms of the metaphorical as Mr. Head and Nelson find themselves lost in racial disorientation. “Judgement Day” revolves around old man Tanner who lives in a New York apartment with his daughter. It is the story of a racist old man who finds himself utterly disgusted at the fact of African Americans having prospered in society. Although he may be racist by way of his upbringing, he nevertheless attempts to make friends with African Americans. However, the manner in which he treats them exemplifies his view of them being different. O’Connor does a tremendous job of making the clear distinction of character and identity by using the simple aspects of colour in her stories.

“The Artificial Nigger” is very much a story about epiphany, and this epiphany about colour as that which defines character is what O`Connor attempts to explore. When Nelson and Mr. Head mount the train for Atlanta, Nelson turns to the window seat where he sees “a pale ghost-like face scowling at him beneath the brim of a pale ghost-like hat.” The narrator, through the character of Mr. Head expresses him as seeing “a different ghost, pale but grinning, under a black hat.” The ghost that is being referred to is an African American man; the significance of O’Connor describing these African Americans as ghosts is of utmost importance. Ghosts are invisible and without colour. African Americans are seen as inferior and overlooked; literally masked from society.

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Later on Mr. Head, in spotting an African American, grabs at Nelson’s arm pulling him forward. The Negro is described as having worn a “light suit and a yellow satin tie with a ruby pin in it.” This description contrasts with the very idea of the “Ghost-like” Negro, in that it is the opposite of the perception of what a Negro should be, which is ghost-like, without feeling and without colour. The author has very carefully chosen her words in describing the negro man as wearing a “light,” coloured suit, thus associating with the higher level of prestige of white people. Further, when Mr. Head, in reference to one of the Negro passengers on the train, asks Nelson “what was that?” Nelson simply responds by saying “A man.” The boy’s reference to colour is even more significant as he says to his grandfather “you said they were black… you never said they were tan.” This goes even further to suggest that Negro’s are truly not as society paints them out to be. The author uses this to instil upon her readers a sense of understanding and truth beyond that there is more to a man than just his colour.

Mr. Head however has quite a different view of Negros, expressing his views of them not as humans, however as “black,” even after Nelson having pointed out that the African Americans are not in fact black at all with regard to the connotations that society has placed upon them. This description and re-iteration of “blackness” emphasize concepts of darkness, death, and evil that a white society associates with black individuals. As they dismount the train Nelson soon becomes aware that his grandfather is in fact lost. When Nelson criticizes his grandfather for having gotten them lost, Mr. Head replies, “If you want to direct this trip, I’ll go on by myself and leave you right here.” O`Connor then depicts Mr. Head as being “pleased to see the boy turn white.” This is very ironic because Nelson is in fact white-skinned. Following much talk of seeing “Nigger after Nigger,” the reader is left with the feeling that Mr. Head is not only happy to have to silence Nelson but further emphasizes the very color of Nelson’s face.

This solidifies the character of Mr. Head as one who is so disgusted by Negros that he attempts to turn even his grandson whiter. As Nelson and Mr. Head continue on in search of the train station to take them home, they come across a rich neighbourhood of mansions. After having received directions from a passer-by, Mr. Head catches the glimpse of a plaster figure of a Negro just down the road. “One of his eyes was entirely white and he held a piece of brown watermelon.” O’Connor has chosen her words very carefully.

No eye is completely white, but in depicting this figure O`Connor wishes to show that in this world African Americans are forced to see the world in white. Whiteness in this regard is being thrust upon them. Not only are Negros forced to view the world in White, the real significance of the completely white eye is to emphasize that like blind people who have a white film over their eyes, African Americans are also blinded. In coming across this, Mr. Head has an epiphany and realizes his faults and sins.

“Judgement Day,” is the story of old man Tanner who lives in a New York apartment with his daughter and son-in-law in a state of bitter distaste. O’Connor very aptly uses elements of colour in reference to race in giving meaning and identity to her characters. As the story unfolds, Tanner narrates his life story, and having to uncomfortably work with “Niggers.“ Later on Tanner notices that the residents of the apartment across from his daughters’ have moved out and a Negro man and his wife have moved in. Tanner makes the mistake of approaching the Negro man in a manner that suggests superiority. Tanner calls him out, saying “Good evening, preacher.”Afterwards, the Negro man, having told Tanner that he was an actor and not a preacher, grabs Tanner and throws him against the wall where he falls to the ground. “You ain’t black, and I ain’t white!” The significance of this is to convey to the reader that Negros, as a result of being judged, criticized, and seen as inferior for so long have been overcome with anger and rage against white society.

Further, it is possible that the narrator is attempting to feed the ego of a racist white society so as to say “I am what I am” in an effort to change the tainted view that society has of African Americans in general. As the story progresses, Tanner attempts to run away from New York, back to his old home. In doing so he falls down the steps only to be found by the Negro man and his wife. As Tanner here talks to himself in a daze the Negro man says to him, Ain’t any coal man, either.” The author is using a play on words as coal is black in color. Several paragraphs into the story, the narrator describes “the two faces, the black one and the pale one, appeared to be wavering.” O`Connor is evoking the image of a wave, by showing that there is a transition between the white man’s place and the black man’s place in society.

Society has a very distinct manner in which it looks at and labels people; singling them out in many cases often based solely on color of skin, as opposed to their manner of dress and the manner in which they comport themselves and their character. Flannery O’Connor presents both parallels and contrasts about race within these two stories. She examines how societies, both African American and white American, are able to dissociate themselves from one another. The question however remains, “why has the author chosen to address this issue in the manner that she has?” In “The Artificial Nigger,” O’Connor expresses a racist Mr. Head and his grandson, Nelson, as having had an epiphany after having discriminated against African Americans for so long.

She shows a similar idea in “Judgement Day.” In this she presented the main character, Tanner, as a racist old man on the brink of death, who after years of “working niggers” finds himself in a state of helplessness at the hands of those which he has judged for so long. Flannery O’Connor does not believe Negros are as society labels them, and as a result, she expresses how their confidence, role in society, and morale have been destroyed.

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Artificial Nigger and Judgement Day (Analysis Essay in regards to Color). (2021, Sep 25). Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://essayscollector.com/essays/artificial-nigger-and-judgement-day-analysis-essay-in-regards-to-color/