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Free Study Guide: A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor - BookNotes

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A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND: BOOK SUMMARY

THE ARTIFICIAL NIGGER

CHARACTER LIST

Nelson
A boy, about ten, who is a little smartass. he lives with his grandfather because his mother has died, and no one knows who his father is and his grandmother is dead too. He is at the mercy of his grandfather, who always thinks he knows better because he's had a lot of experiences, but Nelson has picked up the old man's superior attitude and gives him a bad time.

Mr. Head
Nelson's grandfather, who thinks he will teach Nelson a lesson by taking him to the city and showing him how evil it is. He is old and cranky and directive, and not too smart. He can never admit when he is wrong.


CONFLICT

The boy and his grandfather go to the city and get lost, and in their fear they alienate each other completely.

Protagonist and Antagonist


To over simplify the story, Nelson could be seen as the protagonist and Mr. Head the antagonist. Both of them have something at stake, and something to learn. At the outset, Nelson is hopeful about his trip, while Mr. Head is holding out for scaring Nelson away from the city forever.

Climax

When Mr. Head plays a trick on Nelson, the boy panics and runs down the street and crashes into an elderly lady. She says she will sue, and calls for a policeman. Mr. Head denies knowing Nelson, and walks on. Nelson is hurt beyond belief at his grandfather's denial, and it is questionable whether he will ever forgive his grandfather. Mr. Head is entirely distraught at what he has done.

Outcome

The two walk on, still lost, still not speaking, and see a statue, an "artificial nigger." They stare in amazement. They can both join in on their bigotry and relief at seeing something completely unthreatening to them. They construct a new kind of camaraderie, and go on home, safe together. Mr. Head is relieved at having been granted the mercy of Nelson's regard returned to him, and Nelson is glad to never go to the city ever again.


SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Mr. Head wakes up at two a.m. and notes the fall of moonlight and the sleeping form of his grandson on the floor-- Nelson, with his new suit and hat in boxes next to him. It occurs to Mr. Head that the room, his own pants slung over a chair, are rather noble, and he is sure in his assumption that old teach the young, that experience is useful and communicable. He and the boy have to be at the train junction at five thirty, so he will wake and cook breakfast before Nelson wakes, though Nelson always like to get up first and have a jump on Mr. Head.

It will be the boy's first trip to the city, though he argues it's his second because he was born there. Mr. Nelson wants to show him that the city is not a great place, so the boy would stay home after seeing it. But the boy, who had an impudent answer to everything, pointed out that the old man hadn't been there in fifteen years--what did he know? Mr. Head tells him he's not as smart as he thinks, and he'll find that out someday soon.

Mr. Head wakes to the smell of breakfast cooking, and Nelson has it all almost ready and is dressed. His hat is too big. Mr. head is a young looking old man, while Nelson is an old-looking kid--they are related all right. Mr. Head doesn't' really know where Nelson was born--he made up the part about the city, but can't take it back. Nelson's mother died without saying, after just showing up with him one day. Mr. Head points out that the city of full of niggers and Nelson won't even know one when he sees one. Nelson reminds Mr. Head that he wasn't up very early, was he? And he'll know a nigger when he sees one, probably already did, when he was six month old.

They reach the junction, with their lunch, plenty early, but Mr. Head is worried the train won't stop (he had to make special arrangements) and then he'll look like a fool. But it stops right in front of them, they get on, and Mr. Head talks so loud that most of the people trying to sleep wake up and scowl at him. The boy tells him it's no use yelling about everything. He tells Nelson not to lose his ticket or he'll have to stay in the city and Nelson says maybe he'll want to anyway. Mr. Head tells a man nearby that the boy is ignorant, hasn't been to no city before--got to show kids everything.

A large Negro man followed by two Negro women. They are stately and elegant. Mr. Head asks Nelson what kind of man that is, and Nelson comes up with many answers, but not the right one! Mr. Head is glad to tell him that those were niggers, and Nelson about jumps out of his seat but they are already gone. He's disappointed: Mr. Head told him they were black, but those people were just a little tan, not nothing special. Mr. Head tells him he is just ignorant and Nelson hates the Negroes for making him look stupid.

They go for a walk in the train, see it all, even the dining car, where the three people they just saw are eating behind a curtain. Mr. Head tries to take Nelson to the kitchen, but the Negro waiter tells them they can't go there and Mr. Head says very loudly that that's 'cause there must be lots of cockroaches back there, and people laugh, and Nelson is proud of his grandpa for his quick wit. He realizes that he is dependent on his grandpa and wants to hold onto his coat.

They go back to their seats and when they get near the city Nelson wants to get off right away, but Mr. Head tells him that this is just a suburban stop--again, Nelson realizes he'd be in trouble if it weren't for his grandpa. Mr. Head just knows he made this same mistake the only other time he came to the city, and he walked for miles and miles. When the train did get to the city stop, they both jumped up and forgot their lunch n the seat.


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