Power in O'Connor's The Artificial Nigger and Mason's Shiloh

Power in O'Connor's The Artificial Nigger and Mason's Shiloh
Flannery O?Connor?s story The Artificial Nigger and Bobbie Ann Mason?s story Shiloh both possess characters that excercise power . Mr. Head, the main character that exercises power in The Artificial Nigger, is an old racist man, who claims to know everything. In Mason?s story, Norma Jean, a simple southern woman who wants change in her life, is the main character that exercises power. Both characters are similar in their successful exercise of power; however, the effects their power have are different.
Mr. Head?s exercise of power has a negative effect on his grandson, Nelson, while Norma Jean?s exercise of power serves as a way to benefit herself. Mr. Head?s main focus is to make Nelson see black people as ?niggers? and for Nelson to fear the city. Mr. Head?s controling nature effects Nelson in a negative manner. From the beginning of the story, Mr. Head?s powerful and controling personality is evident when the narrator states, ??he saw half of the moon five feet away in his shaving mirror, paused as if it were waiting to enter? (249). Mr. Head?s desire to control also extends to all aspects of life. His intentions for Nelson are clear when he says, ??but I mean for him to get his fill once and for all? (254). By making Nelson feel powerless, Mr. Head steals away his innocence. Before influencing his grandson, Nelson?s description of a black man is ??A man,?? but later in the story Nelson begins to see black people as ?niggers,? just like his grandfather (255). Fearing the city, also has a negative effect on Nelson. He holds pride in being born in Atlanta, but his grandfather wants to teach Nelson that ?he had no cause for pride merely because he had been born in the city? (251). Mr. Head?s success of instilling foear in his grandson is obvious when Nelson tells him, ?I?m glad I?ve went once, but I?ll never go back again? (270). Mr. Head?s main goal is for Nelson to see black people as dark and scary and the city as the place that houses them. The negative effect Mr. Head?s power has on Nelson is alive in Nelson?s limited and distorted view of the world. Norma Jean?s use of power is different from Mr. Head?s. She excercises her power in a positive way to physically and mentally improve herself. Her unhappy marriage to Leroy dates back to her reasons for marrying him. She was prgnant. After their infant son suddenly dies, Norma Jean realizes that she wants different things in life than Leroy. She uses her power effectively to make changes in her life. Norma Jean ??has graduated from from her six-week body-building course and now she is taking an adult-education course in composition at Paducah Community College? (497). By building her knowledge and ??working on her pectorals,? Norma Jean is able to take her life to the next level, independence (490). The power excercised by Mr. Head clearly has a negative effect on his grandson, while Norma Jean uses her power to make a positve change in her life.

The similarity between Mr. Head and Norma Jean is clear in their succesful exercise of power. Throughout the story The Artificial Nigger, Mr. Head will not rest until he has complete control over his grandson. He wants to indoctrinate Nelson to be like him and make him dependent. Mr. Head is succussful in the first part of his plan when Nelson feels rage towards his first ?nigger? on the train ride to Atlanta. When Nelson feels the black man made a fool of him he ?hated him with a fierce raw fresh hate; and also, he understood now why his grandfather disliked them? (256). Nelson?s new found racist feelings, instilled by his grandfather, prove Mr. Head is gaining control of his grandson. Norma Jean?s successful exercise of power is seen in her desire to work for self-improvement and her need for independence. By trying to stimulate her body and mind through taking classes, she is able to slowly but surely find her independence again. Norma Jean finally tells her husband that she wants to leave him because she does not want to ??feel eighteen again? (500). By leaving Leroy and starting a new life, Norma Jean is able to forget the pain and embarassment she felt many years ago. The power she possesses enables her to succeed in her wish to move on.

The characters in both stories have similarities and differences. Mr. Head and Norma Jean use their power to get what they want. Both are similar because they are successful in exercising their power and are different becausse their power has different effects. Mr. Head thrives on control and succeeds in his plan to control his grandson. Norma Jean works at self-improvemennt so that she can leave her husband and continue to live the life that she has longed for.

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