The short speech the narrator's grandfather delivers on his deathbed haunts the narrator throughout the entirety of Invisible Man. The narrator's grandfather is described as having always been meek and mild, but he suddenly becomes fiery and aggressive right before he dies in this scene. The narrator recalls,
On his deathbed he called my father to him and said, "Son, after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy's country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open."
The grandfather seems to express some regret about how he's lived his life and wants his son and his grandson in turn to try a different strategy to fight the racism and discrimination the grandfather has faced. However, he does tell his son to rebel through "yeses," "grins," and "agree[ment]." The grandfather suggests that this will eventually lead the white man to "swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open," meaning the black man's enthusiastic acquiescence will eventually destroy the white man. Naturally, this contradictory message confuses the narrator, and he is never really sure how to make sense of, let alone follow, this directive.
In the "Battle Royal," which occurs later in the same chapter, the narrator is invited to give a speech, which he has already delivered at his high school graduation, to a group of prominent white men. When he arrives, though, he is blindfolded and forced to fight in a boxing tournament with a bunch of other young black men. They fight for the entertainment of the white men. After the battle, they are forced to try to get money from an electrified rug and are shocked repeatedly. Even during these horrific and demeaning experiences, the narrator wants to deliver his speech, and he does so, though he is beaten and bloodied.
Ralph Ellison sets up the young narrator as an aspiring Booker T. Washington, who was criticized by later black intellectuals for emphasizing labor over education as a form of assimilation. The narrator's speech is mostly agreeable to the white men (he was invited to deliver it, after all), but he slips once and says the word "equality" instead of "responsibility." He is challenged by the audience before he "corrects" himself. This small error shows that the narrator instinctively wants to fight for his equal rights and place in society but he also is too meek to rebel outwardly at this time. In this manner, he acts in a way that is agreeable to the white man, that offers the white man "yeses," as his grandfather suggested. At the end of the chapter, the narrator has a nightmare in which his grandfather is laughing at him and the narrator must open a series of envelopes which eventually lead to the message that whomever it may concern should "keep [the narrator] running." This dream reveals the narrator's confusion and anxiety about his grandfather's deathbed speech, and it proves to be predictive in the sense that the rest of the novel depicts the narrator running from one potential opportunity to another, without ever feeling truly equal or fulfilled.