Do the crowd and the narrator have the same views of the events in "A Party Down at the Square" by Ralph Ellison?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“A Party Down at the Square” took place in the south in the middle of the twentieth century.   Ralph Ellison described a scene in a small town that happened too frequently in the south. The atmosphere was brutal, terrifying, and despicable. 

The crowd

The townspeople are portrayed as out of control.  They yell and scream at the poor man who was being tortured and eventually burned to death. The crowd views the black man as less than an animal.  Most of the crowd feels that this is an event that serves as an outlet for their mundane lives.  The anger and frustration make the people look at the killing of a Negro as a source of entertainment.

Somebody hollered, “Well, nigger, it ain’t so cold now is it? You don’t need to put your hands in your pockets now.” The nigger looked up like his eyes were bout to pop out of his head…

When the black man is burning, he begs someone to cut his throat out of Christian kindness.  The response is that there are no Christians there to help him.  The platform burns through, and the black man tries to escape.  He falls to the ground.  He is burned so badly on his back that his ribs can be seen. 

The term “nigger” is continuously used. Obviously, the crowd looks at it as a derogatory remark. From the use of this term, the white men dehumanize the black man, and this aids in their justification of the execution. The animalistic behavior of the crowd as the man dies elicits a disgust and disappointment in man’s inhumanity to man.

A confederate statue of a general stands in the town square.  The author uses this statue as a symbol for the citizens of the town who are involved with the burning of the black man. On this night, the statue survives the storm, the execution, and the plane crash.  It represents the unchanged attitudes of the town toward the black race. 

The narrator

The story is a flashback told by a young boy from Ohio who is visiting his uncle.  The uncle invites him to a “party” in the middle of the town.  The boy is ill-prepared for the event that he witnesses.  The boy moves around the scene trying to avoid the most horrendous scenes in the Negro’s execution. 

As the boy states, it is a “hell of a night.”  There is a terrible storm, a plane crashes and kills the woman pilot, and the townspeople enjoy the burning alive of a black man.  Nothing will stop the execution. The young boy can hardly believe what he sees. 

The heart was too much for me…My heart was pounding…everything came up and spilled in a big gush over the ground. I was sick, and tired, and weak, and cold.

The boy never gives his uncle his true opinion of the “party.” As the boy evaluates his experience, it is obvious that he is numb and in shock.  As the narrator looks back, he feels that as a boy he used this experience to sort out his attitudes toward the black race. He never goes to another burning or lynching and comments on the ineffectiveness of such action: the white men do not change, and the black man becomes angrier.

af3657 | Student

Absolutely not. the boy (narrator ) is from Cincinnati, which at that time was not legally segregated. He would not have previously witnessed these extreme views. The boy is desensitized too the brutality around him but even at the end of the story understands little about the motives of the people surrounding him. He also states that it was his first , and last "party" showing he does not wish to watch this spectacle of horror. He does not realize or relate to the things he observes.

paco75 | Student

no !

paco75 | Student