The grandfather's last words are known by many literary scholars as "The Grandfather's Riddle." It seems as if there is a hidden meaning within them, something that the narrator needs to learn and utilize for the rest of his life. The narrator agonizes over this riddle, trying desperately to make it make sense. What did his grandfather mean by saying that he had been a traitor? And was he encouraging him to be a traitor as well?
His grandfather says that he had been "a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction." This is the key to understanding the word "traitor." Ellison's grandfather felt as if he had betrayed his own people by doing what he had to do to keep himself and his family alive.
The grandfather asserts that by conforming to the expectations of the enemy, he has betrayed his own people and their cause. The grandfather would seem to be saying that any new strategy must be responsible to the people: individual victory purchased at the...
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