In Ralph Ellison' short story "Battle Royal," what is the significance of the fact that the narrator mixes up the terms "social responsibility" and "social equality" during his speech? What does the audience's reaction to his mistake suggest?

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The white audience, which has been mocking the black narrator during his speech by having him repeat the word "responsibility" over and over, falls ominously silent when he replaces "responsibility" with "equality." They are not amused at all by the substitution.

Though the narrator quickly corrects himself, the incident shows that the white people who are "rewarding" him with a scholarship to a black college and briefcase have no intention of granting him equality. In fact, they are hostile to the idea and the whole evening reinforces the idea that they are keeping him in his place.

Booker T. Washington used the term social responsibility rather than social equality to try to accommodate whites. He knew how adverse most whites at the time were to racial equality and tried to be meek so as not to inflame white anger. Social responsibility was a code term, implying that black people wouldn't try to claim equality but would work hard and try to make themselves useful to white people by...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 792 words.)

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