Why do the grandfather's last words cause so much anxiety in the family?

The grandfather's last words cause so much anxiety in the family because he tells his son that Black people are at "war" with white people and that they should keep up the fight. The parents are trying to get along quietly in white society and are upset because they don't want their children getting subversive ideas.

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On his deathbed, the grandfather tells his son, in the presence of the grandchildren, including the narrator, that he should "keep up the good fight." He goes on to say that Black people are at "war" with white people. He says he has spent his life as a "spy" in...

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On his deathbed, the grandfather tells his son, in the presence of the grandchildren, including the narrator, that he should "keep up the good fight." He goes on to say that Black people are at "war" with white people. He says he has spent his life as a "spy" in the enemy's country. He tells his son,

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 parents quickly usher the children out of the room and tell them to forget everything the grandfather said. The parents think the grandfather went crazy in his last moments and are more upset at his words than his death.

From what readers can gather, however, the parents have assumed that the grandfather went along with white people willingly and happily, not with buried anger. They seem to have tried to follow this accommodationist path, never rocking the boat, but simply keeping their heads low and getting along. They appear to be alarmed at the idea that their children might develop subversive ideas.

None of this is said openly, but readers can deduce from the narrator's graduation speech on the importance of humility as the path to success that the children have been brought up to be subservient to white people as an important survival tactic in a racist culture—one the narrator will learn to reject.

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