Why does the grandfather refuse to laugh at the clowns?

In "Battle Royal," the grandfather refuses to laugh at the clowns because Black people are treated with the same ridicule by white society and that is nothing to laugh at.

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At the end of "Battle Royal," the narrator dreams that he is at a circus with his grandfather, watching the clowns. The grandfather refuses to laugh at them, because they are a metaphor for Black people, who are treated as clowns by white society. Being treated as a clown, the grandfather is suggesting, should never be laughed at. The narrator's dream shows that for the first time, he is beginning to understand the reality of what his grandfather has said in the past about white people as the enemy.

On his deathbed, the grandfather told his son and everyone else in the room, including the young narrator, that behind his smiling face and façade of servility, the grandfather had always been at war with white people. He was trying to undermine them at every turn and suggests his son do the same. These words, however, alarm the family, who have been attempting to accommodate themselves to white society:

I was warned emphatically to forget what he had said and, indeed, this is the first time it has been mentioned outside the family circle.

However, after his own experience being humiliated and ridiculed at the battle royal, the narrator remembers what the grandfather once said and starts to take it to heart. At the end, the grandfather does laugh, not at the clowns but because the grandson is beginning to realize that white people are not his friends.

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