Ralph Ellison provides the reader with a story regarding the life of an African American man who faces an inner struggle within himself and endures degrading experiences that eventually will affect him in the long run. Ellison story consists of an older narrator who reminisces on his dying grandfather’s advice that he gives to his son (the narrator’s dad) and the painful truth he had to face for betraying his grandfather advice.
The advice the grandfathers gives to his son (which is passed down to the narrator) is, “Son, after I’m gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born fays, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome’em with the yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree’em to death and destruction, let’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.
The grandfather wanted his son, to be a spy in the white community and become submissive and obedient to be “accepted”. No matter how much the son must take, he must listen to undermine the white men the white men and “overcome ’em with yeses” and “agree’em to death and destruction”. This advice haunted the narrator and caused him to become paranoid and dictate everything that he did. The narrator then recalls the high school speech and how it called for submission and humility for the blacks to advance and move forward.
Because the speech was so well-delivered it was called to be spoken at gathering lead by the elite white men on the community, but what he was also tricked into participating in a battle royal. The narrator states, “….and I was told that since I was to be there anyway I might as well take part in the battle royal to be some of my schoolmates as part of the entertainment.” The narrator finds himself in a whirl of trouble and encounters a painful truth about himself, that he did not fully understand when he was that age.
The narrator during that time focused more on impressing the white men and did not follow his grandfather advice; which ultimately led him astray. Furthermore, the narrator was presented a brief case and complied, “smelling the fresh leather and finding an official-looking document inside. It was a scholarship to the state college of Negroes. My eyes filled with tears and I ran awkwardly off the floor.” Which ultimately led his grandfather to haunt him in his dreams, because instead of pretending to be submissive he became submissive. And although, Intelligence brings oppression down, the white was just using the scholarship to keep the narrator busy so that he’ll forget who the real “enemy” is.
BP2: Ellison uses entering the character’s mind to contribute to the social and psychological conflict; this provides emphasis to overall conflict the narrator is facing and allows the reader to understand and grasp the moral theme of the story. Ellison portrays the narrator as an innocent young male who is aware that there is social inequality but loses himself in the process of overachieving social inequality. The narrator is forced and humiliated by powerful white men to box into a ring.
The white men involuntary are using their “white privileges” to force the black boys to watch a naked white girl dance. The narrator states that, “I wanted at one and the same time, to run from the room, to sink through the floor; or go to and cover her from my eyes and the eyes of others with my body.” He also stated, “She seemed like a fair bird-girl girdled in veins calling to me from the angry surface of some gray and threatening sea.
I was transported. Then I became aware of the clarinet playing and the big shots yelling at us. Some threatened us if we looked and others if we did not. On my right I saw one boy faint.” The narrator is forced to look at the girl but at the same time he can’t; the white men are using their superiority to control the boys and it causes the narrator to become uncomfortable and uncertain. By the the narrator voicing that he doesn. Ellison voices the narrator through his thoughts and feeling which allows the reader to understand his psychological struggle that he has within himself.
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