An Analysis of Ralph Ellisons Works and Its Impact to Its Readers

Topics: Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison is an African-American author who composed many powerful works during the Jim Crow era, when severe racial inequality was a prominent and pressing issue in the United States. Due to various factors, including Ellison’s racial background and the time period in which the author lived, a few commonly recurring topics found in Ellison’s work consist of the harsh division and brutal injustices that occurred between whites and blacks in the southern part of the United States at that time.

True to form, in one particular short story titled “A Party Down at the Square”, Ellison vividly describes a stormy night that involves a white social gathering for the burning of a black man. Since the story is being told from the perspective of a young white boy, the event and its horrific details are recounted in a candid way that creates a more unsettling and all too imaginable account. Ellison purposefully uses expressive diction as well as the incorporation of violence in the short story for the purpose of effectively making an impression about racism and social conformity on the reader.

In order to inform the reader about the considerable amount of racial discrimination towards black people in the 1960’s American South, Ellison uses sensory details to depict the events that happen in “A Party Down at the Square”. From the black man being taunted to mercilessly being burned alive, the events that take place during the white people’s “party” are almost palpable. At the time when the black man pleadingly asks the white men to “please cut my throat” and the response is to add more gasoline to the fire, a feeling of disbelief and distress is present due to this act of violent bigotry (Ellison 457).

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Then, when “you could smell his skin burning” and “his back was just like a barbecued hog”, the empathy level for the victimized black man is high (Ellison 458). Ellison allows the reader to connect with the characters in a meaningful way that aids in the better understanding of the racial hardships that many minorities had to endure. With the frequent use of blunt details involving racism and the establishment of a realistically somber tone in this piece, Ellison’s work is said to have uniquely contributed to the “awakening in America” (Turner 656). This mostly stemmed from “the struggle against white

supremacy, [which] was ‘a struggle over the nature of reality” at the time (Turner 656). As an author, Ellison is able to metaphorically open people’s eyes and make them aware of the seemingly insurmountable racial problems that occurred in America’s history. This conflict was noticeably influenced by haughty white people because of the power that was previously possessed by that race, as it is displayed in the story. Also, the demonstration of racism is affected by the “normative whiteness [that] was so deeply engrained in American consciousness” (Turner 658). Extreme racism was a regularly occurring matter that was not seen as such an important problem to anyone but the blacks because that treatment was representative of the earlier South. Injustices like the one in the story happened so often that they were even considered trivial or normal. Ellison acknowledges racial concerns in the story by using racism and viciousness to show the differences between blacks and whites in a way that is revealing of a typical “party”.

In addition to racism, Ellison alludes to the topic of social conformity among whites in “A Party Down at the Square”. When the reader is informed that a large number of white people from distant cities traveled to the “party” for the sole reason of watching a black man violently burn alive, it is apparent that this is a sort of bonding experience for this race (Ellison 457). As the event is seen through the eyes of the young and uncorrupted boy, the recognition of white conformity in the story is more straightforward. After yearning to be one of the spectators and witnessing the horrific display, the boy is a bit traumatized. In response to the discomfort, the boy’s uncle states that “you get used to it in time” (Ellison 459). This shows that even if a white person did not necessarily agree with the activities of the race, it was normal for the person to conform anyway. People were expected to simply accept things that were potentially uncomfortable and wrong. Ellison’s literature is able to efficiently “probe the ways white supremacy distorts Americans’ perceptions of themselves” (Turner 659). By herding into a sizable group of assumed racists, the white society in the story limits its personal opinions and sense of individuality to a miniscule amount. The people’s uniqueness and better judgment is most likely skewed when groupthink is occurring in a situation like the “party”. In Ellison’s

work there is also the idea that “white supremacists value freedom…but it terrifies them by filling their lives with uncertainty, unpredictability, and feelings of aloneness and insignificance” (Turner 664). If the white people from that time were not associated with a certain clique, then the individuals did not know what to do or think about in a personal way. The white audience in the story was supposed to meld with the anticipated social standards, which then caused the individuals to act violently and unfeelingly. The people that were members of a social group would have liked to believe that the decisions were being made autonomously, but in actuality the people’s insecurities allowed the group to have total control. The societal conformity that was apparent during the “party” was characteristically portrayed in a way that educates and makes references to the internal and external conflicts that occurred in the white 1960’s American South.

By interpreting the subject matter of “A Party Down at the Square”, the reader can conclude that the main themes are associated with racism and social conformity. Through reading this story, Ellison wanted people to feel the raw emotions of both the black and white characters, as well as inform people of the social issues that were present during the time period. The violent content of Ellison’s story is capable of making a memorable impact on the reader, and making one ponder the events that have taken place between races throughout American history. The style in which “A Party Down at the Square” is written is also relevant because it enhances certain aspects that make the piece more affective and relatable. With his work, Ellison is able to capture audiences with descriptive imagery and inform people about societal concerns like cruel racism and conformity.

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An Analysis of Ralph Ellisons Works and Its Impact to Its Readers. (2023, Jan 12). Retrieved from

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