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You are watching: A party down at the square ralph ellison
The setting of this story is actually a small town”s main square, “right in front of the court house,” in the middle of the night, just as the “old clock in the tower was striking twelve.” The fact that a black man is lynched in plain sight, in the very…
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The setting of this story is actually a small town”s main square, “right in front of the court house,” in the middle of the night, just as the “old clock in the tower was striking twelve.” The fact that a black man is lynched in plain sight, in the very center of the town, shows just how accepted and unremarkable an event it is for a white mob to murder a black man. The narrator of the story remarks that people must have driven in their cars to come see the lynching from “Phenix City,” a town in Alabama.
In terms of the story”s plot, the narrator is a young boy from Cincinnati, evidently unused to seeing things like one sees in Alabama, and he was at his uncle”s house when some men came and said there was a party in the square. When they arrive at the “party,” the boy sees a black man being held captive by a mob of whites. It is cold and rainy, and it becomes clear that the mob is going to burn the man to death. As he burns and the mob watches, an airplane appears overhead in the storm. It keeps flying over the square, and it occurs to the narrator that the pilot might be confused by a huge fire. The mob thinks the plane is going to land, and many run for their cars. The plane hits some power lines, some of which fall and electrocute a white woman in the crowd; she dies immediately. The narrator returns to look at the black man, all on fire now, and the burning man asks for someone to cut his throat, to show him that small mercy, but Jed Wilson, the apparent ringleader of the mob, explains that there are no Christians there tonight, only Americans. Once the fire burns through the ropes that bind the black man, he rolls out of the flames to the narrator”s feet. The mob shoves him back into the flames, and the narrator eventually runs off to vomit from the smell and sickening revulsion he feels at what he has just witnessed. The next day, his uncle makes fun of him, calling him the “”gutless wonder from Cincinnati,”” and he tells the boy that he will “get used to it in time,” evidently referring to the brutal lynching of black people.
I think the main theme conveyed by this story centers around the incredible and horrifying brutality that mobs will perpetrate if given the opportunity. It is as though, in a crowd, people lose their humanity. More specifically, the story conveys how the racism and prejudice of white people can override even a religious obligation to treat other people with mercy and love.