Poetic Justice in “A Party Down at the Square” by Ellison

In “Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity”, Ellison argues elucidates the African-American experience in contrast to the solely “American” experience. “When the white American, holding up most twenth-th century fiction, says, ‘This is American reality,’ the Negro tends to answer ‘Perhaps, but you’ve left out this, and this, and this’…”

To do the American experience justice, Ellison wrote “A Party Down at the Square.” It describes the lynching of a black man, burning at the stake. What’s most incredible, is the justice of the “accidental” events that surround the burning. There is a terrible storm that wrecks havoc on the the town’s infrastructure for three days, a plane crashes in the near distance, causing electrical wires to whip about dangerously, striking a woman and killing her instantly, and finally, the airline line “is investing to find who set the fire that almost wrecked their plane.” In all this, Ellison is saying that when you lose a man (of any color), you lose much more than a man.

The most striking element of this short story is Ellison’s prolific use of the word ‘nigger’. It’s painful to read, used over and over , dozens of times, often once per sentence. Not only does it conjure the pain of the word, and the history of oppression, but sadly enough it does the opposite: it numbs us to the word and by the end of the story it doesn’t hold as much strength; it becomes somewhat normal to describe the black man as such (as horrible as that may be); this technique is effective to call attention to some of the hatred we have normalized.

The overabundance, I believe, is specifically to hedge the use of pronouns. Very seldom is the man given “he” or “his” but rather described in parts: “the nigger’s voice”, “the nigger’s hands”, and “the nigger’s feet”; he was mostly described for the color of his skin; the narrator demeaned his experience: “Every time I eat barbecue I’ll remember that nigger,” which emphasized the cruelty and barbarity of the “party.”

The only voice the African-American ever spoke was “Will somebody please cut my throat like a Christian?” He once more proved his humanity and his will; he entreated his fellow men to end his life swiftly and mercifully (the inhumane irony doesn’t escape me). One ignorant Jed replies: “Sorry, but ain’t no christians around….we’re just one hundred percent Americans.”

Ellison, influenced by T.S. Elliot idea of a corrupted and decomposing sense of morality, may be commenting on the lack of spirituality and the increasing secularism of American identity. Rather than be united against a common evil or towards a common good, they divide themselves into black/white, man/woman, rich/poor and so forth. In this brief dialogue, Ellison seems to remind Americans the lack of faith and values they once had upheld.

In the end however, despite a belief in the higher power, the higher power believes in them anyway. It seems that some greater justice is served (to the willful ignorance of the townsmen) when all the consequent chaos emerges (environmental turmoil, death of a white woman, legal battles etc). One ultimately hushed white cropper stated “it didn’t do no good to kill the niggers ‘cause things don’t get no better”. Instead of subduing African-Americans, the lynchings incite anger and revenge and leads to increased amount of escape attempts.

While Ellison didn’t present his “Negro characters [to] possess the full, complex ambiguity of the human” as he criticized other authors, but he did present a new American reality. He used poetic justice to represent the grueling experiences of “slavery, full citizen ship, stigma of color, and enforced alienation.” He demonstrates that to hurt one of our countrymen is to hurt all countrymen.

Magical Disenchantment in “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi. Review.

If vanity could kill, this book would be murder. Oyeyemi’s tale is winding; the plot twists and turns in every direction. The characters are full of evil and charm. There is a specific darkness to the retelling of this Snow White tale that allows certain themes to shine so brightly. In a subtle and disorienting manner, a way I could only describe as magical disenchantment, Oyeyemi addresses themes of vanity, gender, parenting, race, and education.

Boy is abused by her terrible father, the rat catcher, who would “accidentally” let pans fall on her or worse, seduce her with food only to later tie her to a chair and let the blind rats chew at her face. Having had enough, Boy runs away, runs to the station, and buys any ticket that is far away enough. She lives in a boarding house but is shunned slightly for not having any skills or talents.

She has a gentleman caller, Charlie, her true love, write to her. But it is Arturo Whitman who ultimately gains her hand in marriage. Whitman has a little girl Snow, whose beauty enchants everyone, even Boy. Boy loves Snow and if only she had let herself, would be the mother she always wanted and never had. Snow loves Boy and welcomes the new baby; in fact, she chooses the name: “Bird for a boy and Bird for a girl.”

Bird is born and immediately Boy gets accused of cheating on her husband. Continue reading “Magical Disenchantment in “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi. Review.”

Dialectics and Radical Acceptance in Achebe’s “Dead Man’s Path” and “Modern Africa as the Crossroads of Culture”

Achebe writes “Dead Man’s Path” to illustrate the folly of foreign intrusion: whether that is the white against black, the new against the old, or rather a clash in cultures. The protagonist, Michael Obi is a young, unimpressive man who has large ideas to beautify and renew the local, traditional school. He held rule over the teachers and buildings; his wife, Nancy, was concerned with her version of authority: she held dominion over the wives of the teachers and the beauty of the place (flowers, fauna, etc.,).

The conflict arises when an elderly Ani village-woman crosses the modernized campus. After denigrating the woman and casting her away, Obi obstructs the path with thick wooden beams and barbed wire to prevent further crossings. The villagers’ priest warns him and tells him to clear the path of the shrine to the burial grounds. Obi laughs and rejects the old man three times, though the priest only spoke twice, and held himself in silence for the third time: “I have no more words to say.” Obi could not let the white Supervisor see such silly rituals upon inspection, and so disregarded the omen.

The next day, Continue reading “Dialectics and Radical Acceptance in Achebe’s “Dead Man’s Path” and “Modern Africa as the Crossroads of Culture””

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