1. discuss how dehumanizing actions or characters leads to an emotional response for the reader. For example, we never felt connected to the crowd or the white woman who and were perfectly fine with her dying. Why? What textual evidence can you provide that leads the reader in that direction?
2. This story revolves around dehumanization to justify actions. Develop a thesis statement and provide your reasoning as to why this happens, how it affects you or the reader, and what message is attempting to be conveyed through the textual evidence.A Party Down at the Square
By Ralph Ellison
I don’t know what started it. A bunch of men came by my Uncle Eds place and
said there was going to be a party down at the Square, and my uncle hollered for me to
come on and I ran with them through the dark and rain and there we were at the Square.
When we got there everybody was mad and quiet and standing around looking at the
nigger. Some of the men had guns, and one man kept goosing the nigger in his pants
with the barrel of a shotgun, saying he ought to pull the trigger, but he never did. It was
right in front of the courthouse, and the old clock in the tower was striking twelve. The
rain was falling cold and freezing as it fell. Everybody was cold, and the nigger kept
wrapping his arms around himself trying to stop the shivers.
Then one of the boys pushed through the circle and snatched off the nigger’s shirt,
and there he stood, with his black skin all shivering in the light from the fire, and looking
at us with a scaired look on his face and putting his hands in his pants pockets Folks
started yelling to hurry up and kill the nigger. Somebody yelled: “Take your hands out
of your pockets, nigger, we gonna have plenty heat in a minnit.” But the nigger didn’t
hear him and kept his hands where they were.
I tell you the rain was cold. I had to stick my hands in my pockets they got so
cold. The fire was pretty small, and they put some logs around the platform they had the
nigger on and then threw on some gasoline, and you could see the lames light up the
whole Square. It was late and the streetlights had been off for a long time. It was so
bright that the bronze statue of the general standing there in the Square was like
something alive. The shadows playing on his moldy green face made him seem to be
smiling down at the nigger.
They threw on more gas, and it made the Square bright like it gets when the lights
are turned on or when the sun is setting red. All the wagons and cars were standing
around the curbs. Not like Saturday though – the niggers weren’t there. Not a single
nigger was there except this Bacote nigger and they dragged him there tied to the back of
Jed Wilson’s truck. On Saturday there’s as many niggers as white folks.
Everybody was yelling crazy ‘cause they were about to set fire to the nigger, and I
got to the rear of the circle and looked around the Square to try to count the cars. The
shadows of the folks was flickering on the trees in the middle of the Square. I saw some
birds that the noise had woke up flying through the trees. I guess maybe they thought it
was morning. The ice had started the cobblestones in the street to shine where the rain
was falling and freezing. I counted forty cars before I lost count. I knew folks must have
been there from Phenix City by all the cars mixed in with the wagons.
God, it was a hell of a night. It was some night all right. When the noise died
down I heard the nigger’s voice from where I stood int eh back, so I pushed my way up
front. The nigger was bleeding from his nose and ears, and I could see him all red where
the dark blood was running down his black skin. He kept lifting first one foot and then
the other, like a chicken on a hot stove. I looked down to the platform they had him on,
and they had pushed a ring of fire up close to his feet. It must have been hot to him with
the flames almost touching his big black toes. Somebody yelled for the nigger to say his
prayers, but the nigger wasn’t saying anything now. He just kinda moaned with his eyes
shut and kept moving up and down on his feet, first one foot and then the other.
I watched the flames burning the logs up closer and closer to the nigger’s feet.
They were burning good now, and the rain had stopped and the wind was rising, making
the flames flare higher. I looked, and there must have been thirty-five women in the
crowd, and I could hear their voices clear and shrill mixed in with those of the men.
Then it happened. I heard the noise about the same time everyone else did. It was like
the roar of a cyclone blowing up from the gulf, and everyone was looking up into the air
to see what it was. Some of the faces looked surprised and scaired, all but the nigger. He
didn’t even hear the noise He didn’t even look up. Then the roar came closer, right
above our heads and the wind was blowing higher and higher and the sound seemed to be
going in circles.
Then I saw her. Through the clouds and fog I could see a red and green light on
her wings. I could see them just for a second: then she rose up into the low clouds. I
looked out for the beacon over the tops of the buildings in the direction of the airfield
that’s forty miles away, and it wasn’t circling around. You usually could see it sweeping
around the sky at night, but it wasn’t there. Then, there she was again, like a big bird lost
in the fog. I looked for the red and green lights, and they weren’t there anymore. She
was flying even closer to the tops of the buildings than before. The wind was blowing
harder, and leaves started flying about, making funny shadows on the ground, and tree
limbs were cracking and falling.
It was a storm all right. The pilot must have thought he was over the landing
field. Maybe he thought the fire in the Square was put there for him to land by. Gosh,
but it scaired the folks. I was scaired too. They started yelling: “He’s going to land.
He’s going to land.” And: “He’s going to fall.” A few started for their cars and wagons.
I could hear the wagons creaking and chains jangling and cars spitting and missing as
they started the engines up. Off to my right, a horse started pitching and striking his
hooves against a car.
I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to run, and I wanted to stay and see what was
going to happen. The plane was close as hell. The pilot must have been trying to see
where he was at, and her motors were drowning out all the sounds. I could even feel the
vibration, and my hair felt like it was standing up under my hat. I happened to look over
at the statue of the general standing with one leg before the other and leaning back on a
sword, and I was fixing to run over and climb between his legs and sit there and watch
when the roar stopped some, and I looked up and she was gliding just over the top of the
trees in the middle of the Square.
Her motors stopped altogether and I could hear the sound of branches cracking
and snapping off below her landing gear. I could see her plain now, all silver and shining
in the light of the fire with TWA in black letters under her wings. She was sailing
smoothly out of the Square when she hit the high power lines that follow the Birmingham
highway through the town. It made a loud crash. I t sounded like the wind blowing the
door of a tin barn shut. She only hit with her landing gear, but I could see the sparks
flying, and the wires knocked loose from the poles were spitting blue sparks and
whipping around like a bunch of snakes and leaving circles of blue sparks in the
The plane had knocked five or six wires loose, and they were dangling and
swinging, and every time they touched they threw off more sparks. The wind was
making them swing, and when I got over there, there was a crackling and spitting screen
of blue haze across the highway. I lost my hat running over, but I didn’t stop to look for
it. I was among the first and I could hear the others pounding behind me across the grass
of the Square. They were yelling to beat all hell, and they came up fast, pushing and
shoving, and someone got pushed against a swinging wire. It made a sound like when a
blacksmith drops a red hot horseshoe into a barrel of water, and the steam comes up. I
could smell th flesh burning. The first time I’d ever smelled it. I got up close and it was
a woman. It must have killed her right off. She was lying in a puddle stiff as a board,
with pieces of glass insulators that the plane had knocked off the poles lying all around
her. Her white dress was torn, and I saw one of her tits hanging out in the water and her
thighs. Some woman screamed and fainted and almost fell on a wire, but a man caught
her. The sheriff and his men were yelling and driving folks back with guns shining in
their hands, and everything was lit up blue by the sparks. The shock had turned the
woman almost as black as the nigger. I was trying to see if she wasn’t blue too, or if it
was just the sparks, and the sheriff drove me away. As I backed off trying to see, I heard
the motors of the plane start up again somewhere off to the right in the clouds.
The clouds were moving fast in the wind and the wind was blowing the smell of
something burning over to me. I turned around, and the crowd was headed back to the
nigger. I could see him standing there in the middle of the flames. The wind was making
the flames brighter every minute. The crowd was running. I ran too. I ran back across
the grass with the crowd. It wasn’t so large now that so many had gone when the plane
came. I tripped and fell over the limb of a tree lying in the grass and bit my lip. It ain’t
well yet I bit it so bad. I could taste the blood in my mouth as I ran over. I guess that’s
what made me sick. When I got there, the fire had caught the nigger’s pants, and the
folks were standing around watching, but not too close on account of the wind blowing
the flames. Somebody hollered, “Well, nigger, it ain’t so cold now.” And the nigger
looked up with his great white eyes looking like they was ‘bout to pop out of his head,
and I had enough. I didn’t want to see anymore. I wanted to run somewhere and puke,
but I stayed. I stayed right there in the front of the crowd and looked.
The nigger tried to say something I couldn’t hear for the roar of the wind in the
fire, and I strained my ears. Jed Wilson hollered, “What you say there, nigger?” And it
came back through the flames in his nigger voice: “Will somebody please cut my throat
like a Christian?” And Jed hollered back, “Sorry, but ain’t no Christians around tonight.
Ain’t no Jew-boys neither. We’re just one hundred percent Americans.”
Then the nigger was silent. Folks started laughing at Jed. Jed’s right popular
with the folks, and next year, my uncle says, they plan to run him for sheriff. The heat
was too much for me, and the smoke was making my eyes to smart. I was trying to back
away when Jed reached down and brought up a can of gasoline and threw it in the fire on
the nigger. I could see the flames catching the gas in a puff as it went in in a silver sheet
and some of it reached the nigger, making spurts of blue fire all over his chest.
Well, that nigger was tough. I have to give it to that nigger; he was really tough.
He had started to burn like a house afire and was making the smoke smell like burning
hides. The fire was up around his head, and the smoke was so thick and black we
couldn’t see him. And him not moving – we thought he was dead. Then he started out.
The fire had burned the ropes they had tied him with, and he started jumping and kicking
about like he was blind, and you could smell his skin burning. He kicked so hard that the
platform, which was burning too, fell in, and he rolled out of the fire at my feet. I jumped
back so he wouldn’t get on me. I’ll never forget it. Every time I eat barbeque I’ll
remember that never forget it. Every time I eat barbeque I’ll remember that nigger. His
back was just like a barbecued hog. I could see the prints of his ribs where they start
around from his backbone and curve down and around. It was a sight to see, that nigger’s
back. He was right at my feet, and somebody behind pushed me and almost made me
step on him, and he was still burning.
I didn’t step on him though, and Jed and somebody else pushed him back into the
burning planks and logs and poured on more gas. I wanted to leave, but the folks were
yelling and I couldn’t move except to look around and see the statue. A branch the wind
had broken was resting on his hat. I tried to push out and get away because my guts were
gone, and all I got was spit and hot breath in my face from the woman and two men
standing directly behind me. So I had to turn back around. The nigger rolled out of the
fire again. He wouldn’t stay put. It was on the other side this time. I couldn’t see him
very well through the flames and smoke. They got some tree limbs and held him there
this time and he stayed there till he was ashes. I guess he stayed there. I know he burned
to ashes because I saw Jed a week later, and he laughed and showed me some white
finger bones still held together with little pieces of the nigger’s skin. Anyway, I left
when somebody moved around to see the nigger. I pushed my way through the crowd,
and a woman in the rear scratched my face as she yelled and fought to get up close.
I ran across the Square to the other side, where the sheriff and his deputies were
guarding the wires that were still spitting and making a blue fog. My heart was pounding
like I had been running a long ways, and I bent over and let my insides go. Everything
came up and spilled in a big gush over the ground. I was sick, and tired, and weak, and
cold. The wind was still high, and large drops of rain were beginning to fall. I headed
down the street to my uncle’s place past a store where the wind had broken a window,
and glass lay over the sidewalk. I kicked it as I went by. I remember somebody’s fool
rooster crowing like it was morning in all that wind.
The next day I was too weak to go out, and my uncle kidded me and called me
“the gutless wonder from Cincinnati.” I didn’t mind. He said you get used to it in time.
He couldn’t go out hisself. There was too much wind and rain. I got up and looked out
of the window, and the rain was pouring down and dead sparrows and limbs of trees were
scattered all over the yard. There had been a cyclone all right. It swept a path right
through the county, and we were lucky we didn’t get the full force of it.
It blew for three days steady, and put the town in a hell of a shape. The wind
blew sparks and set fire to the white-and-green-rimmed house on Jackson Avenue that
had the big concrete lions in the yard and burned it down to the ground. They had to kill
another nigger who tried to run out of the county after they burned this Bacote nigger.
My Uncle Ed said they always have to kill niggers in pairs to keep the other niggers in
place. I don’t know though, the folks seem a little skittish of the niggers. They all came
back, but they act pretty sullen. They look mean as hell when you pass them down at the
store. The other day I was down to Brinkley’s store, and a white cropper said it didn’t do
no good to kill the niggers ‘cause things don’t get no better. He looked hungry as hell.
Most of the croppers look hungry. You’d be surprised how hungry white folks can look.
Somebody said that he’d better shut his damn mouth, and he shut up. But from the look
on his face he won’t stay shut long. He went out of the store muttering to himself and
spit a big chew of tobacco right down on Brinkley’s floor. Brinkley said he was sore
‘cause he wouldn’t let him have credit. Anyway, it didn’t seem to help things. First it
was the nigger and the storm, then the plane, then the woman and the wire, and now I
hear the airplane line is investigating to find who set the fire that almost wrecked their
plane. All that in one night, and all of it but the storm over one nigger. It was some night
all right. It was some party too. I was right there, see. I was right there watching it all. It
was my first party and my last. God, but that nigger was tough. That Bacote nigger was
some nigger!
The dehumanization inherent in “A Party Down at the Square” and how it affects your
interpretation of the story is what you should be focusing on for this response. Please
respond while adhering to the guidelines listed below.
For this reading response, I want you to discuss how dehumanizing actions or characters
leads to an emotional response for the reader. For example, we never felt connected to the
crowd or the white woman who and were perfectly fine with her dying. Why? What textual
evidence can you provide that leads the reader in that direction?
This story revolves around dehumanization to justify actions. Develop a thesis statement and
provide your reasoning as to why this happens, how it affects you or the reader, and what
message is attempting to be conveyed through the textual evidence.
Submission Guidelines:
– Word Count: 400-700 words
– You must have a clear thesis statement ie., an is/because statement (see provided example).

If you respond to a peer you will receive 5 extra credit points. The response must be at least
250 words in length.
Thesis Example:
Vonnegut can be read to portray how gender norms are viewed in a patriarchal, capitalistic
society and how Vonnegut uses satire to disrupt the gender norms from within and outside
the hegemonic societal structure because it is a direct social commentary on the treatment of
Obviously this a very complex thesis statement, but you can see how the is/because structure
works to create an argument.

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