“A Party Down at the Square,” by Ralph Ellison
First appeared, as far as I can tell, in the posthumous collection Flying Home and Other Stories (published in 1996 or 1997); downloadable in .doc format; online here; also at Scribd behind a login wall
It’s hard to know what to say about this story. It’s so grotesque, so evocative of the banality of evil. I feel it doesn’t affect me as strongly as it should, to be honest. Shouldn’t I be angry? Horrified? Revolted? I’m white, and even modern-day hate crimes rarely make me anything more than sad.
I like that the narrator puts his hands in his pockets almost immediately after the lynching victim does. It may make the narrator feel a modicum of empathy—and certainly we readers know that it ought to. I also really like the line “I guess that’s what made me sick”: the way the narrator doesn’t even fully understand that he’s sickened by what he’s seen.
I wonder what Ellison was thinking as he got inside the mind of his oppressors this way? Is this an admirable feat of imagination, or a futile one? Is there anything to learn from it?