Discussion Questions for Ralph Ellison’s “A Party down at the Square”

Discussion Questions for Ralph Ellison’s “A Party down at the Square”

  1. Identify who the narrator is and what is mainly narrated in the story and then comment on Ralph Ellison‘s preference for such a narrative technique. How does it contribute to the story itself and to the readers’ understanding of the story?
  2. How does the author describe and position the townspeople and the black man in the square at the very beginning of the story, e.g. in the first two paragraphs?
  3. What is the significance of the bronze statue of the general as described in the 3rd and the 10th paragraphs?
  4. What could the name “Phenix City” signify?
  5. Why do you think the black man’s name is never mentioned? What is the reason for the repeated use of the word “nigger” in the story?
  6. What does the aircraft as described in paragraphs 7 and 8 signify? How does it function in paragraph 12?
  7. Why does the narrator feel like throwing up? What does this represent in the story?
  8. Make a comparison between the narrator’s and the townspeople’s perceptions of the “nigger” and the “party” at the square from the beginning till the end of the story. Can you identify any change in their perceptions? What would this comparison tell you?
  9. Comment on the following excerpt: “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.”
  10. Read the following excerpt and discuss what message Ralph Ellison could be giving to his readers in relation to race, racism and race relations in America: “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.” (in the last paragraph of the story)

© Ali Nihat Eken, Istanbul, March 2008

Study Guide for Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royal
Useful link 1: Study Guide for Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost A Man /
Useful link 2: Study Guide for Richard Wright’s The Man Who Killed A Shadow /
Useful link 3: Watch: PBS Documentary: Ralph Ellison and Robert Penn Warren /