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"A Party Down at the Square" is a short story by the American writer Ralph Ellison, first published in 1997, three years after the author's death. It is a story of a Deep South lynching as perceived by a white boy from Cincinnati, Ohio.
The short story “A Party Down at the Square” is the story of a boy who witnesses a lynching. The young boy is at his uncle’s house somewhere in the Deep South when a bunch of men come in a hurry saying there will be a party down at the square. The reader then realizes that the “party” consists of a lynching of a young black man. The whole town is attending, except for the town's black population, and everyone is screaming and yelling in excitement for the lynching of this young man. With a storm causing confusion, an airplane crashes through electric power lines but lands successfully near the town square. A young woman gets electrocuted and dies instantly, the plane is on fire, and electrical wires are sparking.
Despite the mayhem of the storm and plane landing, the mob turns its focus back on the young black man who is getting burned to death. When the black man politely asks for a quick death, Jed Wilson, a leader of the lynch mob, refuses, saying, "...ain't no Christians around tonight." The black man burns to death, his corpse turning to ashes.
After the emotional experience of the night, the narrator falls ill, causing him to be mocked by his Southern relatives. Later at a general store, a poor white sharecropper speaks out against the lynching, arguing that it does not serve a purpose. The other people in the town just tell him to "shut his damn mouth." The visceral experience of the night, in particular the toughness of the young black man, lingers on for the narrator.
The story is written from the perspective of the narrator, a boy from Cincinnati.
In "A Party Down at the Square," the N-word appears over 40 times in the story. The word adds realism to the story, as it was a common word in the setting of the story. Racism was alive and kicking and this story sure lets the reader know that. Ellison uses the N-word to get the reader to grasp a deeper understanding of the racist mindset, because the N-word has helped deeply ingrain racism into the thought processes of the narrator.
Some people may be shocked by the overuse of the N-word in the story, but to understand the history we have to read about how the character got lynched, beat, degraded, kicked, shoved, pushed, and everything else. The N-word dehumanizes the lynch mob victim, which makes "A Party Down at the Square" a powerful indictment of the history of Southern racism.