Initially, the story seems to be about one black boy’s struggle to get ahead in a predominantly white society. He tries’ to accomplish this goal by adhering to his grandfathers dying words. His grandfather told him to “live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction, let ’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.” In other words his grandfather was telling him to conform to the white people’s way of life in order to get ahead. I believe that the story had a deeper meaning than the aforementioned one. I believe that if the reader were to take a deeper look into all of the symbolism in the story, one would find that the summation of all the symbolism is equal to not only the struggle of this one black boy, but the struggle of all blacks at the time in which this story takes place.
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I think that if one were to analyze the grandfathers dying words, one would find the view of most conformist black Americans. The only way for a black person to excel at that time was to conform to the white society. Any rebels that tried to stand up for their rights were mostly killed by anti-black groups such as the KKK.
There was one symbol in the story that stood out especially in my mind and that was the stripper. She was a tall blonde haired blue eyed woman with a tattoo of the American flag on her belie. I think that the stripper symbolized the perfect American white woman, something that a black man could strive his whole life to attain, but would never receive. This was a symbol of the many things that a white man could have, whereas a black man could not.
I believe that the blind folded boxing in the story is a representation of the blind hatred of blacks at the time this story took place. By blind hatred I mean the ignorance of the people of the time who could hate a person for the color of their skin. The boxers in the ring wailed at each other, not knowing whom they were hitting or why, just that they had to fight. This was true in the white American society of the time because they didn’t know the black people, they blindly sent blows of segregation without actually knowing each individual, but stereotyped a whole race as no good and as lesser beings simply for the color of their skin.
Another important symbol in the story that helps piece together my theory of the meaning of the story was the money rug. These boys were given the opportunity to make money by simply taking it off of the rug, the only hitch being that the coins were electrified. Every time that a boy got his hands on a piece of money, they would receive an electric shock. I believe that this symbolized the black Americans economic struggle. The black American could make a lot of money, but only through pain and toil and by becoming a “puppet on a string” to the white people. Every time that a black person would get a leg up in the ladder of life, someone was there to knock him back down. And even after all the toil and hardship endured, they were no better off than they were when they started, which was true in the story also because after all the shocks that the boys had endured, when they got done, they found that the money was not real in the first place. So they too were no better off than they were when they started.
After all was done and the boy finally delivered his speech, he was given a brief case and a diploma. I believe that the act of giving him these articles was a symbol of the white’s dominance over the blacks. I say this because the boy had to endure a boxing match, being shocked, and being called all kinds of nasty names, and he had to do it before he delivered his speech. It was if they were saying, “You’ve done a good job, thanks for the amusement, here’s your reward.” It all goes back to that “puppet on a string,” the blacks were made to do everything that the whites wanted them to.
Blacks had to conform to the white society, and were led to believe that if they conformed, they would fit in. But as you can see in the end of the story, the young black man portrayed in the story no more fit in at the end of his speech than he did at the beginning. But something has to be said for the boy’s persistence and for black Americans of the time. No matter what hardships the boy endured, he kept his mind on his final goal, the speech that he had to deliver. I believe that this was the mainstream way of thinking of the black Americans of the time. No matter how much they were kept down by the whites, they kept their minds on their final goal, social equality.