by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man Race Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. About eighty-five years ago they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social, separate from the fingers of the hand. And they believed it. They exulted in it. They stayed in their place, worked hard, and brought up my father to do the same. (1.2)
The narrator recounts that freed slaves were told they were free in all ways, although this clearly was not true. Socially, after freedom from slavery, black people were still kept very separate from the rest of society. Sadly, the narrator's grandparents bought into the promise of true freedom wholesale.
On his deathbed he called my father to him and said, "Son, after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy's country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. 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." (1.2)
…or did they? The narrator's grandfather, at least, portrays race relations as war, and advocates "overcoming the whites with yeses" – essentially, that black people should play the white system and take them for everything they can.