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The setting of the chapter is significantly symbolic. The story takes place in a luxurious ballroom, which Ellison has masterfully transformed into Hell. This is the smoker. The men in the audience are “smoking black cigars” (1255). The room was “foggy with cigar smoke” even though the room is described as large and has a high ceiling (1255). The narrator also gives these men animalistic qualities that essentially revealing them to be savages. They are seen “wolfing down food” (1254). Later, they “run laughing and howling after [the dancing woman]” (1257). Although far less of a ravenous image, the narrator even compares the perverted old man to an intoxicated panda. The narrator also describes them as having “red faces” (1259). In this characterization the men seemingly have all the characteristics of demons in Hell. The Hell image is advanced further when the fighters are blindfolded. The narrator explains, “..now I felt a sudden fit of blind terror.” (1257). When the fight begins, he adds, “[t]he smoke had become thicker and with each new blow it seemed to sear and further restrict my lungs. My saliva became like hot bitter glue.” (1258).
The men demonstrate their authority over him and his classmates. A prime instance of this is the dancing woman. The ten fighters were positioned in the front of the ballroom. Then the woman was exhibited, all eyes were on her. She was completely naked, except for her makeup and a tattoo of the American flag. Her face was “heavily powdered and rouged… [her] eyes hollow and smeared a cool blue.” (1256). She represents America, and therefore freedom. The men in the audience even though they are just as fixated as the fighters, have more control. In their society, they are allowed to look at a white woman. The fighters however, are black, and therefore are supposed to suppress any thoughts regarding her so they do not get killed. This display also serves to rob them of some of their masculinity.
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