Battle Royal Essay, Research Paper
Everyday , racism is perceived as one of the most negative aspects of society . When people think
of racism , they obviously see hatred , evil , and ignorance . It has been a part of world culture
since recorded history and , no doubt , before that . When one thinks of racism in the United
States , invariably , though not only , the struggle of the African-American is singled out . That is
the main issue Ellison so powerfully addresses in his short story “Battle Royal”. In it the author
allows us to see the world through the eyes of a young black boy who is struggling to succeed in a
predominantly white society . The thing that is absolutely essential to our understanding of the story
is the understanding of this “rich” character . In this study I will try to analyze some of his traits
(invisibility-lack of indentity , blindness) and his journey from idealism to a grim realism about the
racism that confronts him in the story.
All my life I had been looking for something , and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me
what it was . I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I , and
only I , could answer . It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations
to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have be born with : That I am nobody but myself .
But first I had to discover that I’m an invisible man ! (Ellison 448 )
In this passage we see the boy’s lack of identity . Throughout his life , the narrator lets others define
who he is, and believes that he is what they tell him to be.. He refuses to ask himself : ” who am I
and what do I want ? ” The invisibility which the narrator refers to is two fold. First, he has come to
realize that others do not see him for who he is ; instead he is viewed only through stereotypes.
Ellison’s hero is never seen as an individual, rather he is defined only as others feel he should be.
Therefore he cannot seek a satisfying role in life because he is relegated to the position which white
society determines is appropriate. The second aspect of his invisibility is his inability to see himself
as an individual . He has been authored by society for so long that he is unable to determine his
own identity . During the story the boy has functioned as he believes others (whites , his family )
expect him to. Individuality has been subverted by expectations and the narrator is invisible to
One of the main characteristic traits of the “invisible boy” seems to be blindness. He is failing to see
reality in one way or another . In the story he is invited to repeat his valedictory speech in which he
said that ” humility was the secret , indeed , the very essence of progress” (449) before the white
leaders of the town. These men, however, humiliate the protagonist and some other black youths
by forcing them to engage in a “battle royal,” a blindfolded fist fight in which the last standing
participant is victorious and tempting them to fight for counterfeit coins tossed on an electrified rug .
Even after being degraded, beaten up, used, and treated like an animal the narrator still wants to
impress his abusers and he delivers his oration . During the speech the men ridicule him and only
make it more painful to go through with it in the already disturbing circumstances . But he doesn’t
care . Blinded by his eagerness to succeed he gratefully accepts the briefcase and the scholarship
he is given after the speech . “I was so moved that I could hardly express my thanks ” (458 )
Ellison has his hero write . The black boy does not see that these people are not interested in him
getting an education but in controlling him .
Some believe that through difficulty and oppression, people are truly able to find themselves. In my
opinion . in the case of the main character in this short story , this is completely true and through his
experiences he has been able to discover himself and the reality around him . He goes through that
moment of insight , discovery , revelation by which his life is greatly altered ( epiphany ) . The black
boy tries to accomplish his goal of succeeding in life by adhering to his grandfather’s dying words :
“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 ” (449 ) . Grandfather was telling him to conform to white people because in that time that
was the only way to excel . But he also said that he , who was “a quiet old man that never made
any trouble” , was “a traitor and a spy( 449 ). At the beginning of the story the narrator is not sure
what the meaning of those words is . They haunt him throughout the story and eventually become
clear in his dream in the end (epiphany) . In the dream, he is in a circus where he does not laugh at
clowns. His grandfather is there, and his briefcase contains an envelope, which contains an
envelope, and continues with a nearly endless cycle. When he opens the last, it encloses a paper
which his grandfather makes him read aloud . It says, “Keep This Nigger- Boy Running” (459) .
The message points out that with all of his apparent success, the main character is run around,
without meaning, by whites. He is living through their lives for their lives, and he has no real
freedom or equality. The phrase “Keep This Nigger- Boy Running” echoes the grandfather’s
deathbed warning and advice. The grandfather heeds him to “overcome ‘em with yesses” and
“agree ‘em to death”, which is exactly what the affluent white men have done to the main character.
They give him what he believes to be victories-the opportunity for a speech, the chance to prove
his worth in the battle royal, the college scholarship-all of it, to keep him running. He finally realizes
By studying this fascinating character which , I think , represents all blacks of that time I discovered
that the prejudice is one problem that we as a society have to become more aware of . We have to
get past the cover, and open up the book and read it before we judge. If people would do this it
would rid the cause to many major world problems.