Battle Royal Essay, Research Paper
After I read the story “Battle Royal” by Ralf Ellison, I could not restrain my thoughts about issues of morality and what it has to do with reality, from clashing in to one another in my mind. As these two completely different ideas were pushing me to the brink of madness, my mind began to click. The swirling messy cocktail of two abstract ideas started taking shape as I began remembering what I had learned earlier in school, and from my summer readings. At this point I came to the realization that a persons reality, that is that persons mental reflection of the society and or time in which he or she live in, is consistent with that persons morality or standards of right and wrong. I realize that my concept of a person’s reality being consistent with morality is quite confusing. I also except the fact that there are always exceptions to rules. In this case it being that some peoples moralities contradicting their reality. However this realization of mine makes perfect sense to me, and I will attempt to explain my thoughts to you in hopes that by the time you are finished reading this essay you will understand what I mean.
The story “Battle Royal” is the key in understanding and seeing the relationship between morality and reality. The characters in this story, namely the grandfather and his grandson, reveal to us their individuality, principles, morals, and ethics doing so they unfold a map that reveals their mental reality. Because their principals, morals and ethics reveal to us their mental reality, then their mental reality discloses the reality of the society in which they live in. However to clarify my thoughts I will use Book 5 of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” to elaborate more about reality and morality. And from that I will show you how the grandson breaks away from the reality that he is been taught to see, and steps in to the light that his grandfather guide’s him too before he dies.
“Battle Royal” is a story about a black boy that is psychologically wakened when he overhears what his grandfather says at his deathbed to his father. This boy, before he realizes who he really is, and his social standing in the society that he lives, is searching to find himself. However this search is filled with many obstacles, because he lives in a time when people of his status are conditioned to act, talk, and behave in a certain way.
Our hero’s journey toward the light (truth) is started a long time ago. However in the beginning he is unable to get on the right course, due to the wrong advice he is given by different people; he says it as “All my life I was looking for something, and every were that I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction” (448). Because each time that he accepts their advice he is little by little pushed off the right track. It is not until he realizes that he is searching for himself, and instead of asking others questions, he needs to ask the questions to himself. Once he discovers whom to turn to, he begins a long and difficult journey in which he realizes that he is a unique person, he puts it as, “I am nobody but myself.”(449). This means that he is unique and he is who he is, black. However before he comes to this enlightenment he discovers that he is an “invisible man”(449). He marks himself invisible because in the society in which a person is unheard and unseen by others is invisible.
At that point our young friend’s problem is clear. He is a black boy in a White men’s world, in which he is not see or heard. Yet he still does not know what to do about it, well at-least not until he hears his grandfathers words to his father:
Son, after I’m gone I want you to keep up a good fight. I never told you, but your 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 burst wide open Learn it to the younguns(449)
These last words that his grand father speaks are the chain-breakers that set the young boy’s mind free. What hit’s him the hardest is finding out that his people are in an ongoing fight, a war for freedom and equality. And it is these words that guide him on the right path to the realization of who he is, and how he needs to start thinking and acting. However this path that his grandfather sets him on, is one that presents many mind-tormenting problems. How will his people treat him if he takes on a rebellious attitude? Also if he refuses to fight for his rights what will his deceased grandfather think of him? These questions torment the boy’s mind and soul. In his mind he literally sets himself between two hard places.
Look at this new knowledge that our young hero is given as being given the secrets to life. Breaking the walls of ignorance down, and shown in what kind of society he really lives. This new perception of life now cleans away his old principals, morals, and ethics and sets him up with new and renewed ones. He learns that he is not obligated to act as the oppressing society around him demands. Reading a passage from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” helps us connect his realization of how the world around him works, and his awareness of a new reality:
Behold! Human beings living in a underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppet.
This boy and all like him live in a white dominated society (the cave), and the white men in the society can be seen as the puppeteers. In his society the black people are chained down in a reality in which the white dominating society imposes certain morals or principles by which the black community needs to act. However unlike the people around him, he is able to break the chains that imprison his mind and see how things really work. He first gets a true sense in what kind of society he lives when he is invited to give his graduation speech at Battle Royal. Battle Royal is a sort of a barbarous boxing mach in which black boys with blindfolds are forced to fight each other for the entertainment of certain town’s men. Our hero is also made to participate in this activity. “I was shocked to see some of the most important men of the town quite tipsy.” he says when he sees who is there, ” They were all there-bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, fire chiefs, teachers, merchants. Even one of the more fashionable pastors.” (450). After the fight, in front of that drunk and perverted crowd of white influential males he is going to present his graduation speech, a speech that address “Social responsibility”(457).
The physical battle that our hero is made to fight in shows us two important issues: First, how the black boys are kept down (socially) by being forced to fight against their own. This tactic of keeping your enemies fighting each other, so you can control them easier has been used numerous times in history. However the horrible things about Battle Royal is that the black boys except it morally, and think that it is alright for them to be treated as animals, some of them even look forward to the fight. The second issue that this battle raises is the mental struggle that our hero needs to overcome. In order for him to be allowed to give his graduation speech, he needs to overcome an obstacle by participating in a dehumanizing activity. This fight is one of the emotional struggles that he needs to conquer, like his grandfather says, “Live with your head in the lion’s mouth overcome’em with yeses, undermine’em with grins, agree’em to death.., let’em swoller you till they vomit or burst wide open” (449) he needs to overcome this physical and mental struggle just so he can be heard giving a speech to people who for now think that he is just a small ant. They even give him a prize, a briefcase and a scholarship to a University.
At the end of the story we finally see how his morality becomes constant with the reality that he lives. The night after the Battle Royal he has a dream. In it he hears his grandfather give him instructions to read a note that is in the briefcase which was given to him as an award. The note read, “To Whom It May Concern, Keep this Nigger-Boy Running”(459) This is the point that he realizes that the nice things that he has been given is not for his benefit, but he is being bout with these gifts. From all this he now knows for a fact that he lives in a society that does not except him as a person, but rather more like an animal that does not disserve any human rights. Because this society is his reality, he now needs to alter his moral ideas so it will compliment his newly realized reality.