Blind Is As Invisible Does A Man

Blind Is As Invisible Does, A Man Dealing With His Perceptions Of Himself Based On The Perceptions Of The Society Around Him In Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royal Essay, Research Paper

Blind Is As Invisible Does, A Man Dealing With His Perceptions Of Himself Based On The Perceptions Of The Society Around Him In Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royal Essay, Research Paper

Blind Is as Invisible Does, A man dealing with his perceptions of himself based on the perceptions of the society around him in Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal”

“Battle Royal”, an excerpt from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, is far more than a commentary on the racial issues faced in society at that time. It is an example of African-American literature that addresses not only the social impacts of racism, but the psychological components as well. The narrator (IM) is thrust from living according to the perceptions of who he believes himself to be to trying to survive in a realm where he isn’t supposed to exist, much less thrive. The invisibility of a mass of people in a society fed the derivation of IM’s accepted, willed, blindness. The reader must determine the source of what makes IM invisible. Is part of IM’s invisibility due to his self-image or surrender to the dominant voice in the United States? The answer lies in whether or not the blindness and the invisibility were voluntary or compulsory.

The relationship between IM’s blindness and his invisibility are not due solely to the color of his skin. There is a level of invisibility that does directly result from the prejudice of the white men. The white community is unwilling to look beyond their stereotypes of the role and place of black men. The school superintendent that had requested IM’s appearance at the ballroom to give his speech was also the same man that brought the black men into the ballroom with the words, “Bring up the shines, gentlemen! Bring of the little shines!” (1527). A few days earlier IM had given a valedictorian speech that ” . . . was a great success. Everyone praised [him] and. . . . It was a triumph for [his] whole community” (1526). In the environment of the smoker though, he was just another “shine”, nothing worth any notation of any kind. However, IM is blind to this. He does not seem aware of his invisibility at that moment; his focus lies in the presentation of his speech. He is oblivious to the blindness of the white men in regards to him, but it is not only the white characters that refuse to see IM as IM sees himself.

IM is fully aware of the animosity of the men scheduled to fight in the battle royal. The tension is tangible. “They were tough guys . . .. [that] didn’t care too much for [IM]” (1526). IM is at the hotel to give a speech to the town’s top white citizens. That was his sole purpose for being there. He is roped into participating in the battle royal. This is where some of the tension between the nine other men in the battle and IM lies. The fact that he is fighting in “their” battle means that someone else cannot participate and therefore will not be paid. IM contributes to the strain by thinking to himself that “[he] felt superior to them in [his] way, and [he] did not like the manner in which [they] were all crowded together into the servants’ elevator” (1526). He is so focused on disliking the black men that he is forced to stand with he fails to see his roll in the evening.

IM is forced to participate in a battle before he is permitted to speak. And in order to fight he has to be lifted up to where the white men are in a “servants’ elevator.” He sees himself as better than he sees the other men fighting in the battle because he is educated and they are brutes. He does not see that to the men upstairs they are all the same, indistinguishable one from another. The black men in the elevator do not see IM as an educated man, they see him as five dollars less in their friend’s pocket. The black men see IM as an unwanted member of their group. IM ignores this, turns a blind eye to it, because he has no desire to be a part of the same world as those men. The white men see IM as just another black man. IM is blind to this as well because he cannot accept it. It is not until he enters the ballroom that he is forced to glimpse at his place in reality.

The young men exit the elevator and look up to see a young white nude dancer gyrating around the room. “Some [of the white men] threatened [IM and the other black men] if [they] looked and others if [they] did not” (1527). IM is catapulted into facing what he has allowed himself to not see. The beautiful, naked, blonde stripper, stamped with the symbol of America, is the embodiment of everything IM does not have and can never hope to obtain. It does not matter that he does not see his own community because his focus is on success in white society. It does not matter that he is young, handsome and intelligent. He is a black man. He cannot even look at what he cannot have without fearing for his life.

It is not only the image of a white woman that he cannot have; it is everything the woman is in white society. She is the national treasure, the mother of the future; she is wealth, status, power and freedom. Her hair is gold, wealth. Her place in center stage is status and power. Her nakedness is freedom. The woman herself is not truly free, but this is invisible to IM. He only sees “that in all the room she saw only [him] with her impersonal eyes” (1527). He does not seem to focus on the impersonal aspect of her eyes. He only sees that she is looking at him. He cannot see that she does not see him. He does not see that the dancer’s personhood is invisible to everyone watching her. The dancer’s person is as invisible to IM as IM is to the dancer. He sees a white stripper; the world sees a white stripper. He looks in the mirror and sees a young man with a bright future; the world sees a “shine”. He does not apply his rules of perception to himself.

IM feels invisible to the white men around him. He does not understand that many truths are invisible to him. In the midst of the dancing and then being forced into the ring, IM remains focused on his idea of what his purpose at the smoker is. He remains concerned about how his speech will be received by the men whose acceptance he is so eagerly pursuing. The scene inside the ballroom, the battle royal, portrays ten black men fighting each other for the entertainment of whites. The scene has not been created to emphasize the schism between two societies, the great white populace and the bestial blacks. It is the battles between the men in the ring that the readers notice. “Everyone fought hysterically. It was complete anarchy. Everyone fought everybody else” (1529). IM as the narrator makes note of the fighting among the men. IM in the ring continues worrying about his speech. He thinks about his speech and allows himself to be blindfolded with “broad bands of white cloth” (1528).

With little hesitation, IM allows himself to be blinded and pushed into battle. IM has accepted the act of covering his identity. With the blindfold on his facial features are obscured. In a mass of ten men swinging and fighting, there is no individuality because there is no way to discern one man from another. The men are reduced to animalistic behavior, striking out instinctively for self-preservation. The white rags on their faces nulled any idea of superiority. “Blindfolded, [he] could no longer control [his] motions. {He] had no dignity” (1529). IM is hit several times, and has even fallen to the ground. He is forced back to his feet and pushed back into battle. He has lost his dignity and has been beaten down. It is only now that he is allowed, by providence, to see. Possibly for the first time in this excerpt, IM sees the battle royal for what it is. He recognizes that it is not about ten men fighting it out in a ring. It is not even about ten men, stripped of their manhood, stripped of their dignity, forced to fight for the pleasure of whites. He sees that the battle royal is ten black men fighting one another and the pleasure the whites derive from it.

The men in the ring fought one against the other, “No group fought together for long. Two, three, four fought one, then turned to fight each other . . . ” (1529). Like crabs in a barrel, no one was allowed to escape the barrage of fists. The men reached out blindly, striking whatever was close enough to hit. For five dollars, the men allowed themselves to be subjected to blindness and humiliation. Blacks were turned against blacks in striving for a few extra dollars. IM is witness to all of this and subject to it at the same time. He dodges blows and connects some himself, but also allows himself to be pummeled in order to maintain his ability to see. For a moment he has realized that there is a price to seeing, in this case, the price is blood. The men around him are still blind. They still fight viciously among themselves. The white men watching do not see that IM can see. They don’t notice his advantage because he is able to grasp that being invisible isn’t necessarily negative if it means he isn’t going to get so badly beaten he can’t make his speech.

IM’s intentions for the night never changed. The battle ends and the blindfolds are removed. IM’s memories from the ring are pushed aside by his ultimate goal, making his beloved speech. When he is allowed to see again he cannot see any more than he could while the blindfold covered both of his eyes. He never saw the connection between the stripper, the battle royal and his speech all taking place in the same arena. He believed he was perpetuating himself as the pinnacle of being a good black man. He presents his speech on the benefits of humility in the black race. Instead of receiving the acceptance that he had been counting on all night, he is subjected to the humility that he has been such a proponent of. The reaction of the white society was to view the speech as a game, entertainment. “Whenever [he] uttered a word of three or more syllables a group of voices would yell for [him] to repeat it” (1533). He was so involved in the presentation of his speech he did not see that “the men were still talking and laughing . . . as though deaf with cotton in dirty ears” (1533). IM was in the center of the room, presenting the ideas that got him invited to the smoker in the first place and no one in the room could see him. He was in the center of the room sharing the words he prided himself on and he could not see that no one was listening. Like a trained monkey with a hat he did not care if anyone tipped him or not, the show went on until the music stopped.

IM is rewarded for his well-put words, his slip of the tongue forgiven and excused. They told him, “We mean to do right by you, but you’ve got to know your place at all times” (1534). In glorious and feigned appreciation, the townsmen provide the opportunity of a lifetime to the grateful boy. They will provide the vehicle for him to grow up with all of the knowledge it takes to be a socially responsible black man. IM does not recognize the paid tuition as a payoff for keeping his place. Instead, he is “so moved he could hardly express [his] thanks” (1534). Even as his blood traces a trail across his treasured gift, he does not see the price he is expected to pay. He can have the world of a black man laid at his feet, he just has to make sure he doesn’t get in the way of real men, of white men.

IM’s complains that feeling invisible makes him “ache with the need to convince [himself] that [he does] exist in the real world, that [he is] a part of all the sound and anguish” (1518). He is blinded by his view of the world. Yes, the people in the white society are oblivious to his existence. His presence in their world would be a threat to their concept of a black man. However, the entire world is invisible to IM. He is blinded by the perfections and imperfections of the societies that surround him. IM can only see what he believes the world to be, and the world can only see what IM probably is.