Battle Royal, by Ralph Ellison

Battle Royal, by Ralph Ellison

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Battle Royal

A Mockery on Conformity in ?Battle Royal?

In contemporary America, the blacks have searched for companionship, success, and freedom, both physical and mental. Even after several years of [the] abolition of slavery, the blacks were not able to see [a white=whites] eye-to-eye. They were still [a puppet=puppets] for the white men?s show. During this era, several blacks tried to achieve success and bring themselves up to the level of whites by conforming to their direct or indirect, reasonable or unreasonable, and degrading or respectful commands. [Focus more on the rebellion/conformity aspects and the specifics of the story as you explain the issue.] In this chapter (?Battle Royal?) of [the] novel [?Invisible Man,?=title format] the narrator conforms to all humiliating orders to get a chance to express his views on ?social equality? and ?social responsibility?. Good thesis statement. The first chapter is like the worst nightmare for the narrator who is a young, graduating Negro boy. He timid[ly] and obedient[ly] comes to a white men?s gathering in a Southern town, where he is to be awarded a scholarship. Together with several other Negroes he is rushed to the front of the ballroom, where a [blonde frightens them by dancing in the nude=ambiguous. They are not afraid of her. They are afraid of the white men who demand that they look at her. That could mean beatings or even death for black men in times past]. Blindfolded, the Negro boys stage a "battle royal," a brawl in which they batter each other to the drunken shouts of the whites. After such [a] humiliating and ghastly experience, the terrified boy delivers a prepared speech of gratitude to his white benefactors.

Just Double-Space

Initially, the chapter begins with the narrator?s mind-boggling confusion and his grandfather?s last words. [He=somewhat ambiguous. His grandfather] describes himself as a traitor and wants the narrator and his father to ??overcome ?em with yeses, undermine ?em with grins, agree ?em to death and destruction ?? (2359). The narrator doesn?t quite like this idea. He prefers conformity to revolt, because he thinks that ?? someday they would look upon me as a traitor and I would be lost? (2360).

Because of the narrator's well-received speech at graduation, he is asked to repeat his speech at the gathering, which he [estimates=considers] a great honor.

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With a hope to present his oration to the well-known and most respected whites, he accepts the participation in ?Battle Royal.? Even if he suspects that ?fighting a battle royal might detract from the dignity? (2360) of his speech, just to stick with his initiative, he fights. [You ought to at least mention that he is so driven to be accepted by the whites that he even discriminates against the blacks. He does not respect the other black men; he doesn?t like them; he doesn?t want to be considered like them. Of course, the last point is exactly why the whites have set him up to fight in the battle royal. To show him that no matter how smart he is, if he doesn?t have the ?right? attitude, he will be no different to the whites than the other black men, and he will get nowhere.] Pushed to the front of the hall, he, half-naked, is brought into full view of a naked, blond woman who is expected to dance for the crowd. The far-fetched humiliation of this scene shocks the narrator but he stays. [Document the incident, and explain the connection to conformity here. Wanting to look, but fearing to look. Intimidated by the whites and afraid. No choice.]

During the fight, he endures the punches and poundings from several participants. He also tolerates irritating shouting.
?Kill him? (2364)!
?For me, sonofabitch? (2364)!
?Go to hell? (2364)!

[Put the quotation into clearer context. Who?s doing the shouting and why?]
Like this is not degrading enough, he obeys their commands to pick up coins and bills off an electrified carpet. He still has a hope that he will get his chance to present his speech to proper audience even after suffering electric shocks. [Document the incident.] You really need to mention two important incidents in the battle royal. First that he tries to buy off his final opponent so he can win, and the odd notion that goes right over his own head when he accuses his adversary of wanting to win for the whites. And second, that when he has a chance to win, a shout from the crowd causes him to drop his guard and get dropped himself.

Finally, he is called for his oration and he is introduced as ?the smartest boy? (2367) in the town. All his compliance [to=with] incredible humiliation, death-defying terror, and agonizing pain and his hope, gets him what he wanted. He obeys every order of the whites without giving much consideration to the factor[s] of mockery and pain involved, to introduce them [with=to] the idea of ?social responsibility? (2367) and indirectly ?social equality? (2368), which were scoffed, too, by not paying much attention to his speech and making him repeat several words more than once. Very important point needs to be made above as to the extremes to which the Narrator is willing to go to conform to the whites? expectations. He says ?social equality,? and that?s what he means. When the master of ceremonies comes after him about it, however, he immediately changes the phrase to ?social responsibility,? which is not what he intended. In short, he caves in, hoping to be accepted and rewarded by the whites, and he is. He doesn?t realize yet, that he is only being accepted and rewarded on their terms. Grandpa does in the dream though: that?s what he means by ?Keep this Nigger-boy running!?


Ellison, Ralph. ?Invisible Man.? The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter 5th ed. [Nina Baym, Franklin, Krupat, Murphy, Parker, Gottesman, Holland, Klinkowitz, Pritchard, Wallace, and Kalstone.] New York: W. W. Norton [& Company, Inc.] 1999. 2359-2369.
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