The main character featured in Ralph Ellison’s short story Battle Royal serves as a satisfying example of an unintentional initiation process. Ellison’s story takes place in terminally racist southern America somewhere around the mid 20th century where we are presented with an freshly graduated anonymous black male who is our narrator. The author reveals to us in his story that this young black male is both naive and limited even after his cruel initiation into a world of racism.
The youth in this story was recognized for his oral talent of delivering speeches. A honorary expectation was bestowed upon him in the form of a request to deliver a speech to an assembly comprised of the town’s “leading white citizens” (Meyer 209). The narrator seemed certain that he would arrive at the specified location and just simply deliver his speech. However, the unsuspecting young man found himself being pulled rapidly into a cruel initiation instigated according to the color of his skin.
The initiation started shortly after he arrived to the town gathering. He was informed that he was to join several of his peers in the battle royal, as it was considered part of the entertainment for the evening. It happened to be scheduled to take place before the deliverance of his speech. The author shows us that the narrator becomes uneasy with this unsuspected violent addition to his itinerary. “…I suspected that fighting in a battle royal might distract from the dignity of my speech” (Meyer 210). Despite having this thought, the youth goes along and participates in the fight. Perhaps Ellison is trying to say that his character’s decision making abilities are still limited due to either a lack of experience or knowledge or both.
One man distinctively shouts at the beginning of the fight. “Let me get at that nigger!” (Meyer 212). The struggling narrator responds immediately in his thoughts. “I strained to pick up the school superintendent’s voice, as though to squeeze some...