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 Overlook on Battle Royale Battle Royal, by Ralph Ellison is a short story about a young African American boy who takes his grandfather’s very last words to heart he uses these words as motivation and presents a speech at his graduation, so great that the superintendent invited him to read it at Battle Royal, after presenting the speech to all the leading white citizens he feels as if he has made his grandfather proud. Once entering the main ballroom where Battle Royale is taking place the young boy denotes that it’s not what he expected, and is then forced to take part in a fight. “There was nothing to do but what we were told.” The young boy and a few others were blind folded and expected to beat up on each other. After a while he was one of the last boys in the ring having to face a vicious black male “Tatlock, the biggest of the gang.” The young boy didn’t care to win the fight he was more focused on delivering his speech. Finally when the fight was over the boys were tricked into grabbing coins, bills and pieces of gold which were intentionally placed on an electric rug shocking everyone who tried grabbing them, but the boys didn’t care.
Ellison describes her as,“ … a magnificent blonde- stark naked.”(2), and with a, “… small American flag tattoo on her belly…”(2) This image coupled with the image of the young black men being,”… rushed to the front of the ballroom…”(2), by the white men, is meant to represent America, and all things about America that African-Americans lusted for. While looking upon the woman, the protagonist describes feeling,” …a wave of irrational guilt and fear… My teeth chattered, my skin turned goose flesh… I looked in spite of myself… had the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked.”(Ellison 2) This would have been a rational feeling for a black man in the 1950’s. Battle royal was written in 1952,
It is here that they are further humiliated in front of the group when a naked blond begins to dance in front of them causing the white men to begin to threaten the group of boys; some were threats to not look at the girl and some were threats that they have to look at the girl. This causes further confusion for the narrator as well as the other group of boys because not only are the threatened and humiliated publicly they are also placed into a situation in which they have no chance of winning. While the girl was dancing around the boys naked one of the boys actually becomes so humiliated that he faints and another boy begins to cry and plead that he wants to go home. This makes an impression on the narrator because he is still confused on what he should actually do in his current situation. After the spectacle in front of them leaves the boys are led to a ring and told that they would be blindfolded and have to fight each other this is the point that the battle royal is about to begin.
The first character readers meet in the play is the janitor named Baron. Baron is an older man in his eighties who has been working at Malcolm X High School for several decades. He gives a little speech about how different the school has become over the years and how the school is now. He talks about the metal detectors, security guards, and drug sniffing dogs that now guard the entrance to the school (Sun 1970). The purpose of the security guard in the play is to act as the narrator and set the scene for the rest of the play.
In “Battle Royal,” Ellison gives an obscure description of the time and place in which the story is set. He does not candidly tell the setting of the story but instead indirectly gives clues. He presents a sweeping description of almost all characters as “southern white [men]” allowing one to easily presume that the story takes place in the south (Ellison 252). He then allows for the inference that the setting is in a small town because of the main character’s ability to discern all men who attend the Battle Royal. The main character describes them to be the “most important men” in town such as: “bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, fire chiefs, teachers, [and] merchants” (Ellison 243).
“Sonny Blues” written by James baldwin is a story written in 1957 told in first-person singular narrative style. The story begins with the narrator, who reads about his younger brother named Sonny who has been caught in a heroin bust. The narrator then goes about his day However, he cannot get his mind off Sonny. He thinks about all the boys in his class, who don’t have bright futures and are most likely doing drugs, just like Sonny. Throughout the story the unnamed narrator struggles to embrace sonny for who is, its not until the end of the story when the narrator goes to one of Sonny’s Jazz shows, where he fully understands and truly fathoms who Sonny really is as a person and musician.
As the white woman dances in front of the black boys participating in the battle royal (as a result, participating in their public dehumanization), the narrator has a desire for her; however, at the same time wants “to caress and destroy her” (Ellison 249). The white woman symbolizes a forbidden freedom essentially “stripping” the narrator of his decency and innocence. The tattoo on her body is an ironic gesture inserted by Ellison. Ironically, America is presumed to be the place where all men are created equal”; however, the white woman is placed within an environment that refuses to accept equality. Therefore, as the white men taunt the black boys with the white woman, they in turn taunt them with their freedom.
In search of Equality Battle Royal, a short story by Ralph Ellison provides a realistic description of the difficulty of being a black person in a country ruled by white men. The story is written in 1940’s, the post World War II period of uncertainties, all African Americans faced to find out there social standing in a racial society. The story is told from the first person point of view. Narrator, himself tries to find out his social standing in the society lead by white citizens. “All my life I was looking for something, and everywhere that I turned someone tried to tell me what it was.” (Ellison 277) Ellison used different symbols like: stripper, the flag tattoo on the stripper’s belly, the blindfold, and the battle itself to illustrate the black men struggles for equality.