Jung In Grace Suh
STACC English 100
Formal Essay 2: Literary Analysis
18 November 2014
Battle Royal: the speech and humanity
The short story “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison takes place in southern parts of the United States after the civil war. Since the freed men had to build up their community from scratch, the narrator, as a member of the black community, also attempt to improve his environment. Based on his idea, the key to the change is the education. Therefore, he imagines himself as an educator like Booker T. Washington, and he makes a speech that points out the importance of humanity at his graduation. Because of the success of the speech, he was invited to give a speech in front of the town's leading white people (242). The place where he was invited is the main ballroom of the leading hotel. However, soon he discovers that it was on the occasion of a smoker rather than audience of a speech and also told to enter the battle royal (242). In the story, the narrator’s only concern before the battle royal is the dignity of his speech (243) rather than the battle royal event itself. Also, during the battle, he constantly worries about the speech that he will soon make. Based on the story, the narrator constantly mentions the speech because it is important key to his life that might change his future. However, the speech is not only important to the narrator. It also plays important role for the readers to understand the narrator and his community and describes the narrator’s environment.
According to the words of critic Wilfred, the story focuses on the brutality of the slavery even though the slavery is officially ended eighty-five years ago in the story. Based on United States history, the slavery existed since the colonial era. Although economy of northern states of the United States began to rely on industrial products after the Industrial Revolution, southern states were highly depend on agricultural products that requires labor force. Therefore, planation owners chose to purchase slaves that were considered the property of the owners. However, the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, and the United States constitution granted the freed men also rights like they have. Because of this historical background and the setting, the story illustrates the southern white people dehumanizing the black people and displays traces of slavery. For example, in page 242, the narrator describes that he is considered an example of desirable conduct who does not do something that is against the wishes of the white people. In other words, the narrator follows the word of the town’s white citizen’s like past slaves do, and it is consider a right action. Also, as critic Wilfred described, the elevator scene in page 243 symbolizes the Middle Passage that their ancestors suffered in the past. Due to the deep root of the slavery, the core of slavery remains in the story in form of racism, and the root also caused the narrator entered the event called battle royal.
Based on the description in the story, the event battle royal is the main site of dehumanization. The southern whites dehumanizes the narrator and the black people by treating as an animal. Also, the journal by critic Norman German states that the story presents imagery of animals to describe the black people. For example, in page 244, when blond naked woman appeared, the narrator describes that his skin turns into ‘goose’ flesh. Also, in page 247, he describes the blacks who entered the battle royal as “cautious carbs crouching to protect their mid-sections” and “[their fists test] like the knobbed feelers of hypersensitive snails”. In addition, the description of battle royal shows animalization. Even though some of today’s sports that are related to martial arts involve fighting, the battle royal is different from the sports. Based on the description in the book, the battle royal is lack of sportsmanship which includes fairness, respect, and enjoyment. For example, in the story, the narrator describes that the battle royal does not have neither bell nor rounds (242), and the young men wear blindfold during the battle (245). Plus, over the course of the event, the townsmen constantly yelled at the young men in the ring. The examples represents the unfairness of battle royal and lack of respect to the athletes. Also, the description of the scene of battle royal certainly demonstrates the young men suffering from the event.
Even though many young men, including the narrator, suffer, as time passes, the narrator focuses on the speech rather than the fight. Based on Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of word speech is "A spoken expression of ideas, opinions, etc., that is made by someone who is speaking in front of group of people." Speech can only made from humans because on the planet Earth, only human can speak, have opinions or idea, and consider as a person. The narrator of the story emphasizes his speech when his life was threatened by the fighters in the battle royal (247), and he even choose not to win the battle because of the speech (248). Even though it is a fact that the whites treated the blacks, including the narrator, as animals, the narrator focuses on the speech rather than the fight. The narrator expressed his identity as a human being by focusing on the speech. He wants to be accepted as a human being. Therefore, he worried about the dignity of the speech and not win the battle. Even though the whites dehumanized him, he choose to resist his instincts to win the battle because his desire to be recognized as human is stronger than the instinct.
Because of the desire, his speech focuses on being a friend, which is a mutual relationship. From page 251 to 252, the narrator uses the story of the sailors who get lost in the middle of sea to explain importance of friends who reach hands to others. The sailors in the story get lost for many days, and when a vessel comes to help them, they first ask for water over other items. Therefore, he emphasizes "Social responsibility"(252) and becoming a friends with neighbor white men (252). However, the audience does not paid attention to the speech. Instead, they laughed at him and make fun of him by asking him to repeat himself (252).
In the story that he used in the speech, the sailors are lost in the middle of the sea and they are extremely thirsty. The sailors do not drink the water that surrounds them because they knew that the sea water will make them more thirst. Because it was sea water, which contains salt, it will lead them to die of thirst rather than reduce the pain. The sailors need fresh water that will give them energy to find hope. Similarly, the black community needed opportunities and support that will provide them new life. The story of sailors corresponded with the story of the community of black. However, while the sailors wait until the vessel with the fresh water came, the narrator reaches hands to the southern whites who are most likely to harm him rather than support him. Based on the article named “Abolitionist Movement” on the website called History Net, the abolitionist movement, an movement that attempted to end slavery, started in the early colonial era in the northern part of the United States. While the southern part of the United States strongly believed in slavery, many northern states worked toward the abolition of slavery. The abolitionist movement is the evidence of the fresh water that will provides chance to change the black people’s lives, and it helped the black people to be freed. Also, the abolitionist movement shows that the white people who can truly help them exist even in the early colonial days. However, the narrator made an unwise decision which is reaching hands to the southern whites. Although the narrator reaches his hands to the southern white people, like salt water can be diluted by fresh water, the narrator can find someone to truly can help him and provide a turning point in his life.
In the short story, the narrator’s speech mainly talks about the humanity, and it provides some questions that ask about the human quality and the relationship of humans: What is differentiating human and the beast? How do you define a good relationship? And how do you determine the good relationship? The narrator struggles to find the answer to the questions. He grabbed the idea of speech, which differentiating animals and humans, while others are fight like beasts and reaches hands to have a good relationship even though the relationship was not the right relationship. However, the racism, replaced form of slavery, drags him back. Based on the Declaration of Independence, all men, human kind, are created equal, and it is answer to the questions that are provided by the narrator’s speech. Even though every human being is differing from another, each of them is unique and has strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, humans coexist.
German, Norman. "Imagery in the `Battle Royal' Chapter of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.". CLA Journal .June (1988): 394-99. Gale Literary Databases. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
The journal focuses on the imagery as an animal in the short story Battle Royal. The critic stated that the white men treated the black, who were involved in the battle royal, and the naked woman, who appeared before the actual event took place, as animals. Also the critic mentioned that by treating them as animal, the white men also can be represented as animals. One of the example was the words that described the blacks and the woman. it was usually a type of an animal or a member of a circus. Also the critic stated the color black and white represents the racial problems, the color blue and gray represents the civil war, and the color gold and brass foreshadows the appearance and the reality.
Because I am mainly focus on the fact that the white men treated the black as animal, the journal agrees with my argument, and it also provides more evidence that the whites dehumanized the blacks. On his argument about the colors, especially gold and brass, he mentioned that the narrator was controlled by the whites even though it seems like he done it by himself. It supports the idea of being a pet of white people.
"Abolitionist Movement." History Net: Where History Comes Alive. Weider History, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
The article describes brief history of abolitionist movement from colonial era to civil war. With women's rights movement, the anti slavery movement grew among the northern state citizens. During mid-19th century, the abolition movement grew enough to influence politics, so it became an hot potato of the era. Also, It states that during colonial era, some colonies were uncomfortable about the slavery. Therefore, some northern colonies started the banned importation of slaves since 18th century. On the other hand, some southerners who had negative thoughts about slavery changed their thought about the slavery.
Since another argument of mine deals with the idea of right 'water', it supports that there was the 'water' that would provide another life. Even though he was surrounded by the 'sea water': the southerner, there was a vessel that contained 'fresh water': the abolitionist. the articles states that there was people who believed the statement "all men are created equal". Which means that if the narrator reached to the right place for the 'water', he would be saved.
"Cockfighting." ASPCA. ASPCA, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
"Dog Fighting FAQ : Are There Different Levels of Dog Fighting". ASPCA. ASPCA, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
The articles describes and provides information about the animal fight. It describes the training and the reactions of the human. Also, based on the articles, the fighting takes place because of money, drug and for entertainment of humans. The people who involved in the fight use various methods to make the animal stronger. They usually bread the animals to obtain strongest, and they provide special food, blunt force trauma, and even use guns. Even though the fighting is illegal, it takes place in behind even the present days.
Because it provides information about the animal fights, I can use it to compare with the battle royal that described on the story. Since one of my point of the essay is that the whites treated the blacks as animals, I can prove the ides by providing how the animals treated by the human and compare the description of the animal fighting event with the battle royal.