Fall "I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice." — Andre Dubus
Ralph Waldo Ellison (named for Ralph Waldo Emerson) was born in Oklahoma and educated at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. There, Ellison studied music. Influenced by poet Langston Hughes, Ellison joined the Federal Writers project and became an editor for the Negro Quarterly. Ellison received a reputation as a writer with the publishing of his novel Invisible Man. He had earlier read the works of Ernest Hemingway, George Bernard Shaw, and T.S. Eliot, which impressed him deeply. He has also published a few essays and short
short stories. While not the most prolific author, Ellison is important because he wrote about race relations in the context of universal human concerns. Written as a short story in 1947, “Battle Royal” became the first chapter of Invisible Man.
Battle Royal (1947)
In Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal,” the narrator is thinking back to before he knew he was an “invisible man,” meaning the freed slaves of the past.
He recalls when his grandfather was on his deathbed, speaking with the narrator’s father about the guilt and shame he has from being a traitor to his race. He urged the narrator’s father to kill the white man with kindness, and the advice has followed the family all the way down to the meek narrator.
After his grandfather died, the narrator was invited to give his graduation speech at a meeting of his small Southern town’s upper-class white people. The speech was similar to his grandfather’s advice, urging his race to advance through humility and submission. Such a suggestion gained him popularity with the white community, leading to his invitation to their meeting.
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When he arrived, he was “persuaded” (he really had no choice) to take place in a fight for the entertainment of the drunk crowd. Before the fight, a naked, blonde, white woman dances around them with an American flag painted on her stomach. Some of the boys are hesitant to look, which raises the ire of the crowd. He was then blindfolded and forced to fight nine of his blindfolded classmates—all of them black—until there were only two standing.
The narrator makes it to the final two, but after trying to bribe the other guy in the fight just so he can give his speech, he loses. As payment, all the contestants are led to a rug with bills and coins. They jump on the rug, which is electrified, while trying to get their payment. After everything is all over, the narrator asks to give his speech.
The narrator delivers his speech, swallowing blood the entire time. The crowd laughs and ignores him throughout the speech, only pausing to criticize him when he mentions equality. After his speech on humility, he was presented with a calfskin briefcase. Inside was a scholarship to the local Negro college. he story ends with a framing device that has the narrator dreaming that he is at the circus with his grandfather, who refuses to laugh at the clowns. When his grandfather tells him to open the briefcase and read the letter in the envelope, the narrator finds another envelope. In the last envelope, there is a document that just says, “To Whom It May Concern: Keep This Nigger-Boy Running.” The last scene of the novel is the narrator waking up to the sound of his grandfather laughing.
"The step from the spirituality of the spirituals to that of the Beethoven of the symphonies or the Bach of the chorales is not as vast as it seems". – Ralph Waldo Ellison
Narrator 6. MC
Grandfather 7. Superintendent
9 Fighters (Including Tatlock) 8. Crows
The setting of Battle Royal is based more on the time period than the location itself. It takes place in the 1940s when segregation and discrimination was alive and well in society. The bulk of the story takes place in the town’s hotel, with the fight taking place in the main ballroom. The characters itself are able to adapt and become a setting as well. This is solely because the protagonist behaves differently throughout the course of the novel. He acts one way around the other fighters, the crowd, the MC, or the crowd as a speaker. Ralph Ellison does an excellent job or making the reader discern the true setting even when it all appears to be in the same place.
Identity and individuality of the Black American
The impact of segregation in the 1940’s
The achievement of one boy who works hard to achieve his goal (A College Education)
“And all the while the blonde continued dancing, smiling faintly at the big shots who watched her with fascination, and faintly smiling at our fear.”
“Blindfolded, I could no longer control my motions. I had no dignity. I stumbled about like a baby or a drunken man”
“Uppercut! Kill him! Kill that big boy!”
“That night I dreamed I was at a circus with him and that he refused to laugh at the clowns no matter what they did.”
Please answer 2 out of the following 5 questions:
What is the significance of the first person narration in Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal”?
Examine the references to the “magnificent blonde” in the story. What animal imagery is used in her portrayal? What does she mean to the white audience? What does she mean to the black boys taking part in the battle royal? How do the black boys react to her and why?
Why do you think there is always an emphasis on “blindness” in the story? Provide examples.
What is the symbolic value of the battle royal?
Examine the theme of “American Dream” in the story.
“He was making it with my wife” page 95 “I should kill him.” page 89