Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royal is a tense narrative that depicts traces of slavery, racial segregation, and criminal activities among African American ethnicity. Invisible Man’s first chapter of the narrative bases its theme on fear and anguish. It begins with a gang of African American boys obligated to do harmful things. The novel is so powerful since it is spoken in monologue throughout the story, and it begins with his grandfather providing him with advice. It was up to the narrator to either follow or rebel against his heeds. Battle Royale depicts several themes that make up the thesis of the short story and achieves climactic twists throughout the narrative. Therefore, analysis of the narrative exploits the idea on racial exploitation, evidenced by several occurrences, such as a drunk and naked White lady dancer who comes out to sing and dance.
Racial exploitation begins when the author’s grandfather instructs him to heed the white man’s orders. Ellison’s narrative is deeply rooted in authority and power. Therefore, there are many sets whereby the narrator had no choice in what he was about to do. Racism is illustrated when the White men forced the African American boys to engage in duels while blindfolded, not given an alternative to choose their own path of action. The narrator was strained into reciprocating or rather face physical abuse from the White men. The narrator says, “As we tried to depart, we were barred from going and ordered to enter the ring. All ten of us climbed into the ring and were allowed to be blindfolded with bands of white clothes” (Ellison 4). The scenario gave the narrator no choice or face murder by the different ethnic groups. The narrator remembers his grandfather’s advice that he would want him to overcome such obstacles with yeses. Ellison initiates a plot twist that is ironic, meaning that despite the difficulties the Blacks underwent, they had to cushion it with acceptance.
Ellison depicts racial exploitation in two ways when a blonde naked woman enters the ring. The symbolism begins to take hold upon the arrival of a gorgeous blonde who is nude, and the narrator senses “a burst of freezing air.” The nade lady stands disclosed to everyone in participation, including the wrestlers. First and foremost, the naked blonde makes the narrator represents shame and personal antipathy following the dastardly of his grandfather’s footsteps. He masks denial from such incidences and later denies his culpability: “I felt the need to spit on her as my eyes wadded over her entire naked body” (Ellison 12–15). It shows how Ellison uses the narrator to display guilt and, at the same time, the racial exploitation that goes on at that point. At this point, the narrator’s guilt is similar to the White men since he doesn’t leave the room nor cover his eyes but enjoys the view as the other men.
Moreover, Ralph Ellison depicts racial exploitation through the blonde lady who faces struggle and despair. Akin to the author’s endeavour, women were prepensed as secondary beings in a man’s realm. It is clear that she is present for the white’s hilarity and pleasure, and she is caught between struggle and oppression. The predicament of this young woman is linked and identical to Blacks in the United States of America. Ellison proves that the woman is there against her own will: “…the dancer moves over and over with a severed expression in her body language and face” (Ellison 18). Moreover, the men who are there pull her in every direction without retaliating since she fears being physically abused. However, a humanitarian helped her liberate in the process. It is vivid that the event captured a time in history when Blacks and women in America had no control over their personal, financial, and emotional routes; they were held at the vagary of rich white men.
The ring also depicts a special kind of exploitation and a metaphorical symbol of white dominance. The common notion is that those fortified in power work extra hard to remain in it and reduce the chances of other individuals to command balance back in their favour. The allegory in this short story brings nostalgic memories of the brutality the blacks faced even after an act was passed to abolish slavery. Therefore, they had to work in a white man’s realm to survive, and in this case, they had to fight each other to eat. In the ring, the black men had to submit to the white man’s orders, and the narrator says, “There was nothing we could do, but perform everything we are told” (Ellison). Moreover, the blindfold for the black represented the gap that exists between these two populations in the royale. The narrator is blinded and given limited options to choose from for his escape, which exhibits the power and control white men had over the black.
Last but not least, the black men were in the royale to fight for their dignity and survival, and the white men came in attendance for pleasure. Ellison shows how the system is corrupt and favours the wealthy white men who come in attendance. Even though the fighter who wins is given a prize for his achievement, the onlookers benefit more. This situation reveals the social and economic status of the “haves” and the “have-nots” in a country where slavery and racial exploitation were banned in the early 19th century. Upon the end of slavery in U.S. history, it was evident how the white men moved into upper ranks while the Blacks remained in powerless contingency. Ellison represents the system in the ‘Battle Royal’ ring with attendees who profit more than those doing the actual work. Therefore, it is an unfortunate state of how racial exploitation has been rooted in the minds of some wealthy white men and has countermeasures to initiate the balance.
In conclusion, Battle Royal ends in a speech where the narrator feels his grandfather’s commend still permeates him. The story is told in a foreshadowing effect, whereby the narrator hopes his voice might help find a lead to counter the existing conditions for all enslaved by the fraudulent system. The short story is timeless that can be retold severally. However, the obstacles and the exploitation the Blacks face in the United States of America have lingered into present-day history. The display of Battle Royal depicts a creepy feeling of how Blacks are celebrated but reminds us of the progress yet to be made. Racial exploitation is a disease that should be eradicated from the face of the earth.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Penguin Books, 2014.
“LitCharts.” LitCharts, https://www.litcharts.com/lit/invisible-man/chapter-1. Accessed 22 Apr. 2022.