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Racial Stereotypes in “Battle Royal” and “Sonny’s Blues”

When it comes to establishing one’s own identity, “Battle Royal” is concerned with discovering one’s voice. In contrast, “Sonny’s Blues” is concerned with breaking away from one’s preconceived assumptions about gender. Baldwin’s character seeks to “escape” the life that has been planned for him, but Ellison’s character has no idea who he is or what he wants to do with his life. Baldwin focuses his attention on the human experience of suffering. Each character is experiencing some form of difficulty, and they are all attempting to alleviate it in some fashion. In addition to music, Baldwin expresses himself in various other ways, the most notable of which is through poetry. Both novels revolve around a black protagonist who challenges the racial stereotypes that have long surrounded him and achieve success.

Each story revolves around a protagonist who cannot blend in with society due to the color of their skin. Both authors use the notion of racism, but none of them attempts to persuade the reader to root for their respective heroes (Muhammad 68). The authors adhere to realism because it allows them to accurately depict reality as it existed without including the author’s ideas or experiences. A scene from Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man, “Battle Royal,” describes how Native people were utilized as a source of amusement in the fiction. The issue of racism is introduced at the beginning of the novel and continues throughout the book.

For two black boys, adolescence is often their greatest challenge. The late 1950s and Battle Royal took place in the South during the 1930s, and both Sonny and Battle Royal attempted to defy the standards of their time. In the early 1900s was challenging to be a young black guy in the United States. Racism raged in the streets during the 1930s, and a young man’s daily existence was a shadow of his former self. You needed a mindset to keep you safe while also propelling you ahead beyond the enslaved person or master attitude. Battle Royal, a short tale by Ralph Ellison, is a superb example of this kind of daily fight. “I’ll be there in a minute. Leggo!” Elisabeth Ellison (238). One can see from the quotation above that even the way a black person was referred to was nasty, and now you have to know your position as a black person.

While writing, the author’s grandson gives the reader a glimpse into his grandfather’s final moments by telling the reader what he thought of white people as he lay dying on the hospital bed “it’s a good idea too. Our life is a battle, and I’ve been a traitor since I was born” (Ellison 230), “Live with your face in the lion’s maw. I want you to defeat them with yeses, undermine them with grins, and agree with them until they are dead and buried with them.” In the words of Ellison (Catherine 251). This comment implied that the grandpa considered it prudent to be humble and soft-spoken, the rightmost man to a white guy, to succeed in his life. He wanted to show his relatives that he wasn’t just an elderly guy or a quiet idiot but a keen observer of the times. He figured he could take advantage of this ‘positive quality,’ absorbing all the white man’s wisdom and knowledge so that he might pass it on to future generations.

While you’re confined to the inside of the wooden box, imagine that your hands and feet are unrestricted, and there are a few small holes in the lid to enable air to circulate. What degree of autonomy do you enjoy? ‘Black Oppression’ is the subject of two short stories by James Baldwin and a novel by Ralph Ellison. Slavery has been abolished, but the Blacks are still shackled in their minds and bodies, unable to achieve any accurate indication of prosperity without the Whites’ influence. As a result, it was only after reading these historical accounts that I became aware of the chasm in my knowledge. “My grandparents were enslaved, but I’m not embarrassed by them. Just because I was once embarrassed doesn’t make me a wrong person “(Ellison 13).

“Live with your face in the lion’s mouth,” his grandfather once said to him. It’s a sign of distrust that he says things like, “I want you to win by giving them a sincere commitment, and then I’ll win by giving them a yes, and then I’ll win by giving them an underhanded grin, and then I’ll win by agreeing to destruction and death with you.” The narrator decides to surrender to the Whites, and he dedicates his life to earning the Whites’ respect and trust (Movahedi 106). According to the narrator’s narration, he is trying to portray himself as a more polite and welcoming person to improve the perceptions of the Whites. Jazz music is a theme in “Sonny’s Blues” by Baldwin. It’s via jazz that the two brothers can eventually come to terms. One day, when the author hears his brother perform for real, his brother’s path becomes clear to him. “I heard what he had gone through and what he would go through before he was laid to rest in the soil” (Baldwin 47).

To make sure nothing is overlooked, Sonny’s Blue has pushed me into a riskier region where I must pick between my physical and mental liberties. The narrator in “Sonny’s Blue,” like in “Battle Royal,” is more closely connected. Neither narrator pays attention to the suffering of their people, which not only pushes them into criminal activity but also serves as implicit support of the Black Stereotype (Christa 126). However, the criminality in Sunny’s native Harlem has a normative effect. Upon the capture and subsequent release from jail, he is motivated to reroute his life in a positive direction. Music provides him with a way out of the heinous crimes and the pain he has inflicted on others.

This is an example of the many advantages that a white guy has in life that a black man does not. I think this story’s blindfolded fights reflect how racists were toward black people in this era. As far as I can tell, the term “blind hatred” suggests that people initially were so dumb that they were able to detest someone because of their skin tone. ‘Battle Royal,’ in which Ellison alludes to Louis Armstrong’s song ‘What Did I Do To Be So Black And Blue?,’ in the prologue of Invisible Man.” Without understanding who or why they were striking each other, the fighters swung at each other in the ring.

While this is true now, it is a far cry from how it was in white American culture at the time since they didn’t know black people, and they hurled abuse at the entire race without ever getting to know each member of the group. The money rug was another significant symbol in the novel that I felt was essential to the plot. The only ruse is that the money was electric, so these young men could earn money just by removing them from the carpeting. They felt an electric charge every time one of them lay their hands on either a piece of money. In my opinion, this demonstrates how difficult it is for African-Americans to make a living. They could earn a lot of money in the United States, and they’d have to put up with a lot of hardship and discrimination to do it. Every time a black individual had an opportunity.


Abu-Raiya, Muhammad. “Sonny’s Blues” Through Time: An Investigation into African-American Racial Identity and the Effects of Racism. Diss. University of Haifa (Israel), 2018.

Calloway, Catherine. “Fiction: The 1930s to the 1960s.” American Literary Scholarship 2018.1 (2018): 237-265.

Movahedi, Mohammad Hadi. “A Psychoanalytic Criticism of Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royal.”

Tischendorf, Christa. “Systemic Racism: Reading Ralph Ellison with Bourdieu’s Theory of Power.” Reading the Social in American Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2022. 105-130.


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