Battle Royal By Ellison “Battle Royal,” by Ralph Ellison was a very difficult piece of literature for me to understand. As a little background information, Ellison was very much into music (228). He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on March 1, 1914 (221). Different themes are presented throughout this short story, which reflect different views that Ellison had at the time that he wrote this essay. One boy is invited to speak at local mens club where he will deliver his graduation speech.
As I go on, I will discuss the nature of the short story and how it affected me. The narrators view of this entire situation at the mens club is kind of humiliating which will later set the stage for events that will happen in his future. Black people are viewed different in this time period and the narrator does not understand near the end of the story. The narrator looks up to his grandfather. He told the narrators father to keep up the fight.
The father then tells the narrator what the grandfather told him. This was just being passed down through the different generations. This to me shows the loving relationship that the grandson and the grandfather share. Near the end of the story however, his grandfathers presence scares him to death. The grandfathers advice was a little too much for the narrator to handle.
“Live with your head in the lions mouth..overcome them with yeses..let em swoller you till they vomit.” This scares the boy. These last words that his grandfather tells him makes him feel like that there is a curse hovering over him. The family being black had a harder time growing up than the more wealthy white folks did. He wrote a graduation speech that totally went against his grandfathers words that he gave the narrator. The towns “leading white people” loved the speech and asked him to deliver it at a local hotel in the ballroom. This starts a “revolution” in the narrators life. The people at the hotel make the narrator feel very uncomfortable.
This group of “towns officials” turned out to be the local mens club. They were smoking and drinking, paying no attention to what the guests have to say. The leaders of the club are more interested in the entertainment. At that time, they could have cared less what the narrator had to say. They had a woman to come out and”entertain” them.
I feel that this is ironic because this showed how the male portion of the society reacted to certain forms of entertainment. While their wives were probably at home tending the children, these men at this club were killing all the dignity and respect that the narrator had at that time. Generally around the 1950s men would sit around old barbershops and tell their”big tales” about how they caught the biggest one yet. Women had their bridge club and also their garden club that kept them busy throughout the day. This was a way for many men to relax after a hard day at work. According to Mack Warren, a local barber in my hometown, he states that “tellin tales was more than just a hobby for many men back in the 50s, it was a way for them to get away from the stresses of everyday life.” The pride in them (the people of that era) helped determine the way of the country today. It helped determine the way their children and grandchildren live today.
The narrator being black had a hard time realizing what the people there were doing. He was being mocked without him even knowing it. Being black in this time period was very difficult for the narrator because he wasnt looked upon as much as the white people his same age. This was not the case for some other men. Of course some had to be perverse in some way or fashion.
They got their pleasure from scenes such as the woman dancer in “Battle Royal.” The men at the “smoker” enjoy this form of entertainment with their drinks and cigars. The narrator has to sit through all of this. I think that this scene humiliates the author. He is being subjected to things beyond his control and things he had no choice to see. This was a cheap and humiliating form of entertainment. The dancing woman was not the only form of entertainment that night.
All the “guests” invited to this event had to be used as a form of entertainment also. Each of them were”stripped” of their dignity by being blindfolded. They (the guests) did not know if they were about to be hit or slapped. They had no idea what was going to happen to them. Punching and fighting commenced and blood was shed.
The narrator got a blow to the eye. It became swollen. People were hurt and crying. The men at the club could do no more to totally bash the dignity and pride that the guests had built up all their life. I think that this episode represents part of what the grandfather had to say on his deathbed.
He was basically letting other men control what he did. This makes the narrator realize that what he had in his heart was now gone and that his grandfather was right all along. He knew that this is not what he believed in. The white men were using the black teenagers as a form of entertainment. This was wrong.
After the beatings, the “men” threw money in the center of the floor and made the guests fight for it. Whoever got it first got to keep it. This type of “dog fight” was another humiliating factor for the narrator. Everyone fought for himself. After all of this humiliation, the narrator finally got to recite his graduation speech. The crowd was still laughing at him and all the others that had been brutally beaten.
He gave his well-written speech with some quivering in his voice. The crowd actually began to listen to him while he delivered his speech. They started to listen when he said responsible. After the speech was over, the man over the”mens club” came up and praised him. To me, this was very ironic because why would they do that to someone and then praise him for a job well done? I am thinking that maybe they did this just to test his patience and pride.
It paid off because one of the white men gave him a brief case with a document inside of it. The document was a scholarship to the State College for Negroes. The narrator was ecstatic. He then had a dream that night. He dreamed about what his grandfather had said earlier.
He awoke with laughing in his ear. He had no idea what it meant at that time. This incident with the beating made him realize that he can stand up for himself and other people in turn making him a better person for society. He felt some better because he proved them wrong. Black men in that time period can make a difference and the narrator was out to prove it.