There is quite a large number of works on racism in the USA in American literature. “The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison is probably one of the most famous novels on this topic. The “Battle Royal” chapter in the novel brings rather controversial reactions and thoughts, due to its being a blend of relief for the main character, the shame for the abusive white society, and the pain for the very existence of racism, blackening the image of America during the whole history of the country.
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The main character of the novel lives keeping in mind the words of his passed grandfather. Before dying he tells him to live on the verge, but win the sympathy and a certain kind of name in the white society by all possible means, as he is an African American. In the “Battle Royal” part we see the character struggling for the ability to say a word on the education for the Afro-Americans. The white society invents a very abusive and cruel kind of entertainment: they let the main character say his words only after winning the blindfolded fighting battle with other Afro-American young men. They promise the winner the scholarship at the University, and the young men have to fight for their aims and ideas. As a result, the character wins. He pronounces his motivational speech and gets the desired scholarship, for he believes that education is the only thing, which can make him be as respected as the rest of the white society. But the scholarship he gets is the irony and cruelty of the white people, as it gives him an opportunity to study at the University for the African Americas only (Ellison 35-60).
How did you react when the narrator received the scholarship? Did it make you feel any differently toward the town leaders?
The first emotion one can feel the moment he reads about winning the scholarship, is shame. It is rather shameful and disgusting to know that people can be so cruel for those, who are different only by their skin color. One has to feel the relief and admiration of a strong personality, which lets the main character go to his aim and win at last, but the relief does not come. On the contrary, the emotions are quite painful: we understand that he cannot win in the white society, and at the very beginning of the Battle Royal, he lost knowing nothing about it. There is also much sympathy and pity for such a plot twist, just because it is obvious that the main character has no ways to win at all, even struggling harder, for the society belongs to white people, and only they can establish its cruel rules.
What is the symbolism of “The Battle Royal,” Explain.
The novel is symbolic itself, but rather a large number of symbols can be observed exactly in the “Battle Royal” chapter. Among the strongest symbols, one could, probably mention the very notion of a blindfolded fight. Both parties are blindfolded in the American racist society under discussion: the white people are blindly hateful for others, whose only fault is looking another way; the African Americans are blind in their struggle for respect and equality, as they do not see how this discrimination can be avoided. Seemingly, the blind fight itself is also a symbol of following a dream of one’s life and doing everything, even if it contradicts the natural and human laws. It is also noteworthy, that the nameless status of the main character and other African Americans in the whole novel speaks much for the disrespect they have to endure in the racist society. And, of course, the scholarship the character gets is both the symbol and the disillusion for the reader. The moment one thinks that the main character reaches the passionately desired aim, every reader understands that it is just another kind of mockery over the situation, which has no way out (Fu 1-5).
Overall, “The Invisible Man” in general and the “Battle Royal” part in particular leave the reader in fusion. It is not possible to imagine that ordinary people can be so painfully cruel and fascist, sincerely thinking, it is the only possible way of behavior with the people of another skin color. Racism is one of the most shameful and unseemly displays of the human nature, together with the discrimination by any parameter. Thus, it is even more fearful that even knowing all the inadmissibility of such behavior, nowadays, people are still capable of it.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. 3rd ed., Routledge, 2016
Fu, Meiling. “Black’s Survival Strategy: Tricksterism in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, vol 6, no. 2, 2017, pp. 1-5