Racism In Battle Royal By Ralph Ellison

1155 words - 5 pages

Everyday, racism is perceived as one of the most negative aspects of society. When people think of racism, they obviously see hatred, evil , and ignorance. It has been a part of world culture since recorded history and , no doubt , before that. When one thinks of racism in the United States, invariably , though not only , the struggle of the African-American is singled out. That is the main issue Ellison so powerfully addresses in his short story "Battle Royal". In it the author allows us to see the world through the eyes of a young black boy who is struggling to succeed in a predominantly white society. The thing that is absolutely essential to our understanding of the story
is the understanding of this "rich" character. In this study I will try to analyze some of his traits (invisibility-lack of indentity , blindness) and his journey from idealism to a grim realism about the racism that confronts him in the story.

All my life I had been looking for something , and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I , and only I , could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have be born with : That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I'm an invisible man ! (Ellison 448 ) In this passage we see the boy's lack of identity . Throughout his life , the narrator lets others define who he is, and believes that he is what they tell him to be.. He refuses to ask himself : " who am I and what do I want ? " The invisibility which the narrator refers to is two fold. First, he has come to realize that others do not see him for who he is ; instead he is viewed only through stereotypes.
Ellison's hero is never seen as an individual, rather he is defined only as others feel he should be. Therefore he cannot seek a satisfying role in life because he is relegated to the position which white society determines is appropriate. The second aspect of his invisibility is his inability to see himself as an individual. He has been authored by society for so long that he is unable to determine his own identity. During the story the boy has functioned as he believes others (whites , his family ) expect him to. Individuality has been subverted by expectations and the narrator is invisible to himself.

One of the main characteristic traits of the "invisible boy" seems to be blindness. He is failing to see reality in one way or another . In the story he is invited to repeat his valedictory speech in which he said that " humility was the secret , indeed , the very essence of progress" (449) before the white leaders of the town. These men, however, humiliate the protagonist and some other black youths by forcing them to engage in a "battle royal," a blindfolded fist fight in which the last standing participant is victorious and tempting them to fight for...

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