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Battle Royale

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In Ralph Ellison's Battle Royale, an unidentified African American protagonist elucidates upon the inhumane nature of slavery and segregation in the south. He portrays this through his vivid descriptions of his grandfathers last dying words, his involvement in a degrading boxing match & obstacle course with his peers, and the deliverance of his speech on the subject of humility and submission as a means of advancement in a white society. He is then awarded a scholarship to the state's college for African Americans. Following these events, upon awakening from a dream involving his grandfather and himself, the narrator experiences a moment of enlightenment. This moment of self-awareness and clarity allows him to comprehend what his grandfather meant upon his deathbed: that African Americans must rebel against white suppression under the pretext of submission and conformity. Through his work, Ellison suggests that bigotry hinders the development of self identity. A sub-theme implies that group ideology also hinders self identity formation.

The narrator “felt superior to” the nine other boys participating in the battle royal. His sense of apprehension was “Not from a distaste for fighting, but because I didn’t care too much for the other fellows” and he is certain that “the other fellows didn’t care too much for me either”. The narrator views the other boys as “tough guys” who personify the type of African Americans his grandfather did not want him to become. The narrator struggles to find a balance in his conduct among the black and white communities.

The narrator grapples with the fact that African Americans weren’t granted the same freedoms and rights as whites, which they proclaimed they would possess through segregation. The author reveals his awareness of the strategy that white society implemented on the black community, as well as their naivety in accepting it as the truth. This is apparent during his speech when a white audience member utters, “We mean to do right by you, but you’ve got to know your place at all times.” Moreover, when the narrator discovers that, “the gold pieces I had scrambled for were brass pocket tokens advertising a certain make of automobile”, it suggests that the valueless tokens represented the hollow promises made by whites in regards to equality



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