Ralph Ellison portrayed many social barriers of African American community & their struggle to earn their equal rights throughout his novel “Invisible Man”. Being the first chapter of Invisible Man, “Battle Royal” was powerful enough to show us a glimpse of the total scenario. The Narrator barely gave any straight forward sentence to express their sufferings, yet he explained everything in a symbolic meaning.
In the very first paragraph Narrator stated,”…I had to discover that I am an invisible man!”. It was such an expression that says it all by itself, a voice that was never been heard, a presence of a person which was never been realized. Neglected African American community was there from the very beginning of the history of America, even though they were not integrated with the mainstream society or White community. Undoubtly they were the minority group of the society but still they couldn’t achieve their equal rights just like white peoples. Here narrator was talking about a society that just got out from hundreds of years of “slavery” and was passing its transitional period.
The father of the Narrator had been told by his father, “Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ‘em with yeses,…”. The weakness, the helplessness of African American people in a white dominant society was well framed through this statement. He compared the white society as lion & tried to make his son to understand that even if he call himself as a human being, he barely had anything to do rather than saying “yes” to everything in front of a lion. Neither you can say “no”, nor can you escape. It’s wise to avoid problems just by saying “yeses” to everything whether you like it or not. Narrator’s grandfather confessed because of his meekness & called himself as a “traitor”, yet advised his son to do the same which often puzzled the narrator because it was defined as “treachery” by his grandfather.
The narrator believed that genuine obedience towards white community will win him the respect & social recognition. At some extend narrator was right but it really didn’t happen from ground up. We learned how he was abused by the white people for their entertainment; especially in that very day prior to deliver his speech which made him to act more like an obedient slave who follows his master’s order as it has been told.
It is very important to keep it in mind that there were some among the white community who had to follow the orders just like the narrator, the dancer at the ballroom and those who had to fight with the narrator to win the Battle Royal were among those. The dancer, who was a magnificent blonde & was dancing very close to the narrator, was out of his reach. Here the dancer was the symbolic icon of “American Dream” that a white man can achieve or abuse easily but for a Black man, he just can watch but can’t touch nor can feel. Narrator expressed his desire for such a blonde stating”…and destroy her, to love her and to murder her, to hide from her” – it was a very strong expression of his desire of achieving an American dream that he would never get just because of being black.
Narrator visualized himself as a “potential Booker T. Washington” from his own point of view, even though he was not being treated like a valuable person and eventually he had to take servant’s elevator just like many others. Narrator was thinking about his speech while he was blindfolded and beaten up by many people. To him, this wasn’t his war; he wanted to prove himself through his speech even after bleeding, bleeding from his nose & mouth that was spattering upon his chest. That didn’t bother him, not even after being yelled by someone who said “I want to get at that ginger-colored nigger. Tear him limb from limb”, whom he would be praising right after the fight.
Take the prize and keep it well. Consider it a badge of office. Prize it. Keep developing as you are and some day it will filled with important papers that will help shape the destiny of your people.
said the Superintendent. Here, the men’s instruction to the narrator to consider the briefcase a “badge of office” is ironic, in that such a badge normally constitutes an insignia or emblem denoting a person’s job, position, or membership in a group. This “badge of office” was a symbolic meaning of being a good slave, who is obedient and grateful to his “x-master” just like his grandfather. It was identical of being a slave not physically rather mentally, who will never forget his place in a white dominant society, who will remain grateful for whatever his master gave him or however his master treated him.
At the very end of the story Narrator said “I awoke with the old man’s laughter ringing in my ears”. Here “the old man” stood as his grandfather who apparently passed away but his confession remained fresh in Narrator’s mind, who used to dislike his grandfather for calling himself as a “traitor”. It took pretty long time for the narrator to understand that he was actually following the same footprint just like his grandfather. Consciously or unconsciously he was doing the same for what he had disliked his grandfather’s confession and that made his grandfather to laugh in his dream. Thus grandfather was making fun of his grandson.
Throughout “Battle Royal”, we have witnessed the mental sufferings, illness and struggle of African American community. Slavery abolished way back, yet they barely could get out that reality. Something just haunting them, whispering in their ears that you are none but a slave no matter whatever you do or whatever your contributions are to this society. It was sad that some white people remained on their track regarding race issues even in late 1960s. We saw discrimination, struggle & sufferings along with losing their identity in this society, where they could co-exist with mutual understanding and respect.
Note: This is an analysis of “Battle Royal” which is the very first chapter of Ralph Ellison’s famous novel “Invisible Man”. Published in 1952, “Invisible Man” explores the theme of a man’s search for his identity and place in society.