23 June 2018
The Royal Battle of Social Equality
In “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison, the setting plays an essential role to reveal the development of the character. The narrator, a recent graduated young black man, is brought into a hotel with his colleagues to give a speech, but soon to realize that he is to participate in the evening entertainment of battle royal for a group of white men. The details, in which the ballroom of the hotel is described in, implies that the setting has a direct relation to the character development of the narrator, superintendent, and white audience.
About twenty years ago, the narrator had a hard time finding himself, everywhere he looked everyone told him what he is. It had taken time before the narrator had realized that no one can judge him for who he wants to be except himself. Fast forward to the time of going to the hotel to give his speech, the narrator enters a hotel ballroom that is fitted with a portable boxing ring and seats filled with “All of the town’s big shots…in their tuxedos, wolfing down the buffet foods, drinking beer and whiskey and smoking black cigars” (Ellison 272). Despite the crowd of the white audience, the narrator focuses on his reputation as if he was to fight it would degrade the purpose of his speech. The narrator emotionally connects with Booker T. Washington whom also “tried to equalize public educational opportunities and to reduce racial violence” (Harlan, lines 30-31). He looks up to Washington who was an educator and advocate to work with whites, where it reveals that he is maturing looking up to an adult figure.
Upon being rushed into the ballroom, a blonde woman catches his eyes creating a sense of sexual desire, where it is a sense of maturity appealing to adult attributes. Description of the women appeals to the narrator such that he fantasizes “to feel the soft thighs, to caress her and destroy her, to love her and murder her, to hide from her, and yet to stroke where below the American flag tattooed upon her belly her thighs formed a capital V” (Ellison 274) such as the audience is attracted to her they touch her without social responsibility. The sexual desires upon the woman shows the desire for a form of relation, where the narrator begins to develop an mature state of mind. With all the sexual desires he fantasizes about comes a responsibility that he must have a sense of social responsibility.
As the fight begins, the narrator, again, focuses on his speech and watches his actions as the consequences could outweigh the purpose of his upcoming speech. Refusing to fight he takes a beating, but soon he is left in the ring with the remaining contestant. The narrator attempts to resolve the problem nonviolently with bribing the contestant to an increased reward to preserve his reputation for his speech. After losing the fight and getting paid for participating it is his turn for his speech. Upon the beating and now the speech, the narrator tolerates the audience laughing and interrupting as he comes to the point of “social responsibility” (Ellison 280) showing that the audience is laughing at social responsibility as they don’t acknowledge it within themselves. The most important people of the town arrive at the hotel where “It was foggy with cigar smoke. And already the whiskey was taking effect.” (Ellison 273) implying that their occupations are only a façade of responsibility. Only until social equality is mention the audience is quiet as it is shown that a black young man is used as a form of entertainment and confined to a ring expressed as a form of slavery. Upon the audience hearing “equality”, they question what he is truly trying to say to hold their superiority over a person of color. The narrator having a code of preserving his reputation, but also advocating for social equality humanely and nonviolently quickly retracts his statement to maintain the peace.
Like the narrator, the superintendent seems to have a sense of advocating equality for all, but in a more violent way of expressing that with a battle royal. The superintendent hosts the event leads them to “Bring up the little shines!” (Ellison 273) implying that the “little shines” are intelligent people who potentially reveal the audience to the light. The superintendent hosting a dark event with a privilege, lacking responsibility, white audience leads with a battle royal against people of color to, in the end, deliver a message, from a person of color’s point of view, that they are ignorant about the problem that is right in front of them. The superintendent praises the narrator upon completing his speech, such that “He makes a good speech and some day he’ll lead his people in the proper paths. And I don’t have to tell you that that is important in these days and times.” (Ellison 281). The superintendent sees within the crowd that they all have one single common problem, that as a society they lack the idea of social equality. After praising the narrator, the superintendent presents the narrator with a briefcase containing a scholarship, where he is the “little shine” that is standing in the spotlight destined to lead people into the proper paths.
The white audience in the hotel ballroom filled with smoke and alcohol implies that there is a visibility impairment from the social responsibility in front of them. The white audience is described as “a dark room filled with poisonous cottonmouths.” (Ellison 275) who abuse their power of superiority to treat people of color as slaves. The white audience were described as “poisonous cottonmouths” as words would be used to describe who a person of color is and how they were treated as slaves to pick cotton back in the 17th and 18th century. As they sit in the crowd and watch the ring, it is shown that the narrator, a person of color, is objectified to be a form of entertainment and a tool to be used and nothing more.
With the influence of the narrator’s grandfather, his passing, and his last words to cause anxiety, he goes on to unravel who he is and who he wants to become as his grandfather had “been a traitor all my born days” (Ellison 271). The development of the narrator to the white audience reveals that humane and nonviolent effort to spread the ideas of social equality among all to be taught a valuable lesson. From the setting of the hotel ballroom with the ring it reveals the relationship with the characters and how they develop to become treated equally and members of society. As the narrator is rewarded an education he may spread the teachings of treating others equally.
Ellison, Ralph. “Battle Royal.” The Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International. 1995.
Harlan R. Louis. “Booker T. Washington, 1856-1915.” Documenting the American South.
http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/washington/bio.html. Date Accessed June 24, 2018.