Is the Battle Royal section in Invisible Man realistic? Why or why not?
I argue that the Battle Royal section in chapter one of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is not terribly realistic, but it does address genuine issues concerning race dynamics in the United States at the time that it was written. I do not find the section particularly realistic because it is so allegorical. Allegories rarely strive for verisimilitude, and the first chapter of Invisible Man is no different. This section functions as a surreal section of the novel; indeed, it is almost dream-like in its descriptions. Even the scenario the unnamed narrator finds himself is itself unrealistic. He is involved in a vicious melee that pits young black men against one another to entertain wealthy white men. Throughout the battle, however, the narrator is concerned with giving a speech:
“And while I still held him I butted him and moved away. I felt myself bombarded with punches. I fought back with hopeless desperation. I wanted to deliver my speech more than anything else in the world, because I felt that only these men could judge truly my ability, and now this stupid clown was ruining my chances” (25).
The fact that he is concerned with giving his speech gives the moment a farcical feel. After the narrator is knocked unconscious, he wakes up and is allowed to give his speech in which he espouses upholding the unequal status quo concerning race relations. During the speech, he uses the phrase “social equality” by mistake and rectifies it by saying “social responsibility:”
“Well, you had better speak more slowly so we can understand. We mean to do right by you, but you've got to know your place at all times. All right, now, go on with your speech.” (31).
These are elements that give the story an allegorical feel. It is not realistic in that this section includes an electrified rug, a violent battle royal, nude women dancing, and is capped off by the narrator giving an impassioned speech about how race relations are ideal as they are. However, Ellison is addressing real concerns and confronting the racially charged issues of the time.