In "Battle Royal," who are the protagonist and the antagonist?  Give examples from the story to support your answer.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The protagonist in "Battle Royal" is the narrator. The other nine African-American youth do not "care too much" for him and are, therefore, not pleased that he will be at the fight, so they feel antagonistic toward the narrator. In addition, there are other antagonists: the white men who exploit them during the battle.

Ralph Ellison's narrator is invited to give a graduation speech, and since he is going to be in the hotel for this speech, he is told that he might as well participate in the battle royal with some of his schoolmates. This is a fight among the youths that the town's "big shots" attend in their tuxedos.

The narrator has his doubts about participating in this fight with them: he says, "I felt superior to them in my way, and I didn't like the manner in which we were all crowded together into the servants' elevator. Nor did they like my being there."

When they arrive in the ring, the narrator hears the school superintendent yell, "Bring up the shines, gentlemen! Bring up the little shines!"

The young men find themselves there facing a naked white women. They are embarrassed, worried, aroused, and laughed at during the exhibition. The narrator's teeth chatter in fear. As the woman begins to dance, one boy pleads to go home, embarrassed at his uncontrollable physical reaction.

The older white men become very excited by the young woman and they delight in the discomfort of the young men. After the young woman is removed, the African-American youth are further exploited as they are blindfolded and told to hit each other. As the white men yell for them to kill each other, the narrator recalls that "everyone fought hysterically. It was complete anarchy." 

After the fight is over, the youths are told that their money for fighting is on the rug. But, when they grab for it, they receive electric shocks. The narrator finds himself knocked around and shocked repeatedly, and he later realizes that the coins are brass advertising tokens.

When he finally is allowed to give his speech, the narrator accidentally says "social equality" when he has meant to say "social responsibility." Quickly, the narrator apologizes. Then, he is given a briefcase that contains inside a scholarship to the state college for Negroes. The narrator is so overjoyed that he does not even mind that the coins given him are merely brass pocket tokens that advertise a certain make of an automobile.