William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily" and Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal," a chapter from his novel Invisible Man that is also sometimes excerpted as a short story in literary anthologies, are both set in the South in the early-to-mid-twentieth century. The characters, circumstances, and narrative...
William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily" and Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal," a chapter from his novel Invisible Man that is also sometimes excerpted as a short story in literary anthologies, are both set in the South in the early-to-mid-twentieth century. The characters, circumstances, and narrative voices are all quite different, but both share the Southern setting and the theme of racial relations in the South.
Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" describes a town legend named Miss Emily Grierson whose family was once important, rich, and powerful in the Mississippi community in which the story is set. The narrative voice is the voice of the town itself, a gossipy perspective that gets all of its information from outside observation, rumor, and town history. The narrator does not actually know Emily; they are not friends and probably not even acquaintances. However, because of the Griersons' reputation, the town pays attention to Emily's life from the time she is a young woman until her death, which is announced at the beginning of the story.
Emily is a staunch traditionalist, likely because she fondly remembers the time when her family name meant something in the town. Now, her house is decrepit, and, as it turns out, she's keeping a dead body in a bed in her house. Emily tries to hold on to old privileges granted to her family in more prosperous times. Meanwhile, the town around her grows and changes. Faulkner presents Emily as a symbol of a dying culture, namely the antebellum South. Before the Civil War, the South was thriving due to its use of slave labor. Race is more of a subtext in this story than it is in Ellison's novel, but in "A Rose for Emily," the title character has a servant who is a black man, and we can infer that her family was more influential when they had money and power, probably from being descended from plantation owners. The implication is that some Southerners want to hang on to the past, including the extreme racial inequality that characterized the antebellum period, while the rest of the world moves on.
Ellison's "Battle Royal" is much more blatant in its engagement with Southern racism. The story sees a group of young black men literally fight each other for the entertainment of rich, powerful white men, who egg them on and insult them as they fight. After the battle, the young men, including our narrator, are further demeaned by being forced to chase after money on an electrocuted rug. The narrator and his fellow fighters are treated as subhuman, and there is no question that the white men are racist and feel superior to the young black men. The narrator (the "invisible man") ends up giving a speech where he mistakenly says "equality" and is immediately challenged by the white men. They patronize him by giving him a briefcase and a scholarship to a college for African American students. This episode is an early but fundamental experience for the narrator as he learns to navigate the racism of the world around him. Like Faulkner's story, "Battle Royal" is set in the South, though the narrator later moves to New York City. He finds that the North is not the utopia he expected coming from the South.
In sum, both stories in some way explore issues of racism in the South in the early-to-mid-twentieth century. In Ellison's story, race is much more at the forefront of the story, though.