"The Battle Royal" is an initiation story which deals with the main theme of self-discovery. Through the humiliating fight and speech, the naive narrator begins to glimpse his lack of identity both in the white society and his all-black college. Another theme is the individual versus the group, as neither of these groups will see the narrator for who he really is; instead, they will use and manipulate him for their own ends.
Other motifs support the theme of self-discovery, namely vision. The story is the first chapter in a larger, picaresque novel entitled The Invisible Man. During the fight the narrator is blindfolded with white cloth, symbolic of how the white town's business leaders want him to see the world: through white eyes.
Also important is the grandfather's vision and haunting words, which reflect the theme of appearance versus reality and the importance of the slave generation. The narrator had thought his grandfather a meek, submissive house negro, but his laughter and words prove he was a traitor to both races. His words will echo throughout the novel, stressing the importance of words, speech, and rhetoric. Like the narrator, we will not know whose words to trust on his blind journey toward self-discovery.