What is the overall meaning of "Battle Royal" as a story?

The opening scene of the novel "The Invisible Man" shows the invisible man being forced to fight in a battle royal, a sort of boxing match where eight men are forced to brawl until only one is left standing. This is a very significant scene that sets up many ideas that are major themes of the rest of the book.

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The opening battle in the novel The Invisible Man is extremely significant, as it sets up the thematic setting of the rest of the story. The main character is persecuted, punished, and oppressed in a racist system in spite of his obvious intelligence and skill. In this introductory battle, he...

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The opening battle in the novel The Invisible Man is extremely significant, as it sets up the thematic setting of the rest of the story. The main character is persecuted, punished, and oppressed in a racist system in spite of his obvious intelligence and skill. In this introductory battle, he is shown being given tantalizing opportunities or temptations (such as the naked white women or the apparent gold coins) which are stripped from him and he is punished for even pursuing (by fighting in the ring or electrocution upon picking up the coins, which turn out to be brass and worthless).

This sets up the ideas of racism and oppression that he will experience and combat throughout the book. Opportunity is presented before him, only for him to be punished and turned away many times for even thinking of pursuing it because of his race. He is belittled and taunted and eventually becomes just what was forced upon him, fighting and scraping for scraps and small opportunities that are much less valuable than what was initially presented.

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The meaning of "Battle Royal," which is actually the opening of the novel Invisible Man, is to establish the "royal battles" the narrator will have to fight, first, with racism and second, with his own innocence and naive belief in the system.

"Battle Royal" shows the narrator as an intelligent, hopeful young man, who, in a non-racist society would have a bright future ahead of him. Yet the story also shows him as trapped in a racist culture where whites are in control, and the deck is stacked against him. He and other black youth are shown the forbidden fruit of a naked white woman, blindfolded, forced into violence through a boxing match, and humiliated by being offered money and yet having to retrieve it from an electrified floor while the whites laugh at the "dance" the electric shocks cause the young men to do. They are called "boy," and the narrator finds out that what he thought were gold coins were simply brass tokens. All the forms of racism he will be up against in the real world are encapsulated here. Whites, readers perceive, have set up a system that humiliates and degrades blacks.

Yet the narrator has not yet come into awareness: he is not yet, as he himself notes, the "invisible man." For all he has undergone, he is still delighted to have a scholarship to a Negro college. He still thinks it will be his ticket to success. He will have to battle himself to come to consciousness of what it means to be a black man in American society.

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"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.

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