What is the symbolic value of the battle royal?
"The Battle Royal" is the first chapter from the would-be novel Invisible Man. Ellison first wrote it as a short story, and then added a transition ending when he included it in the novel.
The story is important because it establishes the unnamed narrator as a boy on the run: "Keep that Nigger boy running!" Who is he running from? His identity? His race? His grandfather? His legacy? It think it's all of these, but in the "Battle Royal" I think it's the last two in particular: he is running from his grandfather's generation, what happened 85 years ago. The Slaves. He's living in a state of denial, ashamed of his cultural legacy. He is forever haunted by his grandfather's words:
I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.
He cannot reconcile the fact that he had thought his grandfather to be a kind of Uncle Tom during his public life, but in reality he was privately a double-agent, a rebel, a Janus-figure, as he recounts on his death-bed. And he wants his grandson to do the same.
So says eNotes:
The grandfather's final fierce words are ‘‘Learn it to the younguns.’’ This dying speech alarms the narrator's folks and haunts the narrator through the rest of the story, especially since the narrator feels so well liked and is even praised ‘‘by the most lily-white men of the town."