Who are the community leaders in Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ralph Ellison's initiation story "The Battle Royal" is the first chapter in his novel Invisible Man.  The unnamed narrator and other black young men in "The Battle Royal" fight blindfolded in front of a group of the town's prominent white leaders:

Suddenly I heard the school superintendent, who had told me to come, yell, "Bring up the shines, gentlemen! Bring up the little shines!"

And:

They were all there: bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, fire chiefs, teachers, merchants. Even one of the more fashionable pastors.

The scene is like Mardi Gras.  The white men have been drinking, and they crave sex and violence.  They lure a half-nude white woman in front of the boys.  They even dupe the young men by placing electrified coins on the floor for them to pick up.  The story is full of symbolism and anthropomorphic imagery: the white men are compared to animals, a pack of wolves surrounding a prey.

The focus of an initiation story is the journey to self-discovery, and the Invisible Man has a long road ahead.  After battling it out with Tatlock, the biggest of the boys, the Invisible Man must give a speech, his mouth full of blood.  The irony, of course, is that at the white man think they are doing the Invisible Man a favor by listening to his speech and giving him a scholarship to an all-black university.  After being fed to the wolves and then given some carefully selected scraps, the narrator is more confused than honored, foreshadowing the existential predicament of anyone in an alien and hostile world.