Why do you think the narrator dreams about his grandfather after the fight? What do you think his dream means?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Ellison's Invisible Man, the grandfather is a particularly ambiguous but important peripheral character. The narrator (the invisible man) is obviously influenced by his grandfather, especially by the man's final words while he was on his deathbed, but the narrator struggles to decipher his grandfather's meaning. 

The grandfather is first described as "a quiet old man who never made any trouble" (16), and the narrator has trouble negotiating this established image of the man with his emphatic advice to the narrator that he should "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" (16). While the grandfather's advice sounds, at first, meek and conciliatory, his phrasing and imagery become increasingly violent over the course of this sentence. This ambiguity leaves the narrator confused, unsure what "desirable conduct" (17) he should adopt. The narrator wants to go to college, and he writes a celebrated speech in which he preaches "humility [as] the secret, indeed the very essence of progress" (17). When invited to give his speech to a company of powerful white men, the narrator is flattered and feels that his behavior is being rewarded. However, when he arrives to give his speech, he learns that he will take part in a battle royal that pits him against other African American men. They will fight each other for the entertainment of the white men. After he is beaten and bloodied, he is invited to give his speech. He accidentally utters the word "equality" but backs down once he is challenged by the white men.

The narrator seems to learn from this incident that being outspoken about racial inequality is not welcome in the white community. On the other hand, being meek and humble does him no favors either; he is still subject to the violent battle itself. The narrator is awarded a briefcase and a scholarship to a college for African American students, but he only "earns" that prize after being humiliated and physically brutalized. At the end of the chapter, after the battle and the speech, the narrator dreams about his grandfather. His grandfather is laughing hysterically as the narrator opens letter after letter only to find a note that says "'To Whom It May Concern. . . Keep This N****** Boy Running'" (330). The narrator admits that he could not decipher the meaning of the dream but that it continued to haunt him until he could begin to understand it. He has to experience more of the reality of race relations in order to "get it." The dream suggests that the narrator will have trouble achieving what he hopes to achieve. He will be given a sort of "run-around," always striving but never truly achieving. The grandfather's mirth may indicate that the narrator has disregarded his grandfather's advice and that the grandfather finds it amusing that the boy did not listen to him. What seems more important, though, is the ambiguity of the dream, which matches the ambiguity of the grandfather's character. It is the confusing mixed messages that go on to define the narrator and frame his struggles to understand and establish an identity for himself.

dalepowell1962 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Battle Royal", the narrator has been completely humiliated doing what he was taught to do--giving the whites their "yessuhs" and always being complacent and accomodating to the whites who are in charge.  After the battle, the narrator gives the speech for which he came to the arena for in the first place.  He can barely catch his breath, and the audience is being rude and half-listening at best. 

When he dreams of the grandfather and he his him say "Keep this nigger boy running" and then laughs, it appears that the grandfather is sending a message to be aware of what he should do in life- not what he has been told and not the way the grandfather had lived.  It always implies that the narrator should keep his eyes open for things that change and seize opportunities presented.

epollock | Student

indeedboy,

“Battle Royal,” 1947, was Ellison's first chapter of Invisible Man, which is introduced by the first-person narrator’s explanation of how as a black, he is considered so unimportant by white society that he is virtually non-existent (invisible).

A major strand of the speaker’s consciousness is his grandfather’s advice to consider kindness and submission as a subversive activity (paragraph 3). We may construe the narrator’s dream (paragraph 106) as a description of his circumstances in the face of racial discrimination. In the dream, empty envelope after empty envelope indicates the hollowness of white promises for black improvement, and the final words, “Keep This Nigger-Boy Running,” vitiate the sincerity of whites (paragraph 107.)

He has been asked to give the same speech before a meeting of town dignitaries, and goes to the meeting expecting to be received warmly and sympathetically. Instead of such friendliness, he is shown the very worst and most discriminatory vindictiveness of the members of the town’s white power structure.

 

Read the study guide:
Battle Royal; or, The Invisible Man

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