Battle Royal Summary

In Battle Royal, the narrator is blindfolded and thrown into a boxing ring for the amusement of a group of tuxedo-clad white men. Beaten and bloodied, he is then forced to deliver a speech about the importance of meekness and education to African Americans.

  • The narrator's grandfather gives him a piece of advice: to pretend to be meek and servile around white men so that one day he will be in a position to undermine the status quo.

  • The narrator is invited to a party where he's later blindfolded, pushed into a boxing ring,  pitted against other African American boys, and beaten to a pulp. His "reward" is placed in an electrified circle, where he collects "coins" that turn out to be brass.

  • After the battle royal, the narrator delivers a speech about the importance of education in the lives of young black man. This speech also emphasizes that black men should defer to white men in all matters. For this speech, he's awarded a scholarship to college.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)
Battle Royal cover image

The story consists of a frame in which the mature narrator remembers the advice that his dying grandfather gave to his son (the narrator’s father) and his remembrance of a cruel betrayal that confirms the grandfather’s advice.

The grandfather tells his son to “keep up the good fight,” to continue the black people’s war by guerrilla tactics, to be a traitor and spy in the enemy’s country as he himself has been. He tells his son: “Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction.” The narrator and his alarmed family puzzle over the old man’s last words, especially because the narrator has been praised by the town’s powerful white men for his meekness and cooperativeness. He is secretly concerned that without meaning to he is already somehow carrying out his grandfather’s advice.

The battle royal episode begins when white leaders ask the narrator to deliver a high school graduation speech on the virtues of humility to a gathering of leading white citizens, a “triumph” for the black community. The event, held in the ballroom of a leading hotel, turns out to be a “smoker,” a male-only affair involving whiskey, cigars, and smutty entertainment. The latter begins with the battle royal of the title, a free-for-all boxing match in which blindfolded combatants punch at one another wildly. Because the boxers are all high...

(The entire section is 559 words.)