Introduction to Battle Royal

"Battle Royal" is the first chapter of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man. Powerful enough to stand on its own as a short story, the chapter was published in 1947, nearly five years before the publication of Invisible Man. “Battle Royal” is set in the Deep South in the late 1920s or early 1930s. It begins as the narrator remembers his grandfather’s deathbed advice about fighting racism: "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, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open."

The narrator takes this advice to heart without truly understanding what it means, eventually coming to regard his grandfather’s words as a curse. As he grows up, he feels guilty and unsure of his acceptance by white people, despite being “considered an example of desirable conduct . . . by the most lily-white men in town.”

The day after he graduates from high school, the narrator is invited to give his graduation speech before a group of wealthy white men at a hotel. There, he and nine other Black students are forced to fight each other in a blindfolded boxing match and to retrieve their prize money, a set of worthless tokens, from an electrified rug. After finally delivering his speech to the assembled men, the narrator is awarded a scholarship to a Black college. That night, however, he dreams of his grandfather and of reading a note with the ominous message "Keep this Nigger-Boy Running."

A Brief Biography of Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison (1913–1994) was an American writer who is most famous for his novel Invisible Man (1952), which embodies the dilemma of being Black in the United States with the line “I am invisible, understand, because people refuse to see me.” Along with racial prejudice, Ellison experienced emotional and financial hardships in his young life, including the death of his father. Despite these difficulties, Ellison had an unstoppable passion for the arts. He began his career as a trumpet player at the Tuskegee Institute, but finding it too conservative for his unconventional jazz leanings, Ellison moved to New York to pursue a career as a visual artist. A happenstance meeting with the poet Langston Hughes and the novelist Richard Wright changed his artistic direction once again. In 1936, he joined the Federal Writers’ Project and found his true calling. Ellison died in 1994, leaving a legacy of innovative writing that still stirs passions.

Frequently Asked Questions about Battle Royal

Battle Royal

One might argue that the central conflict in Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal" (the first chapter of Invisible Man) is actually an internal conflict within the narrator. Indeed, there is plenty of...

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 4:59 pm (UTC)

4 educator answers

Battle Royal

"Battle Royal" is a story told from the point of view of a young Black male narrator. In a sense, the story incorporates two points of view: the perspective from twenty years later of the mature...

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 11:40 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

The narrator of "Battle Royal" quotes the famous leader Booker T. Washington in his speech. Beforehand, he says he had "visualized [himself] as a potential Booker T. Washington." This is important...

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 12:01 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

The main setting of "Battle Royal" is in an unnamed Southern town, in the "main ballroom of a leading hotel." All the prominent white citizens of the town are there, and the room has been fitted...

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 2:10 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

The narrator of "Battle Royal" says he is invisible because he is seen as a race or a skin color, not as himself or as a unique individual. Before the battle royal, the narrator describes himself...

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 1:00 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

The battle royal occurs in the "main ballroom of the leading hotel" of the small Southern town where the narrator has grown up. He describes it as a large, high-ceilinged room with chairs arranged...

Latest answer posted December 25, 2020, 11:59 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

The battle royal in question is a boxing match in which young Black men are blindfolded and told to fight each other until one of them wins and then told to collect fake coins from an electrified...

Latest answer posted December 25, 2020, 12:14 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

The narrator is an unnamed Black man looking back after twenty years at a frightening and formative experience from his teenage days. He notes that his grandparents were slaves who were freed about...

Latest answer posted December 25, 2020, 12:21 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

In "Battle Royal," the narrator, a recent high school graduate, thinks he is being honored when he is invited to a fine hotel in town to give a speech to leading white citizens. He is surprised...

Latest answer posted December 25, 2020, 12:40 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

"Battle Royal" began its life as a short story and was first published in 1947, five years before it appeared as part of Ellison's novel, Invisible Man. The Black protagonist is invited to deliver...

Latest answer posted December 25, 2020, 2:18 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

In "Battle Royal," the fight and the struggle on the electric rug both symbolize the power white people hold over Black people in society and the difficulties they subject Black people to. In...

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 1:19 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

At the end of "Battle Royal," the narrator dreams that he is at a circus with his grandfather, watching the clowns. The grandfather refuses to laugh at them, because they are a metaphor for Black...

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 12:39 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

The narrator initially describes the audience for the speech he is to deliver as "a gathering of the town's leading white citizens." When he arrives at the hotel, his perception of the actual...

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 12:05 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

"Battle Royal" shows the "big shots," the leading white male citizens of the Southern town in which the story takes place, amusing themselves in the main ballroom of the town's grandest hotel....

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 12:43 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

In "Battle Royal," the protagonist says that his grandfather had been a meek and submissive man all his life, always appearing to accept the supremacy of white people and to be eager to please...

Latest answer posted December 26, 2020, 1:28 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

At the beginning of "Battle Royal," the narrator recalls his grandfather's dying words, which made a great impression on him, though they seemed insane, or at least entirely out of character, to...

Latest answer posted December 27, 2020, 11:16 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

"Battle Royal" communicates the message to both the narrator and the reader that racism means the deck is stacked against Black people. White people are in charge and plan to stay there. As a...

Latest answer posted December 27, 2020, 11:21 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

In 1947, "Battle Royal" was first published as a stand-alone short story. The dating is significant. World War II had ended just two years before, and the world was able to turn its focus to other...

Latest answer posted December 27, 2020, 11:46 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

In "Battle Royal," the protagonist is a model student who is invited to deliver his high school graduation speech "at a gathering of the town's leading white citizens." This is regarded as an honor...

Latest answer posted December 27, 2020, 12:08 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Battle Royal

By default, a first-person narrative is a limiting point of view. Readers are limited to seeing and hearing events as the narrator himself/herself sees and hears the events. Readers are also unable...

Latest answer posted December 27, 2020, 2:10 pm (UTC)

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Summary