Battle Royal Characters
The unnamed narrator is the protagonist of “Battle Royal.” He tells the story retrospectively, about twenty years after the fact. As he reflects on the past, the narrator remembers struggling with his identity as a black man in the South, specifically in light of his grandfather’s advice to undermine white people through compliance with their expectations. After hearing his grandfather’s dying words, the narrator is conflicted in his relation to the white community; he sees that his meekness is praised even by the “most lily-white men in town,” yet he struggles to understand how his grandfather used the same tactic to undermine white supremacy. In the battle royal, the narrator’s struggle is made physical as he complies with the audience’s wish to hurt the other students and is in turn beaten by his peers. During the fight, the narrator’s conflicted feelings about how he is viewed by the white audience continues to haunt him, and he worries how his speech will be received.
The Narrator’s Grandfather
The narrator's grandfather was once a slave but was freed eighty-five years before the writing of the story. The narrator says that he “had been the meekest of men.” As the grandfather died, he told the narrator’s father that he expected him to “keep up the good fight” and that all his life he himself had been a “spy in the enemy's country.” His instructions were to overwhelm the enemy—white people—with kindness: “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 instructs his son to teach this lesson to the children. Though the narrator doesn’t interact directly with his grandfather in this deathbed scene, his grandfather’s words haunt him.
The dancer entertains the room before the battle royal. She is described as having magnificent blonde hair and a tattoo of the American flag on her belly. At first as she dances, she is “smiling faintly at the big shots who watched her with fascination, and faintly smiling at [the black students’] fear.” However, her expression is soon described as “detached,” and once she is thrown over the heads of the audience, the narrator perceives “above her red, fixed-smiling lips… the terror and disgust in her eyes.” This development suggests that her initial smiling was not in genuine pleasure at her situation. Like the black students, the white woman is treated by the white men as an object for their enjoyment. She is manipulated, objectified, and finally, through the narrator’s empathy for her, humanized.
The school superintendent invites the narrator to speak at the hotel event. After the narrator’s speech, he presents the narrator with a briefcase containing a scholarship. Though the superintendent’s actions seem supportive of the narrator’s education, his benevolence is deceptive: the man’s first words during the event degrade the black students with a racial slur, and he compliments the narrator by saying “some day...
(The entire section is 806 words.)