The principal message in “Battle Royal”, which was penned by Ralph Ellison, is that of the continuing conflict between Blacks on one hand and Whites on the other. “Battle Royal”, previously christened “Invisible Man”, explores the invisibility of the interests of Blacks to Whites. Or rather, it explores the insensitivity of Whites to the interests (Hill and Hill 103-105). Through the story, Ellison affords his audiences with an absorbing window into the innovative forces that shaped the conflict and produced the downtrodden Black in a society dominated by Whites (Purcell 26-30). The conflict appears to be the story’s superseding theme.
Indeed, the central conflict in the story is between the two races. The conflict is the principal structural development defining the story. Ellison paints a comprehensible picture of the mistreatment and contempt that Black males suffer in the hands of Whites. In the story, the Blacks are the oppressed; the Whites are their oppressors. The Blacks are the exploited; the Whites are the exploiters (Hill and Hill 103-105). The Whites come off as keen on ensuring that the Blacks are as dehumanized as is practical. Ellison paints the picture of community of Blacks whose concerns do not prick the conscience of the Whites. The community is so dehumanized that its commendable attainments do not amount to much in a society dominated by White supremacists.
The Whites are so keen on dehumanizing the Blacks that they do not give much thought to the means they use to attain that feat. Ellison makes that clear with the narration of the account of the nude White female dancer. The White males who compel her to dance while naked do not appear to be keen on humiliating one of their own. However, the males are keen on setting Black boys to breach the gravest taboo in the White-dominated society: Black males expressing sexual feelings towards White females. Black boys are compelled to stare at the naked White female dancer. White males threaten to harm the Black boys if they do not remain focused on the dancer.
Afterwards, the White males supervise the boys to fight among themselves. The White spectators of the fight threaten to kill the boys if they do not hurt each as expected. At the end of the fight, the White males toss phony coins for the boys to pick up from a mat connected to live electric wires. The males are interested seeing how the Black boys respond to electricity when picking the phony coins up. Such accounts demonstrate that the Blacks in the society are living a considerably hazardous time. As well, the accounts show that the Whites have no qualms seeing Blacks breathe their last.
Ellison paints the picture of community of Blacks who are helplessly and naively hurt by racism (Purcell 26-30). The Blacks are hesitant on how best to act in response to the humiliation and degradation they are subjected to by the Whites in the conflict between them. The Blacks, in their marked naivety, are keen on being good members of the White-dominated community. However, the Blacks, as exemplified by the story’s narrator, fail to appreciate the toxic impact that the race relations defining the community have on even commonplace activities, like giving undisruptive speeches in graduation ceremonies. From “Battle Royal”, it is clear the odds that the Black narrator is set to face when he matures owing to his Black ethnic extraction.
While the principal theme in the story is the continuing conflict between Blacks on one hand and Whites on the other, there are other themes tied to it intimately. “Battle Royal” and the episodes therein introduce numerous themes that the story’s narrator faces later in the novel in which “Battle Royal” is found. One of the themes tied to the conflict theme is social Darwinism. Essentially, social Darwinism figuratively persuades individuals to give their all in fights to qualify for particular rewards. The Whites have put in place a reward system that they use to exploit the Blacks. The system persuades the wiliest, as well as strongest, Blacks to put all the effort they can muster in taking advantage of fellow Blacks (Hill and Hill 103-105).
As well, the system, which is social Darwinist in principle, persuades some Blacks to undermine the collective Black effort aimed at advancing the Black cause against White interests. The Blacks who undermine the collective Black effort are represented by persons like Tatlock and the narrator. Tatlock declines to feign defeat. The narrator appears corrupted by the influences that praise and prizes have on him. The Blacks who undermine the collective Black effort help the Whites maintain the literal and representational, or symbolic, control over Blacks.
The other clear theme tied to the conflict theme is the response of Blacks to White-dominated and racist politics. In “Battle Royal”, the politics are defined by cruelty. The Blacks appeared reserved or even naïve in how they engage in the politics, probably thinking that will make the politics humane and decent. As noted earlier, Ellison is quite clear in representing Blacks as quite tentative in deciding how best to act in reaction to the disgrace and deprivation they are subjected to by the Whites. The Blacks fail to understand the venomous force that the politics defining the community have even on their run of the mill activities (Steele 184-188).
Owing to the politics, the community is a collection of unequal races. The politics define the place of the Black person in the community as different from the place of the White person in the same community (Milner 541-544). When the narrator finally offers own speech at his graduation and speak about racial equality, the White males present react negatively. The males make certain that the narrator appreciates that racial equality is not an acceptable objective. According to the males, the acceptable objective is for everyone to appreciate own place and the place of his or her race within the community and the community’s political engagements. The males make certain that the narrator appreciates that the community is not an embodiment of equality and everyone is expected to appreciate own place always (Purcell 26-30).
Owing to the Black’s naivety, they speciously view the political persuasions defining the community as putting them at par with the Whites. When the narrator is readying himself to offer the speech, he expects that his audience will receive him in a normal, as well as positive, environment. However, that expectation is radically dashed the moment he comes face to face with gravity of the process that he ought to go through to have his task done. He comes to understand the politics of the community as defined by struggling for own rights against marked odds. Ellison convincingly emphasizes the immensity of the sociopolitical challenges that Blacks face in claiming own rights.
A considered examination of the story penned by Ellison shows that the story’s style, as well as tone, supports the themes in it, including the theme of the continuing conflict between Blacks on one hand and Whites on the other. Strikingly, Ellison engages his audiences so acutely in the narrator’s experiences that they share his uncertainty, pain, and confusion. The narrator is projected by Ellison is a decent and innocent being. Ellison successfully projects the narrator as merely keen on acting right towards other people. The writer convincingly communicates the narrator’s decorousness and virtue to audiences in a way that they can appreciate the unique challenges that he faces despite their cultural sensitivities and ethnicities (Hill and Hill 103-105).
One of the most pronounced attainments of “Battle Royal” is the successful rendering the emotional, as well as dreamlike memories of the narrator. Even then, one has to concede that the memories are commonly abstract since they are not covered in comprehensive details. One would expect that Ellison would have rather presented the memories in cinematic and sharp details that communicate the actuality of the experiences that generally typify imperial, or royal, battles or wars. All in all, the styles employed in the story by the writer reinforce each other in successfully rendering the emotional, as well as dreamlike memories of the narrator and communicating his takes on the themes he explores.
The majority of the Black narrator’s recollections are communicated in plain sentences that are rather declarative. First-person pronouns define the majority of the sentences, showing that the narrator, and in extension his fellow Blacks, own the sentiments therein, especially regarding the conflict. Via the markedly private medium in form of the sentences, audiences learn the bewilderment and guiltiness of the narrator as regards the advice offered to him by own grandfather (Pease 65-69). As well, the plain sentences that are rather declarative help audiences learn the narrator’s above-suspicion lack of consideration for the dishonest objectives that the Whites have against him and in extension his fellow Blacks.
The majority of the descriptions in “Battle Royal” contain rather limited specificity. The details in the descriptions create word pictures or images of setting and place. For instance, the description of the extensive room that had a rather high ceiling creates a clear word image of the room’s setting. The description, like many others in the story, is rather straightforward. It alternates with particular similes, as well as metaphors, that portend that what happens in the room has an exotic, as well as bizarre, nature. The similes, as well as metaphors, help communicate the conflicts defining the story (Hill and Hill 103-105; Purcell 26-30).
Ellison uses scenes quite effectively in communicating the conflicts in the story. For instance, the boxing ring scene is particularly effectual in conveying the conflicts. The scene is colored with visually graphic phrases, which cut fast across images to communicate the blindfolded duel’s chaos (Grandt 45-46). The exaggeratedly rhetorical fashion of the narrator’s speech at the graduation reticently satirizes the strained writing style of that particular genre. All through, the writer matches content and style, which are his main communication media in the story.
As well, the writer comes off as well-versed with jazz inventiveness, particularly when one examines his prose’s rhythms (Grandt 45-46). The rhythms appear to rise with liberal exuberance but yet keep hold of a strong-minded discipline. Ellison’s verbal improvisations in “Battle Royal” come off as having a lasting newness and freshness. The improvisations help assure that “Battle Royal” and the conflict theme therein will always be indispensable reading for those keen on exploring the continuing conflict between Blacks on one hand and Whites on the other.