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Iva Arnaut Professor Oklopi Introduction to English and American Literature 19 December 2013

Inner and outer struggle of the oppressed African-American community

Battle Royal, the first chapter of the novel Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, is infused with portrayal of the problems which African-Americans encountered on daily basis in American society after abolition of slavery, and their emotional response. The main character, who is also the narrator of the story, is faced with situations in which he has to decide whether to behave according to his grandfathers advice or to his own will. The narrator is an African-American whose grandparents were freed from slavery eighty-five years ago. Just before the narrators grandfather passes away, he tells the narrators father to fight against the racist white society, as he did throughout all of his life; not with obvious rebellious conduct, but with proper humble behaviour with the purpose of sabotaging them when the time is right to do so. He also tells him to teach his children to do the same. The narrator is deeply affected by his grandfathers words. At first, Ellisons description of the narrator leads us to believe that even though he obeys his grandfathers advice, he is against it. But as the chapter continues, it is apparent that he actually enjoys attention and condescending approval which he gets from the white men of the town. They invite him to their gathering to repeat his graduation speech. He thinks a great opportunity is given to him and feels honoured to do it. When he comes there, he discovers that he is expected to participate in battle royal to fight nine of his schoolfellows who are also African-Americans. He thinks he is above them, sees them as inferior to him, just like the

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white men see the whole community of African-Americans. During the battle, in which they are all blindfolded, he turns his schoolmates against each other in the same way the white men turned all ten of them against one another. He wants to win and satisfy the white men so he can deliver his speech which he is constantly thinking about, wondering if he will be good enough. He and his schoolfellow Tatlock are the last ones left in the battle, and Tatlock wins. He sees the white men as the people of better judgement which is evident in the following quotation:I wanted to deliver my speech more than anything else in the world, felt that only these men could judge truly my ability, and now this stupid clown was ruining my chances. After the battle a square rug is brought into the room and the narrator naively thinks it is for his speech delivery, when in fact the rug is for the ten of them to collect coins and bills. Besides that, the rug is electrified which makes it all the more degrading. Subsequently, they are given the money and told to leave which makes him desperate and disappointed, not because of all the humiliation he experienced in the sake of white peoples entertainment, but because he thinks they dont want to hear his speech. Soon he learns that he will d eliver the speech after all, during which the white men ridicule him. After it is over, they give him a briefcase with a scholarship to the state college for Negroes inside of it. It is yet another way for the white men to show their superiority and domination, but the narrator feels happy and fortunate. Next day he is praised by his neighbours and on the same night he dreams that he is in a circus with his grandfather who doesnt want to laugh at the clowns. The clowns symbolize the African-American society and their mortification like the one the narrator experiences in the battle royal and the whole chapter shows inner and outer struggle African-Americans are constantly undergoing, with the hope of triumphing in a form of reaching social equality, at least.