Ralph Ellison, “Battle Royal” I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. - from the Prologue to Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison (1913-1994) • Born in Oklahoma City • Middle name is Waldo; his parents named him after Emerson, hoping he’d grow up to be a poet • Father worked in construction and as a vendor of ice and coal. He died when Ralph was 3; after this his mother supported herself and her children by working as a domestic servant.
Ralph Ellison (1913-1994) • With the help of a music scholarship, studied at the Tuskegee Institute from 1933-1936. • The Booker T. Washington connection • Dropped out and moved to New York to study sculpture, but his plans soon changed again • Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and the Federal Writer’s Project • Became an editor of The Negro Quarterly • WWII 1943-1945, Merchant Marines
“Battle Royal” • Taken from the first chapter of Invisible Man • IM published in 1952 • National Book Award in 1953. • As you read the story, think of the intersecting issues of race, class, and gender.
Conflicted Identity • Ambiguity of Grandfather’s message (pg 1) • Speaker’s confusion (bottom of pg 1, bottom of pg 5) • Intra-racial tension • In the elevator with the other fighters (middle of pg 2) • pg 6, showdown with Tatlock • The dancer (pg 3) • American flag • Speaker identifies with her (middle of 3, top of 4) • The electrified rug (bottom of 7) • His speech (pgs 8-9)
The Narrator’s Speech • Comes from a speech given by Booker T. Washington at the 1895 Atlanta Exposition • Also known as: • The Atlanta Compromise Speech • The “Cast Your Bucket” speech • Urged blacks to learn manual labor and soothed the white community’s fears of black rebellion • Assimilation, cooperation
Debate Within the Black Community Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. DuBois • Booker T. Washington • Assimilation • Manual Labor • Blacks must learn to live within the racist order of the South • W.E.B. DuBois • Criticized Washington for what he viewed as giving in and submitting to the white culture • Blacks must resist the racist order of the South Which side do you think Ellison supports in “Battle Royal”? How do you know this?
“Battle Royal” paragraph • For the remainder of the period, you are to write a paragraph in response to the following prompt: • How does Ellison address the issue of black identity in “Battle Royal”? • The first sentence of your response should be argumentative and should serve as the thesis of your paragraph. • The body of your paragraph should contain concrete details (quotations, facts, etc…) that prove your thesis. • The summation sentence should sum up and shed new light on your argument.
Thesis Statements/Topic Sentences • Good: In Ellison’s “Battle Royal,” an ambitious young black man undergoes a series of grotesque treatments by white men, showing the feebleness and disorder of black identity in the early 1900s. • Better: In “Battle Royal,” Ralph Ellison shows the feebleness and disorder of black identity in the early 1900s through the subjection of his young black narrator to a series of grotesque treatments by white men.
Sample Paragraph Template • An argumentative and analytical thesis statement. • Concrete detail. • Analysis. • Concrete detail. • Analysis. • Concrete detail. • Analysis. • Summation sentence.
black = concrete detail; red = analysis In “Battle Royal,” Ralph Ellison shows the feebleness and disorder of black identity in the early 1900s through the subjection of his young black narrator to a series of grotesque treatments by white men. The narrator is unnamed, suggesting the way that white people viewed African-Americans as invisible, irrelevant, and unimportant. The narrator is blindfolded and forced to compete in a vicious Battle Royal boxing match. The blindfold represents how race relations were a blinded fight with no coordination or apparent sense of direction.
As you read the story, consider the ways in which it dramatizes the forces, both external and internal, which work against collective action by black men. How do the white men in the story actively work to discourage collective action by the black men? How do the black men themselves reinforce this effort? How does the speaker's dedication to educating himself relate to this issue? • And what about black women? The story seems to have no interest in representing female experience. How does this absence inflect your understanding of the story? What function does the white woman who appears at the fight serve? What might she symbolize to the speaker and to the story as a whole? • Consider also the generation gaps in the story. It begins with an anecdote about the speaker's grandfather which emphasizes the distance between their respective generations. How does the rest of the story explore this issue?
2. What do you think the speaker's grandfather means when he says, "I have been a traitor all my born days" (185)? Why do these words cause so much disruption in the life of the speaker and his parents? Provide at least three quotations to illustrate your discussion. • 3. Consider the blonde woman who dances at the event. Why do you think Ellison included her in the story -- how does she fit in to the story's thematic concerns? Does the speaker seem to sympathize with her? Why or why not? Do they have anything in common? Provide at least three quotations to illustrate your discussion. • 4. What do you think is the significance of the speaker's dream (195-6)? How does it relate to the rest of the story? Provide at least three quotations to illustrate your discussion.