So Much More Room for Growth
The protagonist of “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison undergoes a tentative initiation. An initiation story is a story of acquiring, whether accidental or on purpose, information about oneself. Mordecai Marcus breaks initiation stories into three parts: tentative, uncompleted, and decisive. Marcus writes in his essay, “What Is an Initiation Story?” that tentative “initiations lead only to the threshold of maturity and understanding but leave them enmeshed in a struggle for certainty” (288). The Narrator of the story is the protagonist, who goes through “the shocking effect of experience” in a battle royal (Marcus, 288). Also, the Narrator is “distinctly young” and quite innocent (Marcus, 288). He doesn’t know that a battle royal usually ends with the last two opponents left standing to slug it out (“Battle Royal”). Ellison shows the reader his ignorance to his invisibility, as well as to black peoples’ invisibility overall to the white community leaders. The Narrator does not understand his grandfather’s last dying words at the beginning of the story or at the end. The Narrator believes education/economic success will overcome racism (Ellison, 278). The townsmen were “told that he is the smartest boy” (Ellison, 285). The reader observes that the Narrator’s belief and Booker T. Washington’s belief of how to overcome racism is ineffective, given that the townsmen are forcing the Narrator to partake in the battle royal. The town leaders, being all white, believe there is no distinction of one black person from another, whether they are educated or not, all black people are “invisible”. The Narrator is blind to the fact that he is invisible. He does not want to participate in the battle royal because it is degrading and racist, but because “I suspected that fighting a battle royal might detract from the dignity of my speech” (Ellison, 279). He is unaware that his “dignity” and his people’s self-respect were ripped away the moment the...
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