The native Africans' heritage and way of life were forever altered by the white slave drivers who took them into captivity in the 18th century. Along with their freedom, slaves were also robbed of their culture and consequently their identities. They became property instead of people, leaving them at the hands of merciless slave owners. Their quest to reclaim their stolen identities was a long and difficult struggle, especially in the years following the Civil War and the subsequent release of their people from bondage. In Ralph Ellison's 1948 short story "Battle Royal," he uses the point of view of a young black man living in the south to convey the theme of racial identity crisis that faced African Americans in the United States during the early to mid 20th century.
Ellison begins "Battle Royal" with a brief introduction to the story's theme with a passage from the Invisible Man's thoughts: "All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was . . . I was looking for myself and asking everyone questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!" (Ellison, 556). In this passage, Ellison reveals the identity crisis faced by not only the Invisible Man, but by the entire African American race as well. He builds on this theme as he follows the I.M. through his life experiences.
The actual plot begins with a flashback, a flashback to the I.M.'s adolescence. He is at his grandfather's deathbed when he utters his last words, a revelation that will haunt him the rest of his life. Other members of his family think the man is delirious and warn the children witnessing it to forget what they have heard. I.M. describes his grandfather as "an odd old guy, my grandfather, and...
Cited: Ellison, Ralph. "Battle Royal." Literature: an introduction to fiction, poetry, and drama. 9th ed and Interactive ed. Eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005. 555-566.
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