Battle Royal


Blind Is as Invisible Does, A man dealing with his perceptions of himself based on the perceptions of the society around him in Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal"

"Battle Royal", an excerpt from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, is far more than a commentary on the racial issues faced in society at that time. It is an example of African-American literature that addresses not only the social impacts of racism, but the psychological components as well. The narrator (IM) is thrust from living according to the perceptions of who he believes himself to be to trying to survive in a realm where he isn't supposed to exist, much less thrive. The invisibility of a mass of people in a society fed the derivation of IM's accepted, willed, blindness. The reader must determine the source of what makes IM invisible. Is part of IM's invisibility due to his self-image or surrender to the dominant voice in the United States? The answer lies in whether or not the blindness and the invisibility were voluntary or compulsory.
The relationship between IM's blindness and his invisibility are not due solely to the color of his skin. There is a level of invisibility that does directly result from the prejudice of the white men. The white community is unwilling to look beyond their stereotypes of the role and place of black men. The school superintendent that had requested IM's appearance at the ballroom to give his speech was also the same man that brought the black men into the ballroom with the words, "Bring up the shines, gentlemen! Bring of the little shines!" (1527). A few days earlier IM had given a valedictorian speech that " . . . was a great success. Everyone praised [him] and. . . . It was a triumph for [his] whole community" (1526). In the environment of the smoker though, he was just another "shine", nothing worth any notation of any kind. However, IM is blind to this. He does not seem aware of his invisibility at that moment; his focus lies in the presentation of his speech. He is oblivious to the blindness of the white men in regards to him, but it is not only the white characters that refuse to see IM as IM sees himself.
IM is fully aware of the animosity of the men scheduled to fight in the battle royal. The tension is tangible. "They were tough guys . . .. [that] didn't care too much for [IM]" (1526). IM is at the hotel to give a speech to the town's top white citizens. That was his sole purpose for being there. He is roped into participating in the battle royal. This is where some of the tension between the nine other men in the battle and IM lies. The fact that he is fighting in "their" battle means that someone else cannot participate and therefore will not be paid. IM contributes to the strain by thinking to himself that "[he] felt superior to them in [his] way, and [he] did not like the manner in which [they] were all crowded together into the servants' elevator" (1526). He is so focused on disliking the black men that he is forced to stand with he fails to see his roll in the evening.
IM is forced to participate in a battle before he is permitted to speak. And in order to fight he has to be lifted up to where the white men are in a "servants' elevator." He sees himself as better than he sees the other men fighting in the battle because he is educated and they are brutes. He does not see that to the men upstairs they are all the same, indistinguishable one from another. The black men in the elevator do not see IM as an educated man, they see him as five dollars less in their friend's pocket. The black men see IM as an unwanted member of their group. IM ignores this, turns a blind eye to it, because he has no desire to be a part of the same world as those men. The white men see IM as just another black man. IM is blind to this as well because he cannot accept it. It is not until he enters the ballroom that he is forced to glimpse at his place in reality.
The young men exit the