In Ralph Ellison’s, “Battle Royal” the protagonist is the narrator and the main character. He delivers the story to the reader in the form of a first person narrative. The narrator although black perceives himself as better than those of his race. His personality and the attitudes he exudes is exceedingly confident, blatantly arrogant and prideful. The reader is aware of this elevated sense of pride by observing the narrator’s actions/interactions with others and his thoughts. One the narrator’s showcase of conceitedness is displayed through his actions/interactions with others.
Upon arriving at the event the narrator is told he will be participating in a battle royal. The narrator relays to the reader “I had some misgivings over the battle royal, by the way. Not from a distaste for fighting but because I didn’t care too much for the other fellows who were to take part. (p. 243)” The narrator sees the others as his inferior, as though ignorant to the fact that they are all entertainment. He makes little to any conversation with any of the boys because all that is on his mind is his speech and grandfather’s curse.
The persistence shown is shockingly hilarious when the reader reads, “I was limp as a dish rag. My back felt as though it had been beaten with wires… There was still laughter as I faced them, my mouth dry, my eyes throbbing. I began slowly… (p. 248)” Had he no respect for his people to walk away from such embarrassment and not deliver this speech? No. His pride was not for his people, but of himself and he was determined to have these men hear his speech. At one point the reader grows concern of whether or not the speech is that important. The reader was surprised by the actions of the narrator, but it is his thoughts that make you question his character.
The narrator reveals to the reader his self-absorbed attitude in the opening of the narrative as he explains his feelings on his identity and his cultural background. “It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something… I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer…I am nobody but myself… first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!…. I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. (p. 241-242)” Why had he been shamed of his background?
Here we learn about his grandfather’s death and our led to assume that his grandfather may have been an overseer of his plantation. His grandfather’s words “Son,…I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country …( p 242)” haunts the narrator on a daily. What did this mean? Why did his grandfather say this before dying and why did it mean so much to him now? The narrator had taken on the traits of his grandfather and this bothered him greatly when something good transpired in his life. Throughout the novel we enter into the thoughts of the narrator.
We are made aware that his cockiness stems first from him being praised by the white men of the town. Later in the novel when the narrator is to participate in the battle royal we see again how he looks at himself as better than the other boys there with him to fight. “I felt superior to them in my way,… (p. 243)” One ponders why he felt so high of himself. The narrator himself questioned whether or not fighting would take away from the dignity of his speech, but even after being bruised badly he became upset having believed he would not be allowed to deliver his speech to the audience. “Then he told us to leave.
I was not to get a chance to deliver my speech, I thought. I was going out into the dim alley in despair …(p. 248)” He was allowed to orate his speech and he even received a scholarship. His cockiness exceeds itself now more than before because he received praise from his family and neighbors. He thought so high of himself that he referred to his grandfather’s picture and call him a “black peasant (p. 250)” Unknowingly the narrator arrogance is leading him to the path that his grandfather was on. His grandfather comes to him in a dream to warn him but the narrator was unable to interrupt the dream until he went to college.
In retrospect the narrator was an egotistical young man who showed too much self-pride and not enough dignity for his people. He allows himself to get so caught up in the praise and acceptance from the white men that he distances himself from people of color and see himself as a superior. He even goes as far as saying,“… I visualized myself as a potential Booker T. Washington. (p. 243)” If history be known, nobody of color should want to emulate this man. Conclusively, not only did he stoke his ego and arrogantly looked down on others through his actions, his inner thoughts revealed this personality and attitude to the reader also.