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  • 1. Page 243 : Ralph Ellison’s Postcolonialism and Multiculturalism in “Battle Royal”
  • 2. Postcolonialism & Multiculturalism • “Colonial rule does not wipe out its legacy, and the culture that is left in a mixture of the colonized one and that of the colonizer, often marked by contrasts and antagonisms, resentment and blended practice. The two are no longer recognizable as separate cultures but exist as a mixed one. Consequently, issues abound regarding the development of national identity, identification of cultural histories and knowledge, the precolonial nature of the colonized, and their resistance to the power base has subjected them” (Dobie 206). • “Colonial subjects practiced mimicry-imitation of dress, language, behavior even gestures-instead of resistance” (Dobie 209). • The interaction of cultures creates blended ones, mixtures of native an colonial, a process called hybridity or syncretism. Characterized by tensions and change, this process is dynamic, interactive, and creative” (Dobie 210).
  • 3. Postcolonialism & Multiculturalism • “A wide range of viewpoints is possible, for the historical development of a culture, the relationship of its cultural groups, and the daily stresses of mixing people of different backgrounds make for a complex situation” (Dobie 210). • “...black history, which is unlike that of any other group in America. Their unique past includes Africa, the Middle Passage, slavery, emancipation, northward migration, and racism, as well as the civil rights, Black Power, and Black Arts movements. It also lacks some of the history that other Americans have enjoyed, such as the vision of this country as a land of rights, freedom, and opportunity. The result is a duel identity, one that both partakes of America and doesn’t, one that shares the American experience but is denied it” (Dobie 220). • The central question of postcolonial criticism addresses the stance of the text toward the mixed colonial culture that it depicts or that produced it. What attitudes does the text reflect regarding the colonizers and the colonized?” (Dobie 201).
  • 4. Quick Overview • A nameless narrator reflects upon his journey of self-discovery. • Speaks of how his grandparents were freed slaves and lived a quiet uneventful life and believed they had finally achieved equality, despite segregation. • However on his deathbed the narrator’s grandfather tells his son that he has been a traitor and compares an African American’s life to warfare. He tells his son to undermine the White community by “overcoming ‘em with yesses” and to“agree ‘em to death” (Ellison 244). • The Narrator reveals how his grandfather's words had haunted him throughout his young adulthood, for he was well liked by the white community then.
  • 5. Quick Overview • The narrator then recalls a speech he gave at his high school graduation, a speech which explained to his fellow Black Americans that humiliation and compliance were they keys for advancement in a white dominant society. His speech was so successful that the narrator was to give it at the white communities leader’s assembly. Before the narrator can give his speech he is ordered to partake in “battle royal,” which is a form of the night’s entertainment. • Before the fight, the boys are forced to watch a naked women with an American flag tattoo dance around. Many of the boys feel uncomfortable, but the white men force them to watch. • The narrator is then given boxing gloves and forced into a ring where he must fight his black classmates. The narrator and his classmates are then blindfolded and forced to beat each other. The narrator loses in the last round.
  • 6. Quick Overview • The boys are then taken to a rug covered with numerous coins and bills. The boys then dive for the money only to realize that the rug has an electric current. The boys continue to grab the coins, and soon the white men start pushing the boys onto the rug. • Finally, the narrator is allowed to give his speech, but throughout his speech, the white men are disrespectful and are only half listening. The narrator talks of how it was hard to speak for the cuts in his mouth were bleeding and causes him to choke up a couple of times. • In the middle of his speech, the narrator accidently says “social equality” once, and the room falls silent. The men demand the narrator explain himself, but the narrator says he didn’t mean it and then goes on to finish his speech. All the men applaud him and reward him with a briefcase containing a scholarship to a black college.
  • 7. Quick Overview • The narrator is moved to tears and is overjoyed. This joy does not disappear even after he realizes that the coins he had suffered for are fake. • The narrator then recalls how in his dreams that night, his grandfather made him open the letter (state sealed) which was in his briefcase, but it was not his scholarship. Instead it said “To Whom it May Concern, Keep This Nigger- Boy Running.” The narrator then wakes up with his grandfathers laugh still ringing in his ears (Ellison 253).
  • 8. Internal & External Struggle - The struggle between an African American’s two “selves” proves to not only be an internal struggle, but external one as well. Battle Royal is symbolic of the conflict between African Americans: Then narrator is unlike many of his classmates because he acts as if he were white (he makes educated speeches and performs them in front of a powerful white audience), while some of his classmates do not.
  • 9. Applying Postcolonialism & Multiculturalism to “Battle Royal” -The narrator is reflecting back on his younger, more naive self, recalling how he constantly searched for his identity: “All my life I had been looking for was something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too...I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself 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 be born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible Invisible Man, Catlett Sculpture Near Ralph Ellison’s Home Harlem NY 2007 man” (Ellison 243)
  • 10. Applying Postcolonialism & Multiculturalism to “Battle Royal” • The narrator reveals how his grandfather’s words haunt him. His grandfather urges them to maintain two identities. One as a “good slave” acting how the white community wishes them to act (meek and obedient) and one as a loyal member of the black community. They should be bitter and resent the white community for forcing them to live two lives. • The reason this haunts the narrator so is because he doesn’t feel bitter on the inside. All he wants to do is receive praise and “acceptance” from whites, just as his grandfather had all his life. The narrator’s grandfather does not step up and fight for equality, and thus never has truly experience freedom. The narrator struggles with both his grandfather’s and his own beliefs throughout the rest of the story.
  • 11. Applying Postcolonialism & Multiculturalism to “Battle Royal” • The narrator feels this pull between the two aspects of his life: his black heritage, and his new identity as an American. • The opening chapters epitomize the dynamics of black-white relationships in the prewar South, while the narrator’s early ambitions recapitulate the strategy for Negro development propounded by Booker T. Washington
  • 12. Duel Identities • “I fought back with hopeless desperation. I wanted to deliver my speech more than anything else in the world, because I felt that only these men could judge truly my ability” (Ellison 248). In order to please the white men, the narrator does what he is told and partakes in the degrading and mortifying battle royal. • Disregarding his grandfather’s warning, the narrator believes that if he behaves the way white society wants him to, he will be well respected and successful and be able to “live th American Dream.” And the fact his speech, which essentially urges blacks to be obedient, earns him a scholarship to a black college only encourages him. However the narrator, overcome with joy, forgets how he had to partake in such a gruesome and degrading battle. Thus he is neither successful nor respected, and merely plays the part as a “good slave” in a racist community.
  • 13. The Narrator’s Speech • Ellison purposely alludes to Booker T. Washington and his belief that blacks should focus their energy into achieving economic success. Ellison does this when the narrator quotes, almost word for word, one of Washington’s speeches. Washington discouraged the fight for political and civil rights, and instead believed that if blacks were to work hard enough, they would become successful and would thus earn respect and equality from the white community. • Ellison discredits Washington's theory through the narrator’s grandfather, who followed Washington’s belief blindly, however on his deathbed, the grandfather realized that he had done nothing to advance black society, but played a part in suppressing it. Ellison furthers to disprove Washington's theory when the narrator makes his speech. When the narrator quote’s Washington, the white audience is taunting and disrespectful. • Ellison’s point is then solidified when the narrator slips up and says “social equality” instead of “social responsibility.” When threatening white supremacy, the white men turn hostile and aggressive, where as before they were indifferent toward the narrator’s model behavior.
  • 14. Diving for Coins • This whole process is symbolic and relates back to Ellison’s discrediting of Washington’s beliefs. • It could be argued that the black boys are trying to become economically successful (by diving for the money in front of them), however they do not gain the white men’s respect, in fact the white men see them as pathetic and a form of entertainment. • Therefore, Ellison successfully discredits Washington’s theory, for the theory states that African American’s should focus their energy on becoming economically successful. The boys have gained money, but have not gained respect. • Ellison proves that although slavery is technically abolished, whites still have control over blacks in many ways.