Battle Royale

In Ralph Ellison’s short story, “Battle Royale”, he writes about an African American graduate who is struggling to find himself and understand his grandfather’s last words that haunt him throughout his life. When the young man is gives a speech on his graduation day, it gains notice of the school superintendant. The superintendant invites the narrator to give the speech at a gathering   “of the town’s leading whit citizens.” Here the narrator sees these white men for who they truly are and how they truly view him as a person. Ellison implies people hide who they truly are, because they may be ashamed or naïve. Therefore, wearing a mask for all to see.
Not knowing who he is, the narrator has some of distaste towards the fellows in which he has to fight, who happen to be his schoolmates as well, feeling “superior” around them. The white men have a “stark-naked” dancer at the gathering who the narrator thinks about his “desire to spit upon her.” The narrator’s grandfather’s words were “like a curse” to him. His grandfather’s words make him feel “guilty and uncomfortable” when things go well for him. Struggling with not knowing what his grandfather’s words meant, he is “puzzled” when the praise from the “lily-white men” and being considered an “example of desirable conduct,” are considered “treachery” by his grandfather.
The narrator wants to know who he is, but he accepts answers from all the wrong people. He also struggles with really understanding his grandfather’s last words. His grandfather’s words tell him to “live with you head in the lion’s mouth.” The school superintendant gives him a scholarship to a Negro college, not a college where white kids go to school, and the school superintendant tells him that his new briefcase will be “filled with important papers that will shape the destiny of your people.”   The naïveté of the narrator makes him think he can prove his grandfather wrong. He can live in a world equal to the men who praise him. Not until after the...