Events in Ralph Ellison’s life which had a direct influence in his writing of “Battle Royal”
Battle royal is an extract from Ralph Ellison’s novel the Invisible Man. It is more than just a commentary on issues of racism faced by the society during that period. This African-American literature addresses social influences of racial discrimination as well as the psychological components of social discrimination. The story is about realization and blindness, uprising and conformity. It talks about the same people who look at others as a lesser race. Ralph was moved by the racial discrimination in his error as he grew up. He was born on 1st May 1913 to Lewis Ellison who was a labourer from S.C (South Carolina) and Ida M. Ellison from Georgia in Oklahoma. The fact that he was born in the earlier Territory, both western frontier and India became a very important portion of his individuality which contributed to his writing perspective alongside his distinctive style thus positioning him amongst the renowned United States writers (Kimberly 814).
The paternal and maternal sides of Ralph’s family consisted of grandparents who were slaves and were exposed to the racial discrimination in the society. Lewis Ellison who was his father and had joined the 25th United States “colored” infantry who later on participated in the American-Spanish war and also in the Philippines conflict. After three years, Lewis Ellison went back to SC following his removal from military for his disobedience to an officer. His past experience in military in New Mexico as well as in Colorado and the inhabitable racial environment in SC influenced Lewis to focus on the territory after it became the 46th state. Ida Ellison was born in Georgia, Walton county .Her previous enslaved parents Georgia and Polk were sharecroppers with great hope for Ida. Ida therefore attended school learning how to write and read, something which none of her parents had. Ida Ellison understood her personal squashed aspiration, had great desires for Herbert and Ralph. Together with Lewis she tried through political activism and hard work to earn a living for Herbert and Ralph that was fairer with respect to the burdens that they knew (John 132. For the Ellison’s living in Oklahoma was much better than in Georgia and South Carolina, they noted that the previous Frontier which was open was becoming racially restrictive, under statehood. Ida’s justice sense and the ever increasing restrictive conditions were some of the things which influenced her to actively campaign for Eugene V., a sociologist candidate for presidency in 1914.She remained active in politics through Ralph’s youthful life and in several occasions she was arrested for breaching segregated laws on housing in Oklahoma city whilst a student at Tuskegee. This directly influenced Ralphs writing of the Battle royal because he watched as his parents participated in various wars (Ralph).
The death of his father also influenced his writing .This because while at age his father passed on after having battled with the effects of injuries sustained in an accident while selling his ice and coal pooled together with abortive medical procedures after the accident. Now that her mother was single handily for her children, her desire for her family’s success, stability and comfort were not stifled the battles she encountered. This led her to buying a cornet for Ralph Ellison and heartened him to read broadly. This can be noted from Ralph Ellison’s extensive comment on the impact of his name in his life, a name which was bestowed to him by his father who longed for his son to be one of the great men of letters just like Ralph Emerson. Never the less, Millsap family and Ida Millsap had a great influence in writing as depicted Ralphs writing more so by his representation of a black woman as being an important ordnance of cultural knowledge; also by use of his maternal grandfather Polk Millsap as the fundamental grandfather-character.
Ralph while in school managed to secure a scholarship at Tuskegee Institute to study music. At Tuskegee he found various books in the library which stimulated his intellectual energies while keeping it alive. The books included the Literature on African-American, historical treaties and literary on African –American .He also came across the writings of thinkers and philosophers like Sigmund Freud and Karl Max .For instance the T.S extensive poem particularly influenced Ralph since he increasingly became unaffected with Tuskegee. The poem offered Ralph with a literature analogue to music since both the jazz and the poem depicts an art that tries to combine desperate elements especially the innovation and tradition. The verse also crystallized for Ralph the available capabilities to a music artist who is interested in jazz music and classical music. After Ralph’s music interest shifted from music then to sculpture and ultimately to literature, he gained insights via understanding of techniques in jazz as well as Eliot’s which greatly influenced his writing of the one and only novel which he published the ‘battle royal’(Kimberly 814)
Ralph Ellison’s journey to literature started in 1936 during summer in his early years in Tuskegee. During this year he travelled to New York from Alabama seeking employment in order to cater for his school fees in Tuskegee in which he had begun experiencing difficulties due to depression .As he sought for employment he encountered adverse racial discrimination and ended up not getting the type of employment he wished to. On the second day while in New York City, Ralph had a short-lived encounter with Langston Hughes and Alain Locke inside YMCA lobby where Ralph had secured a room on the previous day. Alain a very influential editor of ‘The Negro’, a collection of written works had paid a visitor to Tuskegee that year, offering Ralph a chance to meet him. Locke introduced Ralph to Hughes who then brought Ralph to Richard Wright’s attention.
Richard Wright was the leftist author who had just relocated to New York following the conflict with the officials of community party in Chicago .With Richard Wright assistance Ralph would publish the very first writing which was a review of the novel ‘These low grounds’ Waters Turpin’s. The review was published alongside Writes in New Challenge edition. Write managed to bring Ralph into the realm of intellectuals who were leftist in which he a sense of intellectual and political parity (Ralph). Ralph stayed in New York City and spent time in is writing career on which he derived his livelihood.
Ellison received an advance and contract from Hitchcock and Reynal publishers for a manuscript from ‘Flying home’ a short story in which he wrote. The manuscript delivery was scheduled for August 1945, however this delayed because Ralph had been taken in to military. While in military he looked for a chance to join NMU (National Maritime Unit) so that he could stay out of Army. He did this so that he could secure some time prior to shipping out of the vessel of Maritime merchant to write ‘Now Well-known’ a piece which was commissioned for ‘New York post’. Having returned to US and about tropical disease illness which he contracted during hi service in the maritime; Ralph applied for Rosenwald Fellowship which he received. Ellison still intended to write his short story novel ’Flying Home’ the time when ‘I am an invisible man’ words went through Ralph’s mind. The words changed the whole conception of Ralph’s manuscript leading to ‘Invisible Man ‘also called ‘Battle Royal”. The first part of the novel was published in October 1947 and after seven years the full novel was published. The novel won various awards for Ellison like the NBAGM (national book award gold medal), NNPRA (national newspaper publisher’s award) and Chicago Defender certificate award. Ralph Ellison embarked on a circuitous journey of writing a novel.
At the most critical part of cold war as well as Civil rights movement nascent staged, he emerges as a novelist in 1952 following the battle royal publication. In the novel he puts together particularities of American African culture whilst telling what transcends the boundaries of unique cultural inheritance in his books just like his character and events in Battle Royal talk to the universe from his strong position in music, politics, folklore and idiom of American African culture and the place of that culture in the modernity (Kimberly 814). After seven years his novel the battle royal took the American African fiction and US literature in a new dimension.
His life and the Novel Battle Royal
By portraying a young man who is black in a nation that is segregated and a nation which is up as a power that is recognized internationally, he coming addresses various ways in which the changing political and social basis of the modern world that is burgeoning influence the formation of a persons identity .Whilst such issues were old in literature when Ralph started writing his novel, his addition of various dimensions of textured aspects of American African culture combined with his criticism of the rampant views on social and political change in racial narrative(accommodation, ill-conceived revolution, unequal brotherhood, uplift)changed the literature narrative concerning the formation of identity amongst the US black people from a lock-step battle comprising of social policy which is racialized to radical blues-existentialism.
It can be noted that Ralph developed this perspective as he read in idealistic existentialism as well as his familiarity with blues lifestyle and the blues in US. According to Ralph in Battle Royal, the philosophical space of the blues-existential is occupied by his thinker.
In the Battle Royal, Ralph presents all the key themes which include anxiety with respect to diminished vision or blindness, social narratives concern that defines black-white relations, complexities in investigation of black adulthood in US, investigations of dissimulation entailed in social narratives concerning white female and black man relations as well as the influence of culture and history on defining identity. Following the development and interaction process, Ralph finally shows his growth in characters from naivety to a more appreciation of the environment around him and also an understanding on how to develop within that world (Ralph).
Across the novel Ellison has stressed on the fact that racism form a barrier to a personal identity. This can be seen as the invisible man narrator battles to reach at a formation of his personal identity, he discovers that his efforts have been convoluted by virtue of him being black and living in a society full of racism. Throughout the invisible man, the story teller finds himself going through various communities starting from liberty paints through to Brotherhood; he notices each microcosm approving a different opinion on the expected behaviour of the blacks. As he tries to identify himself via the expectations and values forced on him, he realises that in every case the endorsed role restricts his convolution as a person and compels him to act an inauthentic role.
On reaching New York City the narrator joins the Liberty paints world, the plant achieves success in its finances via sabotaging blackness in brighter Whiteman’s service. In this plant he finds himself taking part in processes where black men are heavily relied upon by white men in mixing paint tones as well as workforce racial makeup (Ralph 828). Yet the plant still denies this correlation in the ultimate presentation of the product and this leads to the narrator being stifled up a clear indication of racial discrimination.
Finally as the story teller unites with the brotherhood, he trusts in fighting for equality in all races through working with the organizations ideology, however, he still realises that the brotherhood also seeks to make use of him like a black man who is a token in its project which is very abstract. Finally the story teller understands that other people’s racial prejudice causes them to understand him as they would like to seem only, and their vision limitation in turn puts them on his capability to take action. According to the narrator he is invisible because the universe is full of people who are blind, who will not and can not observe his real character .Correspondingly, he continues to be incapable of acting as per his own individuality and becomes totally to being himself. Even though he previously clinches on his invisibility in trying to put way the restricting stereotype nature, he eventually finds out that the tactic is passive. He endeavours to emerge from hibernation to personally contribute to the society as a person who is complex. He tries to apply his power on the external society system which comprises of defined roles. He presumes that by proactively contributing to the society, others will be forced to recognize him, recognize the existence of behaviours and beliefs not within their prejudiced anticipations (Christopher 245.)
The complexity of the inside man is however self limiting not by not by other peoples racial discrimination but by their general ideologies. As Ellison puts it the narrator notes that the ideologies which are highly developed by institutions are too simplistic as well as single-dimensional to serve a multidimensional and complex thing like human identity. Ellison bases the ideology of the college on Booker Washington ideas, who is presented as a founder via, an almost religious loyalty to the legend founder’s life, where college students are taught to look for economic advancement and work hard while avoiding clamouring for same opportunity, treatment and rights from whites.
College students are encouraged to defy the culture of the black to an extent that the culture is seen as rural and ignorant, and to march their behaviour to that of the middle class whites. The brotherhood sticks to ideologies based on American communist societies, a type of social discrimination which is very authoritative and which depends on the theory of history in Marxist theory that states that those people who belong to social status which is low must surrender themselves to the obvious unavoidable higher social class battles to the journey of equality. Basing on this theory, brotherhood therefore prices scientific, clinical exposition over the emotional plea on behave of a person.
In battle royal the grand father to the narrator explains his conviction that to mock and undermine social discrimination, blacks should extend their servility the white people. For instance, blindness in Battle Royal depicts how individuals avoid confronting truth and seeing wilfully. Ellison notes that individual’s limitation to visibility on what they do not desire to see or their incapability to see what their oppressor would not wish them to see can result to a life effective limitation to visibility. He also depicts the fact that most of the people refuse to embrace truths concerning themselves as well as their communities. The refusal emerges in the blindness imagery. For example the boys fighting in ‘Battle royal’ have worn blindfolds depicting their lack of power to understand their exploitation in the hands of the whites. Since the world is filled with people who are sleep walkers and blind hence unable to see who the narrator is, he therefore defines himself as ‘invisible’. An individual can be invisible as a result of another one being blind (Houston 830).In this battle Ellison is concerned with surviving and winning the battle of against racial discrimination (John 132).
In conclusion, Ellison is one of the many African-American who have experienced the restriction of racial discrimination stereotyping. While he attempts to escape the prejudice grip at a personal level, he meets other black person who tries to define a defensive strategy for each and every African-American. Each of this people presents a model of the ought to be right way to exist in America as black as well as trying to figure out how blacks are supposed to act with respect to the model. The model espousers believe that any person who behaves contrary to the prescriptions deceives the race .Finally, never the less, Ellison realises that such kind of prescription counteracts one stereotype for another thus replacing one limitation for another.
Christopher, Shinn. ‘Masquerade, magic and carnival in Ralph Ellison’s invisible man: African American review 37.1(2002) 243-261
Houston, Baker. ‘To move without moving; an analysis of creativity and commerce in Ralph Ellison true blood episode: PMLA 99.5 (1983)828-844
John, Callahan. ‘Chaos, complexity and possibility: The historical frequencies of Ralph Waldo Ellison Black American literature forum 12.5 (1977),130-138
Kimberly, Lamm . Visuality and black masculine in Ralph Ellisons invisible man and romare beardens photomontages:Callaloo 26.4(2003)814-834
McSweeney, Kerry. Invisible Man: Race and–Identity. (1988). Boston: G.K.Hall,.
Ralph Ellison. ‘Battle royal’accessed on 04/05/2010 from http://www.wicknet.org/english/bfreeman/Anthology/battle_royal.htm