“There was nothing to do but what we were told. All ten of us climbed under
the ropes and allowed ourselves to be blindfolded with broad bands of white cloth.”
(“Battle Royal” Ellison 130)
We Find Ourselves Blind
“Battle Royal” is just a portion of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. In his story, Ellison chronicles the struggle of a young man and his inability to be perceived beyond the color of his skin. “Battle Royal” takes place toward the beginning of the young man’s life, just as he is graduating high school. The boy finds himself in the midst of a great battle where he and other black men are being exploited by some elite white males. They are set against one another and humiliated, but the rewards the white me promise are just enough to keep the boys running.We will be looking at four major elements of the passage above.
There is an overwhelming sense of helplessness conveyed in the sentence, “There was nothing to do but what we were told” (Ellison 130). The narrator makes it clear that he feels that there is simply no other option than to do exactly what is instructed. The idea of denial has not even taken root in his mind. At the time, the “Invisible Man” had not developed any sense of standing against the overwhelming tide of white oppression. Ellison seems to suggest that one of the major problems facing the black youth of the time was the inability to think for themselves. Over and over throughout the story, the young men are forced into situations that both humiliate and harm them. Yet through it all, they just keep doing what they are told.
The ropes seem to indicate the status quo. The men are forced “Under the ropes” (130). By this Ellison is representing the way in which black people of the time were forced to go below what was deemed to the norm. There is no doubt that the black community during that time was nowhere near being able to go “over the ropes”. So they, all ten men, crawl under the ropes to join in a battle that is only for the delight of rich white men. These white men are so far detached from the battle that they will never have to even be gauged by the rope. They created the rope, and they control it; they seem hell-bent on keeping the blacks forced under the ropes.
Ellison chooses an interesting way of wording his next phrase; “allowed ourselves to be blindfolded” (130). The verb “allowed” is very important in this excerpt, as it denotes accountability to the people being blinded. By allowing certain things to happen, we are essentially causing them to happen. It does not say that the young men were forced to be blindfolded, but it is clear that the narrator at least partially understands his role in the events. As long as black people continued to allow white oppression, then there would never come any semblance of reformation and equality. Throughout the battle, the young men allow themselves to be humiliated and pitted against one another. The whites wanted the blacks to continue to fight amongst themselves, for if they could keep them focused on one another then they would be far less likely to join together.
When dealing with race, color is almost always important and symbolic in some fashion. The “broad bands of white cloth” (130) represent the scope and total control the white men still had over the young black men. Ellison describes the cloth first as being broad, which conjures to mind the idea of being extensive and vast. This is a fitting description of the expansive control the white men seemed to have over the blacks. The scope of racism and hate was large and cast a pall over the nation. The fact that the blindfolds are white is obviously ensuring that the reader understands who was responsible for this horrible undertaking.
Ellison makes good use of the passage above to bring to light so many of the race issues that were plaguing our nation at the time. Throughout the story, the “Invisible Man” struggles in a world created to keep him from realizing his full potential. As he swallows his blood, he also swallows his pride. By the end of the story, the young mas still does not understand that the white man is going to try to keep him running in circles, hoping to keep him right where they want him. Ellison paints a grossly accurate picture of racism, and uses wonderful symbolism and wording to get that message across.