Ralph tells a tale of racial prejudice, envy, disappointment, and shattered ideals. The writer, who has the accent of a man in his forties, reflects on his youth as a Black-American in a white minority world. Despite segregation and threats from whites, the boy trusts in the value of schooling for Blacks. He recalls being asked to deliver his High School graduation speech in front of a group of white people. To his surprise, when he arrived, he was to entertain the town’s leading people. He is blindfolded and thrown into the boxing ring, where he competes against his classmates. The only way for him to be allowed to give his graduation speech is after he competes in the boxing-match, to which he had no choice. Another revelation that he gets is that his grandfather on his deathbed was a traitor. All along he had been spying on his people- the Blacks. However, he gives his grandson advice to pretend to be meek and submissive to survive the status quo (Ellison, 89).
Description of the narrator
The narrator is an unidentified young black man who writes this story as an account of his life. The narrator writes in first person narrative, emphasizing his feelings and individual experience about the experiences portrayed. He is a high school graduate though he has a voice of a man in his forties. He was a likable character which is the reason he was invited by the whites to give his speech at the gathering. He was a psychologically tortured person considering the way he was beaten, bundled up and bloodied in the boxing ring. Also forcing him to watch the flag tattoo on the naked white blonde woman’s belly as she danced was equally torturing. Furthermore, continuous resurfacing of his late grandfather’s ghost must have affected him. This is especially so after the realization that his grandfather had been a traitor and spy on his race. Furthermore, the narrator must be a disappointed man especially when he opens the calfskin briefcase that was supposed to have his scholarship, to his shock, he realizes after opening envelopes engraved in others until the last one that has a document with words ‘to whom it may concern: Keep This Nigger-Boy Running.’ Similarly, the narrator is timid due to the way he follows orders without question. For instance, he is asked to watch the naked blonde woman’s tattoo on her stomach, which he does. Also, his grandfather forces him to open the calfskin briefcase and open the envelopes to get his scholarship which he faithfully does (Ellison, 93).
Circumstances that led the narrator to the gathering of white citizens
The narrator was invited to give his High school graduation speech in this hotel where the meeting was. It was to be a contest for which the winner would be awarded a scholarship to college. Also that he was invited implies that the white citizens liked him and his speech. He also wanted to participate in the contest for a scholarship to the college of the Negroes (as Ellison preferred to call it as opposed to Blacks) together with nine of his classmates.
Moral and mental qualities of these citizens
These citizens are hardhearted towards the feelings of other people. One in their right mind cannot expose a high school graduate to erotic dances by a naked woman. Also, they are criminals and top judging from the way the narrator was bundled up, beaten and bloodied before entering the ring. Also, the white citizens are cheats judging from the way they tricked the narrator into believing that the briefcase contained the scholarship yet it had just a defaming document. They are inconsiderate people. Who goes to fight in a ring blindfolded after being beaten up? The white citizens are liars. They lied to him by inviting the narrator to give his graduation speech yet a lot more awaited him at the hotel like blindfolding, watching erotic dances and fighting in the ring. From all that I deduce that these whites were insensitive cold-hearted and had no values to humanity whatsoever.
Tate (256) asserts that this short story details the struggles Black Americans underwent as slaves. They were tortured, denied their rights, had no say in society, were pushed around and other horrible encounters. Black people, as some referred to them were regarded as lesser people in their communities. Though the narrator believed in education for Blacks, a lot more in addition to education was needed if society was to change. This is because already the inferiority complex issue had set in. For this same reason, the narrator tells of how the ghost of the grandfather kept appearing to him to guide him on how to survive in a white society. Such scenarios speak volumes in as far as the dead not resting in peace knowing that their beloveds are still suffering is in the hands of whites is concerned.
Ellison, Ralph. “Battle royal.” Literature Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Laurie G. Kirszner (1994): 86–206
Tate, Claudia. “Notes on the Invisible Women in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.” Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: A Casebook (2004): 253-266.