In “Battle Royal,” Ellison uses details of setting to create the mood of horror and repulsion. The horror begins when the narrator listens to a conversation between his father and grandfather, as his grandfather lay on his death bed. “Son, after I’m gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction, let ’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open” 256. This statement had a great effect on the narrator, although he wasn’t quite sure what it meant. It set a sense of fear in him. “And whenever things went well for me I remember my grandfather and felt guilty and uncomfortable. It was as though I was carrying out his advice in spite of myself”257.Order now
The narrator didn’t plan on taking his grandfather’s advice, and each time he found himself doing exactly that, it made him feel guilty. “I felt guilt that in some way I was doing something that was really against the wishes of the white folks” 257. This continued path of fear and hatred are carried out throughout the story.
Ellison gives the reader the idea of hatred and horror when he sets the scene in the ballroom of the hotel. This is where the “Battle Royal” was to take place. The battle room was filled with smoke and in the center was the portable boxing ring that was to be used for the fight. On three sides of the ring, chairs were placed for the audience to observe the battle. These audience members were that of an upper-class status, “…bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, fire chiefs, teachers, merchants. Even one of the more fashionable pastors” 258. To top it off, they were all white as well. Each of them arrived in tuxedos “…wolfing down the buffet foods, drinking beer and whiskey and smoking black cigars” 257. Ellison was taking us into the scene to show us the intimidation the narrator felt as he saw the audience members. It was extremely terrifying for the narrator.
After the fighters were ordered to the ring, they were to be blindfolded. This gave the narrator a sense of fear and horror that he was not used to. He didn’t like the darkness and the unknowing of what lied ahead. “…I felt a sudden fit of terror. I was unused to darkness. It was as though I had suddenly found myself in a dark room filled with poisonous cottonmouths” 259.
One of the audience members spoke to the narrator, “See that boy over there?…I want you to run across at the bell and give it to him right in the belly. If you don’t get him, I’m going to get you” 259. This was told to the other fighters as well. Not one person in the audience felt any sympathy for the boys. One yelled, “I want to get that ginger-colored nigger. Tear him limb from limb” 259. Others were kicking chairs and causing quite a commotion. This put an even greater horrifying feeling in the narrator. “I wanted to see, to see more desperately than ever before” 260. The blindfold was not allowing this. All it was doing was taking away what dignity he had.
After the battle was complete, the portable ring was taken away and a small rug with coins, bills, and gold pieces was put in its place. Each of the fighters were told to sit around the rug as though they were of another species, perhaps from another planet. This set a sense of excitement in each of them, but at the same time they feared what was to come. Once the narrator heard the word “Go” 262 he went straight for the goods. “I lunged for a yellow coin lying on the blue design of the carpet, touching it and sending a surprised shriek to join those rising around me. I tried frantically to remove my hand but could not let go. A hot, violent force tore through my body, shaking me like a wet rat.
The rug was electrified” 262-3. This didn’t stop the crowd from yelling obscenities at the boys. “Pick it up, goddamnit, pick it up!…Go on, get it” 263. This made the boys feel as though they had to do what was said, they feared the crowd more than they feared the electricity of the rug. Ellison uses this scene to show the repulsion the audience felt toward the fighters and the fear the fighters had of them.
Throughout this story, “Battle Royal,” Ellison creates a mood of horror and repulsion toward the black fighters, especially toward the narrator. From the first scene next to the grandfather’s death bed, to the money on the rug. He takes his readers to the fight to see just what’s taking place, not only in the mind of the narrator, but in the minds of the upper-class white folks as well. By describing to the readers the details of each scene, he gives them a chilling sense of what it’s like to be horrified and hated.