Ralph Waldo Ellison was a Tuskegee Laureate, brilliant author, and a brave social critic and commentator. His work Invisible Man, broke boundaries when it was published in 1952, and many of it's messages are still relevant in today's world. A major theme present in the first chapter of Invisible Man, titled Battle Royale, is the concept of segregation. When Ralph Waldo Ellison was accepted into the prestigious Tuskegee institute, he later remarked he was surprised to observe that students still viewed him as an outsider because of where he was from, and for being accepted because the school needed another trumpet player. In Battle Royale we observe the separation of individuals based on physical size, and also based on potential intellect. The common theme being that Ellison recognized that the cruel nature of humans is to ostracize and segregate anything we see as different, we ignore, ridicule, and dehumanize the individual and eventually, we create the Invisible Man.
An artists depiction of the fight scene in "Battle Royale"
Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in the year 1917 in Oklahoma city, Oklahoma. Understanding the time period and place Ellison was born is crucial in understanding what helped inspire Ellison's brilliant penmanship. Oklahoma has a long history of racism and segregation, and an intellect like Ellison was certainly aware of the hatred and ignorance beheld by so many, simply because of the color of his skin and his desire for equal opportunity.
To gain perspective on the reality of living in Oklahoma as a person of color, these are a few "Jim Crowe Laws" that where in affect during Ellison's lifetime.
1921: Miscegenation. (Statute). Prohibited marriage between Indians and Negroes.1921: Education. (Statute). Misdemeanor for a teacher to teach white and colored children in the same school. Penalty: Cancellation of teaching certificate without renewal for one year.1921: Public accommodations. (Statute). Required maintenance of separate accommodations for colored persons in public libraries in cities with a Negro population of 1,000 or more.1925: Entertainment. (City Ordinance). Black bands were prohibited from marching with white bands in Oklahoma City parades. Also, white Golden Gloves boxers were prohibited from sparring against black boxers.1937: Public carriers. (Statute). Public carriers to be segregated.1949: Health Care. (Statute). Called for a consolidated Negro institution to care for blind, deaf and orphans.1954: Public accommodations. (Statute). Separate rest rooms in mines required.1955: Miscegenation. (Statute). Marriage of anyone of African descent to one who is white prohibited. Penalty: Up to $500 and one to five years imprisonment.1957: Adoption. (Statute). Adoption petitions must state race of petitioner and child.
Ellison's upbringing in a troubled state like Oklahoma would serve as motivation to be a success personally in life, but also a success that could be championed by other African Americans. After his departure from the Tuskegee institute without the completion of a degree, Ellison moved to Harlem where he was surrounded by a cultural and societal phenomenon now known as the "Harlem Renaissance". In hindsight the historical onlooker or researcher can certainly agree that Ellison's decision to move to Harlem during this time period, subsequently being surrounded by authors like Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, this decision would drastically influence Ellison's creativity and desire to become an author and social activist.
Battle Royale, shares similarities with the life of it's author, Ralph Waldo Ellison. The tragedy in Battle Royale lies in the fact that our main character, an intelligent young man, is essentially objectified through pure racism and hatred, his intelligence and hopeful mind not even given consideration. Royale is hyperbolic in a sense, showing the reader how some must sacrifice every shred of dignity they have just to gain an equal opportunity. Not exactly similar to the life of Ellison, however there are parallels. Ellison growing up in Oklahoma during the early twentieth century to a single mother with no stable job, he had to make very important decisions throughout his life that where certainly not easy to make. Invisible man and more specifically it's first chapter Battle Royale, are openly reflective of the racial and societal problems that African American's had to face during Ellison's lifetime, and especially the years following it's publication. Not only is Battle Royale an obvious commentary on race, but it is also revealing of the threshold some individuals are willing to cross to achieve that "Equal" opportunity.
Having being born in 1913 and passing away in 1994, Ellison was undoubtedly witness to major progress towards equal rights. Being surrounded by brilliant minds like Hughes and Wright, attending the Tuskegee institute, becoming a fellow at the American institute in Rome, the list goes on and on. The history of the life of Ralph Waldo Ellison goes hand in hand with black history, American history, because Ellison was directly apart of it.
The reason I chose to make an Adobe Spark to do this final project was because I wanted to visually represent historical and literary content that would relate to the life of our author, Ralph Waldo Ellison. My main goal was to explore the similarities in the life of Ralph Waldo Ellison and the first chapter of his book Invisible Man, titled Battle Royale. Similarities between the qualities of the main character in Battle Royale, and its author, Ellison, are similarities that can be related to not only our author, but to most people. Everyday battles between dignity and perseverance can leave an individual to question one's path in life. After examination of historical circumstances relevant to Ellison's time period it is easy to understand why Ellison would publish something like Battle Royale. Ellison's audience in 1952 wouldn't have doubted the realistic nature of Royale. The average reader would certainly recognize the message being sent, those subject to racism and intolerance understand what they are being subject to... they simply sacrifice individual dignity for the benefit of the future race. In my eyes, the publication of only this chapter, let alone the award winning novel invisible man, these publications deem Ellison a brave social commentator and brilliant author. We often look at personal struggles and gauge accomplishments with them in mind. For Ellison, his personal struggles are reflective of entire generations of people. Jim Crowe laws limited opportunity for millions of Americans in the decades following the civil war, and those in the south where especially affected. By gaining a historical perspective from this Adobe Spark, the audience can truly begin to understand the epic life that Ellison ended up having. Persevering through America's most turbulent racial times, to becoming a world renown author, professor, activist, Ellison's life is defined by the time period he lived in. I chose to do this final project specifically on this work, and on Ellison himself, because the nature of the work Battle Royale is very interesting. Painting such a brutal picture with the savage imagery of the actual battle, I wondered what circumstances the author went through in his life to create such a moving story. As I found out, Ellison wasn't particularly subject to an event like the one depicted in Battle Royale, but he could have been. The important thing isn't that the story is based on personal events from Ellison's life, but the story was based on events that were in a way, accepted, by a racist culture. The fact that Ellison is able to relate to the struggle of every black man, woman, child, and create a literary work accepted by myself and so many others as genius, this is the important fact. Ellison's literary genius can be attributed to the Harlem Renaissance, his time at the Tuskegee institute, or even his childhood. Whether it be all of these factors or none at all, it cannot be argued that Ellison's genius was a product of the time he lived in.
“Jim Crow Laws in Oklahoma.” NewsOK.com, 13 Feb. 2005, newsok.com/article/2884332. Accessed 3 May 2017.
“Ralph Ellison.” Ralph Ellison | Read.gov - Library of Congress, www.read.gov/fiction/ellison.html. Accessed 3 May 2017.
“Segregation | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.” Segregation | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entryname=SEGREGATION. Accessed 5 May 2017.