What is the theme of the story “Battle Royal”?

Here is the answer and explanation to the question What is the theme of the story “Battle Royal”?

What is the theme of the story “Battle Royal”?

The theme of “Battle Royal” is the subjugation of Black people and the brutal methods by which they are induced to accept and internalize white supremacy.

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In “Battle Royal,” the protagonist is a model student who is invited to deliver his high school graduation speech “at a gathering of the town’s leading white citizens.” This is regarded as an honor by his community and family. After delivering the speech, he is rewarded with a briefcase which contains “a scholarship to the state college for Negroes.”

Antiracist activists in the twenty-first century might find plenty to criticize in this narrative alone, particularly since the speech the boy delivers is heavily influenced by Booker T. Washington, full of accommodationist sentiments about the need for Black people to accept a system of white hegemony and work within it. However, the protagonist can barely deliver his speech, since his mouth is filling with blood, following the brutal and degrading rituals which preceded it.

These rituals, designed to humiliate the participants for the amusement of their audience, intensify the theme, which is how Black people are subjugated and forced to accept white supremacy. It is important to the white community that all Black people should be humiliated in this way, but it matters particularly in the case of those who receive their charity and are marked out as future leaders of the Black community. The idea behind the battle royal and the scramble for worthless tokens on an electrified rug is that the protagonist will always associate his education and his good fortune with these experiences and will accept that he cannot challenge the supremacy of the White elite.

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