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African American strugle for recognition - Book Report/Review Example

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The African American struggle for recognition, identity and acceptance as part of the human race may, quite accurately, be used to summarize the general premise of both Richard Wright's "Big Good Black Man," and Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal." …
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African American strugle for recognition
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Download file to see previous pages The African American struggle for recognition, identity and acceptance as part of the human race may, quite accurately, be used to summarize the general premise of both Richard Wright's "Big Good Black Man," and Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal." Both stories expose the struggle which African Americans confront as they try to operate within the confines of societies which persistently perceive of them through the racial lens Ellison's protagonist is confronted with the imperatives of having to prove his individuality and having to enter into a battle royal in order to be granted a college scholarship and, thus, the chance to become someone. Wright's protagonist has to prove himself a human being and, indeed, all his actions, words and attitudes are continually compared to the norm for determination of whether he is a man or beast. Both protagonists are viewed as quasi-human because of their skin color and, accordingly, their struggle, whether consciously or unconsciously taken, begins from point zero. The implication here is that theirs is a struggle to establish that which non-blacks take for granted; the struggle to achieve societal recognition of their humanity and establish their individuality. Racism, as both authors communicate, contests their humanity, their manhood and individuality. Proceeding from the aforementioned, this essay will critically compare and contrast the primary theme, setting and viewpoint of either story in order to illustrate how each author deals with the topic of race.
Although both stories appear to adopt race as their primary theme, a close critical reading of "Big Good Black Man" and "Battle Royal" indicates that race is the general topic of both, rather than their theme. Instead, the primary theme in both "Battle Royal" and "Big Good Black Man" is the struggle to affirm identity and confirm humanity within the context of societies which perceive of members of the black race as sub-human or alien to the norm. Both Wright and Ellison portray racial tensions and race relations in terms of a search for identity and the redefinition of manhood. To be recognized as someone and to have his humanity acknowledged, Ellison's protagonist lived by his grandfather's advice: "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" (Ellison, p. 938). He submitted whenever he had to, even agreeing to engage in a "battle royal" to gain a place at university and prove himself someone, a man. In other words, he adopted an insidious persona, appearing unassuming and unthreateningly and, importantly, accepting of societal definitions of his own self while, in fact, he was accepting of none of the stated and was motivated by the determination to become someone, establish his individuality and impose his unquestioned humanity upon his surrounding society. Similarly, Wright's protagonist, whether he does so consciously or not, has to prove himself a man, rather than a black thing. Jim, whose appearance is antithetical to all that which Olaf associates with mankind, must establish himself as a man through action, words, behavior and attitude. His sheer blackness is such that Olaf simply cannot accept him as human. Within the context of the stated, the theme is similarly the affirmation of humanity and identity within the parameters of a societal which is incapable of recognizing him as such simply because of his skin color. The implication here is that both works of fiction delve into the topic of race to portray the extent to which the reluctance of the Other to accept alternate types of manhood and humanity as legitimate provoke a search for identity and the redefinition of manhood.
The settings of both stories are also comparable because the locus of action in both is, whether figuratively or literally, a boxing ring. In Ellison's "Battle Royal" the protagonist is called upon to affirm his humanity, confirm his manhood and ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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