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A Comparison/Contrast between Battle Royal and The Birthmark
Racial segregation is a form of discrimination where members of one race believe themselves to be superior to another race or other races. Racism was rampant worldwide; it manifested itself through slavery especially in America and Europe where the whites felt they were superior to Africans and could ship them to work on their farms as slaves who could be owned just as property. Today, racism is not as common as it once was. This is not to say that it has completely disappeared as it still rears its ugly head in countries such as the United Kingdom, Russia and Germany. This study focuses to highlight, expound, and compare the elements of racism as expressed in The Birthmark and Battle royal, short stories written by Ralph Ellison and Nathaniel Hawthorne respectively.
In his novel, The Invisible Man, Ellison gives racism and humanity different dimensions and paints them in diverse lights (Ellison, 2010). This is not to say that he describes racism as a noble trait or desirable character. Battle Royal is set in a period when racism was at its peak in America. It was a time when the American south was deeply entrenched in racism and only conformism would make them mellow toward the black race but this affection seemed feigned as revealed with the outcome at the end of the story. This seemingly innate hatred toward blacks gave the different characters attitudes. For some such as the narrator in Battle Royal, it was simply indifference brought about by naivety. His grandfather harbored feelings of regret mixed with anguish and a sense of betrayal toward his people. In The Birthmark, Aylmer is seen as a very intelligent scientist who is willing to do almost anything in order to have his way. However, he appears not to realize that it is the simple thing such as his wife’s The Birthmark that makes humans so special (Hawthorne, 2007). He would go to any length, including kill his wife, just to prove a point. Georgiana on the other hand loves her husband very much. It is this love that costs her life at the end of the story.
Aylmer is an intellectual; a brilliant scientist whose inventions could possibly change the world. He desires a godlike status and seems obsessed with having things go his way. All that he creates are considers worthless. Georgiana is a beautiful woman who is the exact opposite of her husband. She considers minute things such as her birthmark important and a symbol of beauty. Georgina is, therefore, the ideal wife; never asking questions and trusting every word denoted by her husband. The price for this blind obedience is her life. On the other hand, Aminadab is more like Georgiana valuing the little yet unique things in life and appreciating what Aylmer considers a sign of blemish.
In Battle Royal, several different characters, all of whom have different traits, are highlighted. In this case, the narrator and his grandfather standout. The narrator’s grandfather sees himself as a traitor to his family, to his people and the black race as a whole. He feels that being overly obedient to his captors and masters and giving nothing but yeses and grins were not the best ways to live life. He advises the narrator’s father to have two personalities; one of obedience and loyalty and the other of resentment and hatred, and never forgetting what they had gone through at the hands of their masters. On the other hand, the narrator was intelligent, free thinking, and naïve. He refuses to take his grandfather’s advice and believes that the only way to gain trust and respect of the whites is wholehearted service and obedience. For a while, it seems to work as he gives speeches and is rewarded with a scholarship only to find out it was nothing more than a sham. The young man’s name is never revealed as he is symbolic of a new generation of black people. The grandfather’s dying words show that he is a remorseful man with a lot of regret.
The two stories are both told in third person point of view. Battle Royal would not have been any more effective if narrated in first person point of view (Milhorn, 2010). However, it would have made the readers to relate more and even become more empathetic about the subject matter under discussion.
Battle Royal is entrenched with loads of symbolism. The term ‘battle royal’ itself is symbolic of blindness and masks adorned by ignorant black people. The boys who fight wear blindfolds and pound each other. As a result of the masks worn, they end up fighting each other and not the real enemy that is the white man. Literal blindfolds show metaphorical blindness of the men who oversee the fight. They are blind because they do not see the potential of the boys as human beings but rather as animals only capable of fighting in a ring. The naked blonde was a symbol of sexuality as they were forced to look at her. The whites believed that the blacks were obsessed with sex. The young man’s dream at the end shows a realization of the truth that his grandfather was right all along.
The Birthmark represents different things for diverse characters. In the case of Georgiana, it is a symbol of beauty and pride. Every man that she comes across would risk death just to kiss it. This, however, changes when her husband asks whether she would consider removing it. It becomes a source of shame and disgrace to her and Aylmer. Actually, not even the opinion of a hundred men would make her change hers. The alchemy in the story represents the desires of human beings to control humanity, the conquest to achieve godlike status and the knowledge that if the alchemy goes unchecked then it may result in death.
The authors of the two stories are trying to show that human life is sacred and human beings can be timid just as they can be terrifying. The Birthmark shows the sanctity of human life. Humans should be loved respected despite their apparent flaws or differences. Similarly in Battle Royal, degradation is seen where the boys are forced to look upon a naked woman and later fight whilst blindfolded.
Fear is also a central theme in the stories. In The Birthmark, Georgiana fears her husband and is willing to do anything, even risk death just to be accepted and seen as beautiful in his eyes. In the Battle Royal, the narrator is also fearful of the masses. This is evident when he makes a mistake and says “social equality” instead of “social responsibility”. He is shouted down and corrects his mistake.
Discrimination also runs deep within the stories. The most obvious example would be the use of the word “nigger”. The word itself is offensive and discriminatory. In, The Birthmark, Georgiana is not really discriminated against per say. However her husband sees the mark on her skin as a blemish and something to get rid of instead of seeing it as a source of beauty. In Battle royal, the undertakings of forcing the black boys to fight blindfolded was also discriminatory in nature (O’Brien, 2010). As far my experience is concerned, a friend of mine, a citizen of Botswana, asserted that while studying in Germany, she was subjected to discriminatory remarks and instances that made her drop out of school. This was primarily due to the fact that she was African.
In summation, the two stories, Battle Royal and The Birthmark, highlight another side of humanity that most people do not know exists. It is the facet of hatred as never seen before. A side that sets people ablaze simply because they are of different colors. Based on the discriminatory remarks and aspects, as expounded in the discussion, racism is a vice that ought to be abetted. Also, the discussion has highlighted the new kinds of discrimination are emerging; homophobia, xenophobia, and discrimination of the disabled as seen all over.
Ellison, R. (2010). Invisible Man. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Hawthorne, N. (2007). The The Birthmark. New York: Perfection Learning Publishers.
Milhorn, T. (2010). Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide to the Craft. Chicago: Universal-Publishers.
O’Brien, T. (2010). The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.