“Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison and “Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan
“Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison and “Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan are two stories, which represent the struggle of people of different nationalities (in the first case – those of African descent, and in the second instance – Chinese) for the rights and decent life in the USA. Both stories are full of dramatic and even tragic moments that demonstrate the attitude of Americans towards them. Thus, the two narrators fight for their place in society and recognition in spite of common prejudices and outdated ideas. Ralph Ellison is an American writer, whose main purpose was to depict the life of an African-American man in the United States during the forties of the twentieth century. He was one of the first writers, who touched taboo themes at that time. Racism and white men advantages in social, political, and common life were one of the key themes in American literature. Ellison wanted to show people how their repressed attitude to persons of color influenced the lives, work, families, physical and mental conditions of the latter. Amy Tan, an American writer of Chinese descent, had the same aim. She represents problems, which impacts Chinese and their lives in the US.A. These two authors are different, though they have a common goal to awaken society and try to change its treatment for people despite of color of the skin, social position, and overall development.
Ralph Ellison’s Book Invisible Man
“Battle Royal” is the first chapter of Ralph Ellison’s book Invisible Man. The main hero is a Negro narrator, whose name is not mentioned. This character has unstable mental and emotional state: he states his invisibility and memorized his grandfather’s death. According to Ellison:
I am an invisible man... I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. (134)
The Author’s Idea
There are a couple of episodes that demonstrate the author’s idea, and one of them is the death of the narrator’s grandfather. This part of the story is not incidental. Though grandfather is the representative of the past, he is a symbol of slavery, which influences the narrator's life. In spite of the narrator’s tries to leave his past and move on, he is forced to accept it before he can deal with the future. During the whole Ellison’s novel, the grandfather's spirit supports the narrator; his role is to guide him and show the treatment of White Americans to Afro-Americans and that their slavery remains. The author demonstrates the fact that, in spite of the social, political, or economic progress, the right of African-American men to freedom and the opportunity for a wealthy living are violated. The same symbol, which reminds of the national roots, is present in “Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan. This is the story from the book The Joy Luck Club. The narrator is a little eight-year-old girl Waverly Jong, who is taught the art of invisible strength by her mother. Her mother, Lindo Jong, is a representative of the past; she is a symbol of the Chinese nation. These characters demonstrate difficult times, which people of color go through in America.
The Episode with the Erotic Dance
Two narrators of the stories are shown as fighters against the system. Waverly takes everything into her hands and shows a difficult and complex work, which she did to become the best in the game of chess. The narrator in “Battle Royal” also achieves a lot: he wins a scholarship and is going to make a speech. Thus, he arrives at the hotel, but despite his expectations, he becomes involved in dishonest and dirty things, one of which is an erotic dance with a blond girl. This episode is a symbol of betrayal, failed beliefs and promises. The only way to win the opportunity of presenting his speech is to accept the game’s rules and participate in the boxing match. Waverly Jong also has to accept the game’s rules. She is always punished for the true desire to struggle for social equality and human rights. Punishment forms the thought of both heroes that social equality is not acceptable and normal standard, though they have to find a way from the constant mental, spiritual, emotional abuse in American society. Waverly is obsessed with chess. When she had a dream about this game, the fear of the mother was shown, and the girl was scared of mother's wrath and its effects. Her main purpose is to be the best player in chess. An example of her obsession is the visualized game when she fell asleep. The mother of the girl also plays an important role in the story. At the begging, she got the chess board and presented it to children, who were very glad to get it. Nevertheless, her attitude to the game is very changeable, and from the moment when her little daughter starts to win the chess matches one by one, she becomes very proud because of founding such a person. Waverly Jong became a victim of mother’s pride of the daughter. Tan states, “Why do you have to use me to show off? If you want to show off, then why don’t you learn to play chess” (112).
The narrator of “Battle Royal” is also a victim, but of the circumstances. The episode with the erotic dance represents the value system of the American people and its distorted state. The so-called American dream, which includes “freedom, liberty, and justice”, is perfectly demonstrated by the tattoo of blond girl that is illustrated by the flag. Each concept is substituted by the value of money, physical and emotional satisfaction, and power. All the characters in the hotel are shown as dolls, the main symbol of which is the blond girl. In such a way, the author emphasizes human powerlessness before the game’s rules. Waverly Jong’s story shows a conflict between child’s resistance and opportunities. Taking into account the life in American society, the girl’s mother understands that her children need to learn some rules of it. She impacts them to help them apply their talents in order to enter American society and have the same rights as White Americans. According to Tan, “This American rules... Every time people come out from foreign country, must know rules. You not know, judge say, too bad, go back” (234). This episode shows the mother’s attempt to protect her children from the dark future and facilitate their adaption to the rules of America.
The Boxing Battle
The boxing battle, described by the narrator, is a cruel ritual of transformation that makes the narrator be in a world full of violence and chaos, in which the principles of society are not observed: “no rounds, no bells at three-minute intervals” as it should be in the box (Ellison 45) ). During the battle, the narrator gets a lesson that his being is a fight for the better future, but the man continues to believe that Afro-Americans can succeed in the educational, political, and economic systems. Symbolism of the episode lies in the struggle for mirage, something that cannot be reached. Such struggle is demonstrated in Amy Tan’s “Rules of the Game”, where Waverly and Lindo Jong fight for the dream of freedom from stereotypical thinking. Both characters are rejected by society, and the only attempt, which they have, is the talent of the little girl. Her mother wants to show the whole world that Chinese girl could be the best in spite of the skin color, social status or overall development.
Therefore, the battle in “Battle Royal” is a symbol of social and political inequality. The central place in this struggle is taken by nationality differences such as gender, class, and rate. The narrator has to accept his origin as well as the role of Americans of African ancestry in the country full of white people. The author emphasizes the lives and deprivation of human rights of Afro-Americans in American society by two main elements in the story: the white blindfold on the narrator’s face and the paying tokens. White bandages are the symbols of dazzled by White Americans, and tokens symbolize economic inequity and deprivation of rights, involving African Americans in social life without assurance in the next day. The narrator and Waverly Jong experience racist attitude, and they begin to learn all the cruel impacts without finding the really facts.
“Rules of the Game”
Also, the narrator's speech has to be taken into account in both stories. “Rules of the Game” is represented in the first person, Waverly Jong, whose words are understandable and influence the main themes and ideas of the story. There are a lot of things that are characteristic for a child, but demonstrate the really important issues at the same time. The narrator’s speech of “Battle Royal” is different: it is full of duality and irony. On the other hand, the narrator is a patient: he is doing everything what others want him to do, regardless of his moral rights. According to this feature, both protagonists are similar: they make ill-considered actions, do not think about the consequences, and accept the treatment of others without indignation (Waverly struggles with her mother in the supermarket and goes away, but she comes back home in a few hours). Thus, they are kept from revealing their true identity. One more important symbol in “Battle Royal” is the briefcase made of calf, which demonstrates the relationship between the narrator’s and calves’ destiny: both of them are sacrificed.
Amy Tan gives the opportunity for readers to track the theme, which she provides one by one. The narrative by Chinese-American child shows girl’s thoughts, wishes, and desires to grow up apart from the oppressive influence of the mother. The style of the story is simple that helps convey the author’s ideas to readers: the fight against inequality and the influence of generations. The leading themes of “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison are the struggle of African Americans for a place in American society and the fictional American Dream. The narrator follows his dream by working hard and doing everything to reach it, but he became a victim of his own dreams. The experience of storyteller has shown him that the American Dream is not for Afro-Americans. Additionally, the theme of dreams is presented in both stories. The girl’s dream is a symbol of the struggle for control among Waverly and her mother, in which she demonstrates the mother’s guidelines. This little girl is also a symbol of Chinese people: “Chinese people do many things. Chinese people do business, do medicine, do painting. Not lazy like American people. We do torture. Best torture” (Tan 108). Ellison’s dream is quite different: it symbolizes the running-man. Though one can run away from a variety of things - people’s influence or himself/herself - the teller chose to run by others, who impact his life.
All motifs in the stories remind American characteristic scenes: colors, music, white skin, badly treatment, the greatness of white men, and repressed attitude and racism towards persons of color.