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Aspects of Identity

In: English and Literature

Submitted By Elijah7694
Words 1975
Pages 8
Elijah Kearse
Professor Martin
English 110
November 11, 2012 Aspects of Identity In both stories Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison, and Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates, the characters both live in a made up world. In the story, Battle Royal, a young African American boy grew up during the segregation and slavery period. He thought of himself as an “invisible man.” He was naïve and couldn’t find himself and was asking everyone but himself. He is in distraught of the death of his grandfather; he portrayed the image of him throughout his life. He had to live with the conscious of his granfather’s advice in his mind. On his graduation day he delivered an oration in which he showed that humility was the secret, indeed, the very essence of progress. Then he was invited to give the speech at a gathering of the town’s leading white citizens. He was placed into a battle royal before he can say his speech with several other young men. During his speech he was laughed at and yelled at for phrases he stated. After his speech he was awarded a scholarship to the state college for Negroes. This story is similar to, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, in a way that both characters are naïve. Connie has always looked at herself on the mirror. Her mother scolded her to stop and she wanted her to be more like her sister. Connie’s sister June was neat and responsible and her mother wanted Connie to portray the image of her. Lucky for Connie, her mother allows June to go out with her friends so she then lets Connie go out with her friends. Her bestfriend’s father takes them to the shopping plaza drops them off and picks them. Connie and her friend sometimes sneak across the street to a restaurant to meet guys. One night Connie goes there and an unfamiliar guy starts to talk to her. Then one day she’s home alone and the guy actually shows up to her house and ends kidnapping her. In these stories both authors introduce characters like “The Invisible Man” and Connie to reveal that you are who you are by what the society sees you as; apart from how hard they both try to push against the stereotypes placed upon them. They cannot escape the identity that their respective societies have created for them. In the story, Battle Royal, the invisible man was very naïve. He did not know who he was, he asked everyone but himself. But if there was one thing that drove him to succeed was his grandfather. Ralph Ellison states, “He was an odd old guy, my grandfather, and I am told I take after him. It was he who caused the trouble” (Ellison 241). The grandfather on his death starts to state things that the invisible man finds very weird. The grandfather starts to talk to the invisible man’s father,
“Son, after I am gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. 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 241).
This had the invisible man in distraught, his grandfather calling himself a traitor and a spy just had him puzzled. He feels so confused because his grandfather had been a quiet old man who never made any trouble. The invisible man would feel terrible when things were going well for him, because he felt guilty. He was carrying the advice of his grandfather in the back of his head. He felt like he should fight for what he stands for. He needed to fight for what were right to him and his family. Throughout the town he was considered to be an example of desirable conduct; he acted the exact way the society wanted him to act. But he felt guilty for acting that way knowing his grandfather wanted him to act a different way. But the things stopping him from fighting for what he believed in was the society and his grandfather. He wanted to fight but he knew that the society wouldn’t accept him for acting like that; he was already African American which was the worst part of it all. His society was already filled with whites, who did not want to see African Americans succeed. It was like he was living in two different worlds, being pulled into two different directions and having two different perspectives on life just like Connie. These characters will never be able to escape the identities their societies have placed on them. The Invisible Man acts smart and delivers a speech, to get humiliated by the crowd which laughed at him. The invisible man and Connie also are both naïve. The invisible man is naïve about how dangerous his society is. Due to him being African American makes everything so hard on him. Black people are looked down at in his society, almost as nothing. Also he thinks he can change what the society sees him as. No matter what he does the society is still going to view him as an African American.
In Connie’s case, she is a fifteen year old teenager that has to live up to the expectation of her mother. Connie wants to be able to act older than what she really is but her mother wants her to be like her older sister June. June is neat and responsible, has a job, and helps out her parents while Connie doesn’t do anything. Connie sees herself as a mature woman while her mother sees her as a little girl. In the story Joyce Carol Oates shows one abstract thing that allows Connie to act as an older girl. She states, “There was one good thing: June went places with girl friends of hers, girls who were just as plain and steady as she, and so when Connie wanted to do that her mother had no objections” (Oates 370). Connie had a little bit of the freedom she wanted but she started to abuse it. Connie and her friend sometimes went to the restaurant across from the shopping plaza they usually went to. Most times when you sneak to do something it never turns out good. Connie has tried to act and even dress older but she is still viewed as a young girl. In the story Oates says, “She was fifteen and she had a quick nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors, or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right (Oates 369). Connie tries so hard to be noticed as an adult but it just doesn’t happen. She is also naïve just like the Invisible Man because she tries to make the society see her as a mature young woman. In reality the society still views her as a little girl.
The Invisible Man is different from Connie in the way they handle their situations. He has received advice from his grandfather to fight against society but instead he chooses to follow society’s rules. The Invisible Man has to go through a “Battle Royal” before he can say his speech. He was put into a ring blindfolded with several African American men to fight against each other. After getting through the battle he was finally able to give his speech. The invisible mad had been thinking so much about the advice his grandfather has told him but he has not made any effort to step up for anything. It was hard for him to give his speech at a high voice due to the blood from his mouth and nose. In the article, “Ralph Ellison’s Use in ‘Battle Royal’” Diane Murphy, she states, “By swallowing his blood, the narrator also swallows his dignity” (Murphy). The Invisible Man is not living up to his expectations of his grandfather by giving his speech and not fighting. He chooses to follow the rules of the society instead of sticking up for himself. The crowd he preaches to laughs at him and he not able to say his real speech because of what the crowd will say. He says one word everyone snaps at him. One man says, “Well, you had better speak more slowly so we can understand. We mean to do right by you, but you’ve got to know your place at all times” (Ellison 253). The society wants him to stay in his place where he is not able to speak up for himself at all. He cannot express himself fully in his speech as he wants because of what the white men might say to him.
Connie on the other hand rebels against her mother and society because they are telling her she is too young to do certain things. Connie believes that she is old enough to do anything she wants. She doesn’t just sit there and allow her mother or society that she cannot do anything; she takes what her mother gives her and abuses it. Since her sister June is able to go out with her friends, Connie is able to go out with hers. Instead of Connie going to the shopping plaza she usually goes to the restaurant across the street to meet guys. She is started to get ahead of herself and ends up meeting a few guys. Her acting the way she does has caught the attention of an unknown guy. A guy was watching her at the restaurant she snuck off to and he tells her, “Gonna get you, baby” (Oates 371). The society views her as a girl that younger than she acts. Older guys like to talk to girls that believe they are older than they are. In the results of Connie acting this way she is kidnapped by the guy. If she was not trying to prove the society wrong it wouldn’t have came to these circumstances.
The Invisible Man and Connie are characters that are revealed to the readers to show that it is not you who can make your identity. It is your society that can provide you with your identity. The Invisible Man has the image as an African American male that wouldn’t amount to anything because of his skin color. He was not able to say certain things because of what his society will say to him which made him a coward for not standing up for what is right like his grandfather was wanted him to do. Due to the criticism of his society he did not know who he was and he labeled himself as the “Invisible Man”. Connie on the other hand had her society view her as a little girl in which she did not believe. She wanted to prove them wrong by trying ti talk to boys or go places she wasn’t supposed to. But her doing these things only made her seem less mature. The identity their society has created for them cannot be escaped. Works Cited
Ellison, Ralph. The Battle Royal. 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Beverly Lawn. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 241-254. Print.
Murphy, Diane. "Ralph Ellison's Use of Imagery in "Battle Royal"" Yahoo! Contributor
Network. Diane Murphy, 18 Feb. 2007. Web. 9 Nov. 2012.
Oates , Carol Joyce. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? 40 Short Stories: A
Portable Anthology. Ed. Beverly Lawn. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 369-
384. Print.

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