Stories of Protest: “A Hunger Artist,” “Two Kinds,” and “Battle Royal”

Stories of Protest: “A Hunger Artist,” “Two Kinds,” and “Battle Royal”

Protest can take many forms. In Franz Kafl(a’s “A Hunger Artist,” a man stays true to his calling
no matter what. J ing-mei, in Amy Tan’s story “Two Kinds,” defies her mother, with melancholy
results. The story “Battle Royal” is itself a protest against the brutal effects of racism in the
19505 American South. In this essay, you will perform a critical analysis of E of these three
stories.
You have two options. You may choose one of the questions below as the topic for your essay,
OR you may develop your own question about the stog you want to write about.
1. Is the hunger artist a hero or a tragic figure? Why?
2. Does Jing-mei, the narrator of Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds,” emerge as a winner or a
loser from her struggle with her mother over playing the piano? How does the story
show this?
3. What does the narrator learn from his ordeal in “Battle Royal?” How do the
different parts of the nightmarish evening described in the story contribute to this
lesson?
You; answer to the question you choose will become your thesis. You will then use specific
examples and quotations from the text to support your interpretation of the story. Yourjob is to
convince readers that your interpretation is valid. . .and to capture their interest in the topic as a
whole.
As you develop your thesis and argument, you might address some of the following:
How does the author use different narrative elements (characterization, setting, word
choice, plot etc.) to convey his or her ideas?
What revelations does the main character arrive at by the end of the story? What does she
or he realize about herself? What does she or he learn from other people? Are these
lessons positive or negative?
How does the story you’re analyzing reflect the time period it was written in?
What broader implications does the story have? What insights does it offer into personal
or societal relationships?
Your grade for this essay will be calculated out of 100 points (see below) and is worth 15% of
your final grade in the course.

ELLISON/BATTLE ROYAL l
Quite a struggle was going on. Chairs were being kicked about and I could
hear voices grunting as with a terrific effort. I wanted to see, to see more
desperately than ever before. But the blindfold was as tight as a thick skin-
puckering scab and when I raised my gloved hands to push the layers
of white aside a voice yelled, “Oh, no you don’t, black bastard! Leave that
alone!”
“Ring the bell before Jackson kills him a coon!” someone boomed in the sud- 2
den silence. And I heard the bell clang and the sound of the feet scuffling forward.
A glove smacked against my head. I pivoted, striking out stiffly as someone
went past, and felt the jar ripple along the length of my arm to my shoulder.
Then it seemed as though all nine of the boys had turned upon me at once.
Blows pounded me from all sides while I struck out as best I could. So many
blows landed upon me that I wondered if I were not the only blindfolded
fighter in the ring, or if the man called Iackson hadn’t succeeded in getting me
after all.
Blindfolded, I could no longer control my motions. I had no dignity. I stum-
bled about like a baby or a drunken man. The smoke had become thicker and
with each new blow it seemed to sear and further restrict my lungs. My saliva
became like hot bitter glue. A glove connected with my head, filling my mouth
with warm blood. It was everywhere. I could not tell if the moisture I felt upon
my body was sweat or blood. A blow landed hard against the nape of my neck.
I felt myself going over, my head hitting the floor. Streaks of blue light filled the
black world behind the blindfold. I lay prone, pretending that I was knocked
out, but felt myself seized by hands and yanked to my feet. “Get going, black
boy! Mix it up!” My arms were like lead, my head smarting from blows. I man-
aged to feel my way to the ropes and held on, trying to catch my breath. A
glove landed in my mid-section and I went over again, feeling as though the
smoke had become a knife jabbed into my guts. Pushed this way and that by
the legs milling around me, I finally pulled erect and discovered that I could
see the black, sweat-washed forms weaving in the smoky-blue atmosphere like
drunken dancers weaving to the rapid drum-like thuds of blows.
Everyone fought hysterically. It was complete anarchy. Everybody fought
everybody else. No group fought together for long. Two, three, four, fought one,
then turned to fight each other, were themselves attacked. Blows landed below
the belt and in the kidney, with the gloves open as well as closed, and with my
eye partly opened now there was not so much terror. I moved carefully, avoid-
ing blows, although not too many to attract attention, fighting from group to
group. The boys groped about like blind, cautious crabs crouching to protect
their mid-sections, their heads pulled in short against their shoulders, their
arms stretched nervously before them, with their fists testing the smoke-filled
air like the knobbed feelers of hypersensitive snails. In one corner I glimpsed a
boy violently punching the air and heard him scream in pain as he smashed his
hand against a ring post. For a second I saw him bent over holding his hand,
then going down as a blow caught his unprotected head. I played one group
against the other, slipping in and throwing a punch then stepping out of range

Z76 CONFORMITY AND REBELLION
while pushing the others into the melee to take the blows blindly aimed at me.
The smoke was agonizing and there were no rounds, no bells at three minute
intervals to relieve our exhaustion. The room spun round me, a swirl of lights,
smoke, sweating bodies surrounded by tense white faces. 1 bled from both nose
and mouth, the blood spattering upon my chest.
The men kept yelling, “Slug him, black boy! Knock his guts out!”
“Uppercut him! Kill him! Kill that big boy!” :5
Taking a fake fall, I saw a boy going down heavily beside me as though we
were felled by a single blow, saw a sneaker-clad foot shoot into his groin as the
two who had knocked him down stumbled upon him. I rolled out of range,
feeling a twinge of nausea.
The harder we fought the more threatening the men became. And yet, I had
begun to worry about my speech again. How would it go? Would they recog-
nize my ability? What would they give me?
I was fighting automatically and suddenly I noticed that one after another
ofthe boys was leaving the ring. I was surprised, filled with panic, as though
I had been left alone with an unknown danger. Then I understood. The boys
had arranged it among themselves. It was the custom for the two men left in
the ring to slug it out for the winner’s prize. I discovered this too late. When
the bell sounded two men in tuxedoes leaped into the ring and removed the
blindfold. I found myself facing Tatlock, the biggest of the gang. I felt sick at
I. my stomach. Hardly had the bell stopped ringing in my ears than it clanged
again and I saw him moving swiftly toward me Thinking of nothing else to
do I hit him smash on the nose. He kept coming, bringing the rank sharp
violence of stale sweat. His face was a black blank of a face, only his eyes
alive-with hate of me and aglow with a feverish terror from what had hap-
pened to us all. I became anxious. I wanted to deliver my speech and he
came at me as though he meant to beat it out of me. I smashed him again
and again, taking his blows as they came. Then on a sudden impulse I struck
him lightly and as we clinched, l whispered, “Fake like I knocked you out,
you can have the prize.”
“I‘ll break your behind,” he whispered hoarsely.
“For them?” 3
“For me, sonofabitch‘.”
They were yelling for us to break it up and Tatlock spun me half around
with a blow, and as a joggled camera sweeps in a reeling scene, I saw the howl;
ing red faces crouching tense beneath the cloud of blue-gray smoke. For a
moment the world wavered, unraveled, flowed, then my head cleared and
Tatlock bounced before me. That fluttering shadow before my eyes was his
jabbing left hand. Then falling forward, my head against his damp shoulder, l
whispered,
“I’ll make it five dollars more.”
“Go to hell!”
But his muscles relaxed a trifle beneath my pressure and I breathed, “Seven!” 33
“Give it to your ma,” he said, ripping me beneath the heart.

ELLISON/BATTLE ROYAL l 277
And while I still held him I butted him and moved away. I felt myself bom-
barded with punches. I fought back with hopeless desperation. I wanted to
deliver my speech more than anything else in the world, because I felt that only
these men could judge truly my ability, and now this stupid clown was ruin-
ing my chances. I began fighting carefully now, moving in to punch him and
out again with my greater speed. A lucky blow to his chin and I had him going
too-until I heard a loud voice yell, “I got my money on the big boy.”
Hearing this, I almost dropped my guard. I was confused: Should I try to win
against the voice out there? Would not this go against my speech, and was not
this a moment for humility, for nonresistance? A blow to my head as I danced
about sent my right eye popping like a jack-in-the-box and settled my dilemma.
The room went red as I fell. It was a dream fall, my body languid and fastidious as
to where to land, until the floor became impatient and smashed up to meet me.
A moment later I came to. An hypnotic voice said FIVE emphatically. And I lay
there, hazily watching a dark red spot of my own blood shaping itself into a but-
terfly, glistening and soaking into the soiled gray world of the canvas.
When the voice drawled TEN I was lifted up and dragged to a chair. I sat
dazed. My eye pained and swelled with each throb of my pounding heart and
I wondered if now I would be allowed to speak. I was wringing wet, my mouth
still bleeding. We were grouped along the wall now. The other boys ignored
me as they congratulated Tatlock and speculated as to how much they would
be paid. One boy whimpered over his smashed hand. Looking up front, I saw
attendants in white jackets rolling the portable ring away and placing a small
square rug in the vacant space surrounded by chairs. Perhaps, I thought, I will
stand on the rug to deliver my speech.
Then the MC. called to us, “Come on up here boys and get your money.” 40
We ran forward to where the men laughed and talked in their chairs, wait-
ing. Everyone seemed friendly now.
“There it is on the rug,” the man said. I saw the rug covered with coins of all
dimensions and a few crumpled bills. But what excited me, scattered here and
there, were the gold pieces.
“Boys, it’s all yours,” the man said. “You get all you grab.”
“That’s right, Sambo,” a blond man said, winking at me confidentially.
I trembled with excitement, forgetting my pain. I would get the gold and the 45
bills, I thought. I would use both hands. I would throw my body against the
boys nearest me to block them from the gold.
“Get down around the rug now,” the man commanded, “and don’t anyone
touch it until I give the signal.”
“This ought to be good,” I heard.
As told, we got around the square rug on our knees. Slowly the man raised
his freckled hand as we followed it upward with our eyes.
I heard, “These niggers look like they’re about to pray!”
Then, “Ready,” the man said. “Go!” 5<
I lunged for a yellow coin lying on the blue design of the carpet, touching it
and sending a surprised shriek to join those rising around me. I tried frantically

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