Permeated with human tragedy. Ever since the first slave boat reached the shore?s of America, a deep affliction to the African race transpired. Generations upon generations were ravished by the rapacity of there captors. Kept enchained and illiterate for hundreds of years, the idea of Blacks as the Untermensch in American society was milled into the American psyche, the remnant of which still till today remains. Untermensch, a German word, meaning sub person has often been used to describe the African status compared to that of their white counterparts. In the short stories ?The Lesson? by Toni Cade Bambara and ?Battle Royal? by Ralph Ellison, the authors use the idea of race determining the social structure in America where Black?s are the Untermensch.
In the short story ?The Lesson?, Bambara through fictional characters makes a serious social commentary. The story portrays a poor black neighborhood, where the narrator is poor little black girl who along with her friends is being thought at home by this old black lady named Ms. Moore. She despises Ms. Moore for dressing and talking proper and most importantly for making her come to study during the hot summer months. Sylvia (the narrator) a rough street kid is brought along with her street friends by Ms. Moore to a ritzy toy shop (FAO SHWARZ) where she and her friends are shown toys which can feed them for years. Sylvia along with her friends questions how people could such ridiculous amount of money on toys, to which one of the kids replies ?that this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough don?t it??(164). That quote basically summarized the lesson, which Ms. Moore was trying to tell her kids. Sylvia and her friends were content with the ?piece of pie? (163) they had received, Ms. Moore tried to point out how small it was and how it could change.
The next short which in actuality is an part of the novel ?The Invisible Man?, is ?Battle Royal? written by Ralph Ellison which also question the Blacks as the Untermensch. Much of the story contains a lot of symbolic text, which is what makes the reading so intriguing. At face value, its an story of a black H.S. graduate who makes an speech in front of an rowdy crowd after he has fought 10 other man in the ring, but in reality the story is saturated with massive symbolism. The narrator, an African American has just graduated from High School with honors, and is invited to speak in front of the elite community of the town.
The setting of the play takes place in fictitious ?boxing ring? where there is a naked women who commences the start of the boxing match. The contestant?s in the ring are 10 black man who have been put assembled in the ring in order to start of this grand fight. In the audience are the lawyer?s, doctors, bankers, teacher?s, and judges all of whom were white, spectators of an event which pinned together 10 black men. The narrator (whose names is not revealed) was shock to find this. He had expected to give an enlightening speech about he racial operation in America, while the situation had seemed some what of an entertainment arena rather than a place where a speech can be given. Nevertheless the narrator chose to be part of this ?event?, just as long (as he had hoped) as was able to deliver this speech. In the Arena the 10 black guys fought against each other, while the spectators urged them on. In the end while all was set and done, a bloodied and damaged narrator made his dear speech to the deaf ears of an entertained audience. For all of this he came home with a college scholarship to a white sponsored black school. When he fell asleep he saw his grandfather who asked him to read a letter which said, ?Keep this nigger-boy running?(.
The meaning of the story lies in the symbolism. The 10 black men in the ring symbolizing how the white man pitted them against each other in order to keep his high status while they watched as eager spectators. The point of the story was that black community was never given the chance to rise as they were kept uneducated, fighting against each other, while the white man laughed at their expense.
Both short stories tried to explain the status of Black Americans in the American society. They both pointed out unequal distribution of wealth, education, and ?share of the pie? which there fellow whites wished not to relinquished, unless Black Americans were able to fight for there rights. Ralph Ellison the author of the short story ?Battle Royal?, talks about the problems that exist as a fault of not just one person or race, but rather of each and every person who fails to do anything about. Ellison recognizes the situation of blacks being the Untermensch as being unfair and the only way blacks can find there proper place in society is to ?be visible once again? (51 Ellison) through any necessary means.