The novel deals with the issues of racism, inequality and the way people can fight for better life – or accept their fate. The book asks a question of which kind of behavior is more ethical – to be meek and follow the rules set by the dominant group or to try to improve your position by sabotaging them or using any means available?
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In the first of the most important scenes of the novel the black boys are blindfolded and forced to fight each other for the amusement of the present members of the “white elite” of the town. To add more comic effect to it, the fight is called the “battle royal”. This turn of events occurs quite unexpected for the black teenagers, who are feeling helpless and clumsy and start fighting each other without any dignity, like animals. This further adds to the amusement of the white men watching and to the embarrassment and humiliation of the boys. But despite this, the boys don’t protest, they feel like trapped and caged animals and simply do what is required from them, thought the situation is unexpected and unfair.
The entire situation may be described by the metaphorical phrase “black boys dance to the white men’s music to please them.” The teenagers succumb to the white people’s will, each of them probably hoping to get some kind of award after the fight is over. They are not willing to see the situation the way it actually is. Instead of uniting and refusing to provide entertainment to the audience, they follow the white men’s requirements blindly and allow the men to treat them like something inferior, like cattle, not actual people.
The boys’ blindness may be seen from a wider point of view. It may be considered as a symbol of a much bigger problem – the “blindness” of all discriminated people in the society, who are not actually aware of their discrimination. They don’t see the situation as unfair and believe in the explanation the privileged group provides for their inferior position in the society. They do believe that they are actually inferior by nature, less capable, less intelligent that the privileged group, and don’t deserve any better life because of their natural “inequality”.
The lack of understanding of their true situation makes them blind and unable to assess the true reasons for their misery. Having grown in slavery and mistreatments, they cannot even imagine that things can change. They perceive their condition as natural. As a result, they don’t stand for themselves and don’t unite to try to get more rights and a better life.