“She considered the name her personal affair. She had arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius of its fitness had struck her… She saw it as the name of her highest creative act. One of her major triumphs was that her mother had not been able to turn her dust into Joy, but the greater one was that she had been able to turn herself into Hulga” (O’Connor 1342).
“All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization that everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself” (Ellison 1211).
Both stories feature a character focused on his or her education. The narrator of Ellison’s “Battle Royal” is motivated to attend the town gathering to give a praised speech and is ultimately awarded a scholarship to attend college. Joy, or Hulga as she comes to be named, has a Ph.D. in philosophy and spends much of her time reading. One of the major differences between the characterization of the two is that Ellison’s narrator seeks praise from other people, while Hulga acts only to please herself. Ellison develops a narrator who “asks everyone” how he should live his life. Throughout the battle royal, he cannot stop thinking about ultimately giving his speech and being praised by the white men gathered there. Constantly seeking recognition and approval from other people prevents one from living a life true to oneself. Being burdened by others’ opinions only serves as a detriment to self-improvement. Hulga realizes this when she can no longer put up with her mother smothering her. Though Mrs. Hopewell expresses dissatisfaction toward Hulga’s studies, Hulga proceeds to earn her Ph.D. and changes her name to further rebel against her mother’s control over her. A name is the fundamental way to define a person. By taking control of her life and changing her name to something she likes better, Hulga exhibits a character trait much different from Ellison’s narrator: self-awareness.
A similarity between the two stories is the objectification of the woman in “Battle Royal” when compared to Hulga being taken advantage of by Manley Pointer. The woman in “Battle Royal” is used to elicit desire in the young men. She is dehumanized when aspects of her are referred to as “the face,” “the hair,” and “the eyes” and when she herself is called simply “the blonde” (1213). She is defined by a sum of her parts, rather than respected as a woman. Meanwhile, Hulga is largely characterized by her artificial leg. Pointer has come to her under the pretense of loving her, but he really only wants to take advantage of her and then steal her leg. While the woman in “Battle Royal” feels disgust toward being characterized in such a way, the same cannot necessarily be said of Hulga (1214). Hulga, on the other hand, feels lost “without the leg” (1352). It is undeniably a part of her and makes her unique. She embraces the presence of her artificial limb and is “as sensitive about [it] as a peacock about his tail” (1351). Both women, however, are used by men who mean to take advantage of such aspects of their persons, and they are thus forced to face the reality that some people do not share their true intentions.