The short story ‘’Battle Royal’’ by Ralph Ellison is based on the scenes of life of old setting where the African Americans were generally under the oppression and influence of the whites. The story starts with the main character being in a rather awkward position where he seeks something he cannot quite comprehend. The hero then finally discovers that he was actually searching information about himself, though never thinking of directing the questions to him. The author then describes the main character being ashamed of the fact that his grandparents were slaves over eighty five years ago before they were told they were free. The protagonist who is unnamed also describes himself as naive and later on considers himself as an invisible man. His memories of the words of his grandfather on his death bed really trouble him in the attempt to liberate from the oppression of white men. He graduates from high school and on the night is supposed to deliver a speech in an all-white club, he is forced to participate in the Battle Royal. After the Battle Royal, he delivers his speech and is given a scholarship to attend an all-black college.
Several points can be drawn from this short story. The author, for instance, uses various styles to deliver his message. Imagery and satire are among them; they are effectively used by Ellison to describe the situation and experiences of his protagonist. Ellison also illustrates racism and discrimination through his protagonist to air out the predicaments of the African Americans in the hands of the white men. The protagonist works to fight for freedom from the oppression and the inequality he and the other Blacks are made undergo. Additionally, the author uses several symbols to bring his message in the story. Symbols such as a blindfold and the Battle Royal and others are used by the author to deliver his concern.
The writer applies imagery and satire to make the readers wonder the dreadful life experience of the protagonist. The author, in a satirical way also uses the ‘’Battle Royal’’ itself to clearly describe the major cultural issues impacting the lives of African Americans. The main character is said to be a very good orator and is invited to give his high school graduation speech at an all-white club meeting. He considers himself a potential Booker T. Washington. The hero plans to deliver a speech that is based on the issue of how humility can lead to progress and success. However, he is told to participate in other activities of the night with the other nine black young men. A naked white woman danced in front of them making the protagonist unsure of the move he should make. ‘’My teeth chattered, my skin turned to goose flesh, my knees knocked’’ (Ellison, 1953). The naked woman makes the entire group of fighters unsure of what they should do since seeing the nakedness of a white woman was a taboo to them and yet they were attracted to watch her dance. This is used as imagery by the author to describe the situation of the fighters who at this point did not know their place in the society. Imagery is also clearly shown when the African American boys are blindfolded and made to fight against each other. "It was complete anarchy. Everybody fought everybody else. No group fought together for long". The African American group is suppressed by the whites, they are unable to work together to attain their freedom because of turmoil and disagreements created by white boys . The blindfold is used to symbolize the inability of the blacks to visualize their place in the society.
Satire is shown particularly where the protagonist is made to swallow his blood at the podium. He is bruised and cut, but the hero is also expected to deliver a quality speech to the white audience. Most of the men in the audience seem to ignore the narrator as he delivers the speech, while some taunt him all along. This mockery continues until he mentions the phrase ‘’social equality’’ (Ellison, 1953). This expression arouses the undivided attention of the white men, display of their displeasure and anger at the mention of the phrase. The narrator quickly corrects the phrase to ‘’social responsibility’’ with the claim that the mistake was as a result of swallowing blood. This act of swallowing blood is an indicator of the protagonist swallowing his dignity. Despite the fact that the main character was delivering a speech on humility, he is repeatedly humiliated in this occasion. The hero is told that if he stays in his place, the white men will definitely assist. He is given a scholarship to an African American College, clearly showing the efforts of the white men to keep the African Americans in their place.
Racism and discrimination are vividly discussed in the short story. Ellison describes white supremacy as the central theme in the lives of African Americans and explains that even Booker T. Washington established it as indomitable. The whites continuously oppress the African Americans mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally with their so called “superiority”. The main character is forced to participate in the boxing although his aim of being in the white’s club is to deliver a speech. This clearly shows that the African Americans are not in place of making their on decisions. It is only after being beaten up in the boxing and delivering his speech the hero is given a scholarship to study in all-black college. The protagonist, a great admirer of Booker T. Washington strives to be like him believing this is the solution how to conquer suppression.
The fight for freedom is among the main issues addressed by Ellison in the story. The protagonist believes he can actually attain freedom by giving his much prepared speech to the whites. He figures out that the speech puts him in the same position as Washington since in the end it might lead to reduced racial discrimination. This is the main reason as to why he endlessly thinks of the speech even in his most difficult moments of the fight. The protagonist is much carried away by his speech to the white people and their reaction thus indicating his readiness to submit to their dominance. He is ready to give up the black’s social justice for the sole purpose of achieving his own freedom. His agenda thus turns out to be similar to that of Booker T. Washington. He gives the audience a speech of words they desire to hear, while he earnestly awaits to attain both emotional and mental liberation from them. He aims at giving his speech word to word as he had memorized it since he insists, “all had to be said, each memorized nuance considered, rendered” (Ellison, 1953). Difference between the narrator and Washington is noted when the narrator undergoes a humiliating ordeal before he delivers his speech and the fact that he slips in mentioning the phrase ‘’social equality’’. This shows the demands of the narrator’s ancestors demanding equality. However the protagonist is considered as inferior due to the degradation by the Battle Royal.
Ellison also uses several symbols to illustrate the struggle for equality for the black. These symbols include, the flag tattoo on the stomach of the stripper, the stripper, the battle and the blindfold on the fighters. The tattoo on the stripper’s stomach symbolizes that the African Americans so badly yearn to attain. The stripper symbolizes the connection of women and black men. She is used to show of the little choice and inequality that faces women and black men in the presence of the domineering white males. These white men threaten the black young men and later on mishandle the stripper “Some threatened us if we looked and others if we did not”. The stripper does not want to dance but she has no choice as the narrator observes. “As the dancer flung herself about with a detached expression on her face, the men began reaching out to touch her”. The blindfold is a symbol of the blind state of the narrator concerning the actions of the white men and the untold limitation facing the African Americans. The Battle Royal on the other hand is used to symbolize the battle of the black people for equality.
The first-person narration by Ellison clearly shows the reader of the tough experiences that African Americans go through. The protagonist is faced by the dilemma of whether to fight for the collective liberation of all the blacks or take the simple way and attain his own liberation. he chose to take the easier way when he claims that he never meant to mention the phrase ‘’social equality’’, but rather ‘’social responsibility’’(Ellison, 1953). The story ends with the protagonist having a reflection of the major events that had been on his life. “It was a dream I was to remember and dream again for many years after. But at the time I had no insight into its meaning. First I had to attend college.” This is an indicator of the dreams that are still experienced by the African Americans who still crave to overcome the superiority of the white men.