“Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison Analysis

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The story “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison centers around a young black man’s struggle to overcome racial inequalities. It begins with the protagonist’s grandfather imparting his last words before passing away, which profoundly impact the main character’s life. Although the protagonist’s name remains unidentified, he is depicted as highly intelligent, leading prominent white businessmen to request him to deliver a speech at a hotel.

Upon arriving, the white men subject him to numerous degrading acts for their entertainment, including a boxing match and an electric carpet. However, he endures them all. Finally, he is granted the opportunity to deliver his speech, even though the men show no interest. Yet, the superintendent acknowledges his persistence and rewards him with a briefcase and a scholarship to the State College for Negroes. This demonstrates how the protagonist, through experiencing humiliation, embodies the message conveyed by his late grandfather about overcoming racial disparities.

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The dying words of the young man’s grandfather hold great significance for him and his family. Although the young man is too young to fully grasp their meaning, his grandfather imparts a valuable life lesson. The grandfather reveals that their lives have been filled with constant conflict, as he has been working as a spy in enemy territory ever since he abandoned his weapon during the Reconstruction era. He advises the young man to approach life with caution and perseverance, suggesting that he should overpower his adversaries through appeasement and deception. The grandfather’s words serve as a guide for the young man as he confronts the pervasive inequalities at the hotel plaza, particularly during the intense battle royal event.

The young man arrives at the hotel with uncertainty. He is prepared to showcase his skill, but is subjected to embarrassment when forced into a battle royal, a boxing match involving several contenders. The participants in this fight are blindfolded, degrading their dignity. I awkwardly stumbled around, resembling a helpless baby or an intoxicated individual (244).

The boy exhibits remarkable resilience when he decides to continue the fight for the entertainment of the white businessmen. This shows his dedication to fulfilling his grandfather’s words. Furthermore, if he were to be thrown out, he may not have the opportunity to deliver his speech. Another instance of humiliation occurs after the battle royal match. In an effort to snatch a yellow coin from the blue patterned carpet, I accidentally came into contact with an electrified carpet, causing me to let out a startled scream like the others around me. Despite my frantic attempts, I was unable to release my hand from the carpet.

The young man experiences a powerful and aggressive sensation that courses through his body, leaving him feeling like a drenched rat. This intense feeling is evident in the quote provided, where the electrified rug serves as a metaphor for the level of humiliation he endures. Despite the embarrassment caused by his grandfather’s dying words, he continues until the end and delivers his speech.

The young man demonstrates his integrity when he delivers his speech, despite the disrespectful men who choose not to listen. It appears as though they are not paying any attention to him at all. However, he proves to them that their lack of attention does not affect his determination to finish his speech. In order to suppress my urge to stop and relieve myself in one of the tall brass, sand-filled spittoons, I coughed. But I was hesitant because a few of the men, particularly the superintendent, were actually paying attention, and I was fearful. Therefore, I swallowed it all – blood, saliva, and pride – and continued speaking (248). By swallowing his own bodily fluids and pride, he exemplifies great discipline and self-control, as he understands the importance of persevering.

The young man in this story encounters racial inequalities throughout his journey. Initially, he is required to engage in a battle royal boxing match, exclusively for young black men. Additionally, he must surmount the embarrassment he experiences while delivering his speech. Furthermore, he endures the humiliation of being electrocuted by white men. Despite these difficulties, he must even swallow his own blood in order to deliver a simple speech. The boy successfully conquers all the obstacles that beset him. The dying words of his grandfather serve as a source of guidance and support during these instances of embarrassment and racial inequalities.

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“Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison Analysis. (2019, Feb 01). Retrieved from


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