Ralph Ellison Battle Royal Short Story Analysis

Table of Content

Although the Civil War put an end to slavery, African Americans still experienced racism and inequality. Ralph Ellison depicts this struggle in his short story “Battle Royal,” which follows the life of a young African American after the war. The protagonist, who later becomes an “invisible man,” initially faces oppression as he tries to navigate society during that time.

In his short story “Battle Royal,” Ralph Ellison employs symbolism, metaphors, and imagery to enhance the depiction of a young African American male’s life as he strives for academic success amidst the oppression from his white peers. Throughout the narrative, symbolism is employed in various instances, but it is most significantly utilized in the ballroom of the main hotel where the battle royal occurs.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Ellison depicts the battle royal, highlighting the backdrop where he is compelled to fight alongside classmates who harbor genuine animosity towards him, despite their shared African American identity. He articulates a sense of helplessness as he endures blows from all sides and fights to survive with minimal harm. This utilization of symbolism effectively portrays the brutality prevalent among African Americans during that era. Furthermore, it conveys that all participants in the battle royal yearn for success and recognize that obedience is nearly imperative for achieving it.

The use of symbolism in this passage serves to emphasize the notion that achieving greater success for the African American community during this period necessitated internal conflict, as the white oppressors aimed to hinder their progress. Within the ballroom setting, the protagonist is forcibly positioned at the forefront alongside other African Americans, compelled to witness an exhibition involving a completely unclothed white woman. This woman is described as being completely nude with an American flag depicted on her upper body.

The narrator experiences a sense of terror in the room, torn between his desire to observe the woman and his impulse to flee. The woman serves as a symbol representing the various objects of desire that African Americans yearn for. This metaphor reflects the white man’s assertion that America, white women, and the civil rights of African Americans all belong to the white race, highlighting that African Americans will never be regarded as equals. Ellison also emphasizes the woman’s disdain while engaging in these actions, further amplifying the inequality of rights and subtly commenting on the disparity between the rights of white men and white women during that era.

By depicting the oppression faced by the narrator and the issues within both African American and white communities, the writer effectively conveys the limited possibilities available to African Americans during that period. The mistreatment of white women by white men also highlights the profound exclusion experienced by African Americans in terms of economic opportunities. Ellison employs vivid and detailed imagery to depict the concluding scenes of the narrative.

The narrator has completed the battle royal and can now deliver his speech to the all-white male group. Ellison reveals that he is being blatantly disrespected by the group, who talk, laugh, and ignore him while he recites his speech. Later, Ellison describes the difficulty of delivering his speech by saying, “I gulped it down, blood, saliva and all.” Eventually, Ellison says a line about equality between African Americans and Whites, which grabs the attention of all the white men present.

The narrator’s choice of words is quickly criticized by the group, resulting in the narrator being forced to change it in order to appease them. This creates a hostile scene where the young African American male must convey his point without risking his life. Ellison uses visual and organic imagery to portray a weary and disrespected African American male who is tired of playing the role of a submissive slave. Ellison’s descriptive writing style throughout the story allows the message to smoothly resonate with the reader.

The depiction of the tense atmosphere during Ellison’s speech effectively connects the metaphor of the white race’s ownership of America. Additionally, the use of imagery and metaphor relates to the symbolism of brutality within the African American community as they strive for educational achievement. Ellison’s intricate symbolism, eloquent metaphors, and vivid imagery enhance the portrayal of his pursuit of academic success while assuming the role of a submissive slave to his white opponents.

Cite this page

Ralph Ellison Battle Royal Short Story Analysis. (2016, Dec 11). Retrieved from


Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront