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Battle Royal is a short story by Ralph Ellison in his book the Invisible Man. The short story was written in 1952 and it is about a young black man who has graduated and is invited to give a speech to white citizens. In his narration he remembers the words of a grandfather to his son and narrates of the cruel betrayal. The short story has several symbols that enhance all the themes. The battle royal story itself is a symbol of political and social aspects which is portrayed in the novel (Abcarian and Marvin, 2010).
The story is a symbol of the African American struggle for equality. The narrator undergoes various hardships so as to deliver his speech. This was a symbol of the many hardships that a black man went through as they fought for equality. The boy expects to give his speech in a positive surrounding and what he goes through is beyond belief. The boys are supposed to compete in the battle royal and they savagely beat one another. The fight is symbolic of the African American for equality, it shows the struggle the blacks endured to be accepted as equal in the white society after the abolition of slavery (Abcarian and Marvin, 2010).
The electrified rug is another important symbol in the story. The boys are given a chance to take coins and bills from a rug after the battle royal. When they are grabbing the money they receive shock from the electricity because the coins are electrified and it proves difficult for them to reach the money. This activity also symbolizes the difficulties the blacks went through in the struggle for equality. They had to suffer and endure physical pain as the whites got amused by such activities. The blacks were not given things freely, but there was a price attached and this is seen in the case of boys (Abcarian and Marvin, 2010).
In the short story Ralph explains that before the battle, there was a naked blonde woman who danced before the white and black boys in the room. The woman symbolizes the other side of women who were the minority during this period. The whites were in control and used women as things for entertainment they are not treated as people, but as animals in a ring who are meant to fight and bleed (Abcarian and Marvin, 2010). The naked white woman has an American flag painted on her belly and this symbolizes that she is not a woman who is of great social status and should not be respected. She is viewed as a symbol of sexism in America society during that time. Additionally, the American flag tattooed on the woman’s body can symbolize the attraction of America and even if they are displayed before the blacks, they are off limits, but are unreservedly accessible to the whites (Abcarian and Marvin, 2010).
The blind folds were placed on the blacks as they went to the battle and their use in the story symbolizes the narrator as being blinded by the white. The blacks were not able to control their emotions or even find a way because they have blinders that have been placed in their lives. The narrator has concerns on the inferiority of the blacks and internalizes them without seeing the truth (Abcarian and Marvin, 2010). When the boy is done with his speech the superintendent came and he is given a calfskin brief case. The calfskin briefcase is an emphasis on the skin and shows the relationship of the calf and the narrator’s life which is being sacrificed on racism altar. It is a symbol of psychological and emotional baggage that the narrator goes through in battling with racism and trying to rise socially. However, receiving the calfskin briefcase also symbolizes that individual battles can be won with honor. The narrator learns that he has the chance to improve his life and he has done what it takes to achieve the best (Abcarian and Marvin, 2010).
The dream of the narrator at the end of the story is essential. He described his grandfather telling him to open a number of envelopes and he reached one that had a document written “to whom it may concern, keep this nigger boy running.” This was a symbol of the many difficulties that the African American had faced over the years. The dream, symbolizes the myth in the American dream, which has the view that black Americans can achieve their dreams if there is the will to work hard (Abcarian and Marvin, 2010).
Ralph Ellison story the Battle Royal is significant as it is a representative of the hardships that African American went through. In the story Ralph uses a number of symbols and they relate to many themes of the story. To the main character who is the narrator the meaning of the symbols is very important because they symbolize the lack of equality. The narrator wants equality, but the white man stops him from his story, Ellison is not happy with the society because of the treatment of the blacks. Ellison makes use of symbolism in the short story because they played an important role in making the narrator feel pain and the injustice in the society (Abcarian and Marvin, 2010).
Abcarian, Richard and Marvin Klotz. Literature: The Human Experience. 10th Ed. Boston, MA: St. Martin’s Press, 2010. Print.