Battle Royal

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A Battle Royal for Equality: An Analysis of Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal”

“Battle Royal” provides a realistic portrait of the difficulty of being a black person in a Country dominated by white men. Ellison uses several symbols in “Battle Royal” to illustrate the black struggle for equality. These symbols include the stripper, the flag tattoo on the stripper’s stomach, the blindfold, and the battle itself. The stripper is symbolic of the connection between women and black people in the eyes of white men, and her tattoo symbolizes the freedom that the black men want. The blindfold is symbolic of the narrator’s blindness to the actions of the white men, as well as the limitations binding black people, and most evidently, the battle royal symbolizes the black fight for equality. The stripper, as a symbol in “Battle Royal,” contributes to Ellison’s description of the struggle for equality. She is symbolic of how little choice both women and black people have in a world dominated by white males. Ellison writes, “Some threatened us if we looked and others if we did not” (Ellison 265). The black men are reprimanded for watching the stripper, which is not permitted during the time period, as well as for looking away from the stripper. This left the men with no feasible option and serves as a reminder to the blacks that the white men have control over the situation. The stripper also has virtually no choice because she must dance, though she does not want to, for the white and black men. Ellison writes of the stripper’s lack of enthusiasm: “As the dancer flung herself about with a detached expression on her face, the men began reaching out to touch her” (Ellison 265). She is also viewed by the white men in the same manner the black men are viewed: less than a person. This is shown by the narrator of the story observing the stripper’s reaction to being touched, chased, and lifted into the air by drunken white men: “I saw the terror and disgust in her eyes, almost like my own terror and that which I saw in some of the other boys” (Ellison 265). In this way, the stripper acts as a common link between how women and blacks are treated in a society ruled by white men, further supporting the struggle for equality. The stripper also carries symbolism in the flag tattoo on her stomach. This tattoo, and its placement on the woman’s body, symbolizes the freedom black men will have when they are equal to white men. The black men desire the stripper, a white woman, as they desire freedom and equality. The narrator in “Battle Royal” reflects on his desire for the stripper: “I wanted at one and the same time to run from the room, to sink through the floor, or go to her and cover her from my eyes and the eyes of the others with my body; to feel the soft thighs, to caress her and destroy her, to love her and murder her, to hide from her, and yet to stroke where below the small American flag tattooed upon her belly her thighs formed a capital V.” (Ellison 264) When the black men are able to desire and make love to a white woman without shame, they will have attained the freedom and equality that they crave. The black men’s freedom is in the womanhood of the white woman, and the stripper in “Battle Royal” wears the flag tattoo on her lower stomach to represent the equality that the black men are still trying to attain. Another unique symbol is the white blindfold that the narrator wears during the battle royal. It is representative of his figurative blindness to the intentions of the white men. The misunderstood intentions include the money scattered on a rug, and the white men’s intentions toward the narrator and his speech. At one point during his presentation, the narrator misspeaks, and a white man responds by saying, “„Well, you had better speak more slowly so we can understand. We mean to do right by you, but you’ve got to know your place at all times. “All right, now, go on with your speech” (Ellison 271). In this...
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