Battle Royal

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The Use of Imagery, Diction, and Symbolism
to Expose the Inferiority of the African Americans

In Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal,” Ellison depicts the struggle African Americans faced in the South during the 1930s. Using appalling imagery, mischievous diction, and unfolding symbolism, Ellison exposes the cynical efforts the white race made to maintain superiority over the blacks. Ellison uses appalling imagery to allow the reader to visualize the obscurities the young narrator faces only to be neglected during his speech. The imagery used to describe the narrator being blindfolded only to fight against other young, imbecilic African Americans, to only earn tokens, shows the nefarious white men using them for cynical entertainment. “Suddenly I saw a boy lifted into the air, glistening with sweat like a circus seal, and dropped, his wet back landing flush upon the charged rug” (Ellison, 194). The reader can imagine the young helpless boy being thrown around only to provide sheer entertainment, thus evoking pity for him by the reader. By treating them as circus animals the white men maintain supremacy over them. Before the narrator’s grandfather past away, he leaves the boy with dying words, “live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction” (Ellison, 187). The diction used puts an emphasis on the dangers of scandalous actions. The readers can imagine them as acting obedient towards the white men, but underhandedly plotting against them. These words seemed to always be in the back of the narrator’s mind. In the end of the text, the narrator’s speech is being ignored. Once he replaced the words “social responsibility” to “social equality,” “sounds of displeasure filled the room” (Ellison, 196). Demonstrating how the white race felt about equality, that blacks should not be considered equal class citizens. The unfolding symbolism reveals how discrimination and inequality...
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