Ralph Ellisons’ “Battle Royal” is a story about racism and discrimination in the 1940’s. In “Battle Royal” an unnamed narrator fights to gain respect in a society ruled by white people, symbolizing African Americans’ fight for equality. At the beginning of the story the narrators’ grandfather, on his deathbed, tells his son and grandchildren that “our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days” (1272). He then explains that in order to protect their self- respect and pride they must “keep up the good fight” by pleasing the white folks with meek behavior, but maintain their resentment towards the white people (1272). At his graduation the narrator gives a speech about humility and how through humility progress will be made, even though this belief contradicts what his grandfather told him. The narrator then receives an invitation to give his speech at an all-white gathering in the community. Upon arriving at the assembly he is asked to participate in a battle royal with some of his fellow classmates. Before the fight the participants are taken onto a stage where a beautiful white woman is dancing completely naked. The boys are taunted by the crowd. “Some threatened us if we looked and others if we did not” (1274). In this time period it was commonly believed that black men were dangers to white women, looking to harass and rape women at any time. The position that the fighters are put in shows how this stereotype was used to persecute African Americans in his time period. The battle royal begins and the contestants are blindfolded and pitted against each other by the white people. Chaos breaks out as the black men fight while the white men taunt and laugh at their struggles. “Two, three, four, fought one, then turned to fight each other, were themselves attacked” (1276). This fight represents how white people created disturbances in the black communities in order to suppress them and prevent them from rebelling against the whites as a...
Cited: Ellison, Ralph. “Battle Royal.” Literature for Composition. Ed. Sylvan Barnet et al. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 2005, 1271-81.
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