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The Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison - A Literary Essay Sample

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1469 words
Sewanee University of the South
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Life is full of obstacles, but no matter what it is we have to struggle for survival. In the short story The Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison, the narrator talks about the clash between the African-American and white and the segregation issues. It features a young black man who has recently graduated from high school, and he is invited to give a speech to a group white gatherings. While delivering the speech, he goes through humiliation from the whites as a sign of enjoyment. Therefore, the narrator saw himself and caused the conflicts within himself because he was confused about his identity. Also, he deals with racism at some points he narrates how humiliated he felt by the white supremacy. It features the racial segregation that existed in Southern America. The deep tension created by the racism Also, Battle Royal itself symbolizes the fight of African American for equality and the power of the white supremacy. Thus, the story the character goes through an extreme disclosure about how he was taught by the white culture to be conscious of himself. All through, the narrator tries to explain the hardship he goes through while trying to fit in the teachings of his grandfather and that of American culture.

How Racial Segregation was manifested in Southern America

The narrator explains how racial segregation was manifested during those days. The blacks were separated not only on the political side but also economically. The blacks were not allowed to vote in the whites systems thus were viewed as total strangers in whites land. The belief that Africans were socially inferior while living in the shadow of whites. White and blacks used to separate bathrooms and restaurants. The racism was also manifested in the form of physical threats. The narrator recalls when the black youths were blindfolded by the whites and forced to pummel each other. The blacks believed that the only way they could survive in the whites dominate society filed with racism was by believing in themselves. The narrator felt that even though they were separate, they would one day achieve equality and live happily.

The narrator has some traits that enable him to survive in the racist society. Among the qualities, invisibility-lack of identity and blindness helped him to overcome the segregation and idealism that existed. Ellison has been a hero fails to recognize his role and achievements instead he let other people define him. The only way he can accept his real identity is by accepting who he is and adapting to the society. Again, recognizing your role in the community helps one discover his or her identity.

Why the narrator feels invisible?

He feels invisible because no one knows his true self, not even him." The narrator at one point believes that living by someones opinion was easier than trying to figure out his true self" (Baker, 68).I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive "I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer"(Baker ,18). The narrator believes that many people struggle with finding their identity, but since they don't share their struggles, he feels that he is the only one (invisible). Also, later, he realized his true self, but for everyone around him, he was just an invisible man "That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man" (Baker, 28).

Does the narrator feel pressure for his grandfather dying words?

The narrator was not ashamed of his grandparents because at one point he said: I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having to be slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time being ashamed". It didn't affect him, but he realizes that he was just like his grandfather because his grandfather never felt like the other slaves who were odd. Therefore, his parents were alarm about his grandfather last words "Son after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war, and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy's country ever since I gave up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree on 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open" (Baker, 78). Thus, the narrator struggles with his grandfather dying words because he feels that he must persist with his grandfather wish that will haunt him through his journey.

The narrator suffers through his journey he was considered a bright student in his community "I was considered an example of desirable behavior (Ellison)" (Baker, 56) Therefore, the narrator is "gentle" and educated and is for his behavior on the part of the white community. Therefore, even though he knew that pleasing the white people was his only way to achieve his goal he said: "When I was praised for my conduct I felt guilt that in some way I was doing something that was really against the wishes of the white folks (Baker, 78). Thus, at this point, he feels that he is fallowing the rules to stay quiet and with his head down and he will survive in the society of the white supremacist.

Did the request to give the speech again for white only made him realize he has to fight for equality? As the narrator continues, he is requested to give the address again for the white only. The turn of events does not begin the way that he plans wants because when they arrived at the event, he was very excited and firm about giving his speech without realizing that this event was going to be a humiliation for the African American race. It was a boxing match where the wealthy whites men enjoy the "Battle royal, and the audacity was that Everyone was there: bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, fire chiefs, teachers, merchants (Ellison)." "I'm the one I like the most." (Gale , 34)"What is this?" The inequality that led him to feel humiliated because they had to fight against them in other to please white supremacist.The narrator understands that the white people want to give them a message that they are superior to blanks. Woman with an American flag tattooed on her stomach comes out;, but the black men can only look at her, but not touch her. This represents the unattainability of the American dream to African Americans (this story was written before the civil rights movement).While the narrator enters the room, there is a dancing white woman, "a magnificent blonde with the yellow hair of a kewpie doll" (Gale, 65). The reader is aware that the dancing white woman who is perhaps a stripper, is there, like the African American men, for the entertainment of the white men and maybe to taunt the black men using sexual titillation. The white woman is oppressed as well, not on the same level as the black men, but she is oppressed. The white men have superiority and power leaving women and Black men with no choice but to play along (Gale, 56.

Overcoming Inequality and Adopting Identity

The hardship and harsh environment that the blacks were exposed to could only be overcome through self-identity and accepting themselves. The narrator is a bright boy but is faced with esteem issue caused by the harsh environment he grows up in. The opportunity for ganging opportunity to give a speech amidst whites people became a turning point for many blacks. The opportunity shows that the blacks are equal to blacks and given a chance they can be of significant change to the society.

The other way of overcoming the inequality is by getting rid of the stereotypes. When growing up, the authors grandfather hated the whites and believed that equality cannot be achieved. The author on the hand thought that he had an opportunity to make change the stereotype and make life right for blacks. In the end, he achieves this by emerging top and gaining a chance to give a speech.

Another way of overcoming inequality is by viewing the environment in a positive and typical atmosphere. The narrator struggled for his rights against all odds which are revealed during his fight with nature.


The story reveals various aspects of racial segregation that led to inequality between the whites and blacks in Southern America. The inequality can only be overcome when we get rid of the inferiority complex and accept whom we are.


Works Cited

Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide for Ralph Ellison's" Battle Royal". Gale Cengage Learning, 2016.

Baker, Raquel. "ENGL 201-01, Introduction to Fiction Writing, Fall 2015." (2015).


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