Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison

I felt like he had never experienced racism to the extent that he did that day. I believe that he walked into the “smoker” believing the white people were actually interested in what he had to say. He was even prideful thinking that he was better than the other boys he was forced into the elevator with “I felt superior to them in my way, and I didn’t like the manner in which we were all crowded together into the servants’ elevator”.

The author writes about them being packed into this elevator designated for “servants. I pictured animals set for slaughter, which was not far from what the battle was, packed into a cart terrified and bewildered. Perhaps the young man believed that times had changed from when his grandfather was alive. Like the average teenager he may have believed that no one can understand the culture and the time quite like they can. He may have thought that his grandfather’s perspective was that of a bitter old man and that white people really did care about him and the rest of his people.

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The grandfather’s deathbed words affect the protagonist character throughout the story like the haunting of a ghost.

His words tell the young man to act how the white people would like and say what they would have him say. At first I thought he was telling his grandson to stay the same and accept oppression as a way of life. In actuality I think he was telling him that he would get further acting correctly then he would by lashing out or acting irrationally.

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I think the grandpa knew that in order to gain respect you must act like they expected instead of becoming a radical for change. I think that essentially he was trying to tell his family to “kill them with kindness. Many symbols were present in this story. The naked blonde woman who was forced to dance in front of the men is the first. I believe that, much like the men, the blonde was a victim. The author even says that when they picked her up and tossed her around she had “terror and disgust in her eyes. ” To the black men she symbolized something that they were not allowed to have. I thought that although she was white she was still a victim to the powerful men of the town. She was forced into the ring the same way that the black men were.

It seemed as if the author wanted to illustrate the complete disregard these white “powerful” men had for any one else. The American flag tattoo on the woman’s belly was ironic. I think that the flag, to many people, symbolizes freedom and rights. People around the world associate the American flag with freedoms unlike those in any other country. I think that on the stomach of the blonde woman it was a slap in the face. The black men saw the flag on her body and knew that they could not have her, nor could they have the freedoms that they were entitled to as citizens of this country.

The flag shook and waved with the movements of her body, taunting the men. Waving at them, as if beckoning them to come to her, yet they were unable to because of their skin color. Much like the liberties of the United States that waved themselves in the face of the black people but they could not have because of their skin color. The author mentioned red, white and blue multiple times in the story. I thought that the references to the colors symbolic to this country were interesting. I think he used them much the same as he used the flag on the woman’s stomach.

They were symbols exclusive to the United States, which is supposed to be a place of freedom; however the black people were only allowed to take part half way. The author spoke of the men’s red faces from their drinking, and the lipstick of the young woman was also red. The men were white along with the dancers skin which was a stark contrast to the young men she was surrounded by. I think that it is ironic that white is often associated with good, or innocence while black is symbolic of darkness or wickedness. In this story the roles were reversed. The white people were wicked and the black people were victims.

Smoke in large quantities creates a blue haze like what might have been present in the ballroom. I think that it is interesting the use of blue because it can be associated with suffocation. I think that is what the white men were doing to the black men. They were suffocating them with their presence and their oppression. The coins that they were forced to scramble for off of the electric mat were terribly sad. They were for cars, which surely none of the men could afford. I thought it was sad they were scrambling for little amounts of money or none at all.

Finally the last thing I think that was symbolic was the scholarship. While it was a great gift from the community, I think that it was also another stab at black people and their place in society. By giving the young man a scholarship to the state’s leading black college the town was saying that he was allowed the opportunity to further his education but had to remain in his place amongst the other black people. I thought that the fight the men were fighting was not just against the white people. Sadly the white people turned the black people on one another.

The white’s did everything they could to tear the black people down including letting them tear each other apart. I think that the older perspective allows for us to see how he had developed as a man. He has education and a broader perspective on the world. The 17 year olds perspective was very narrow because he had not yet seen the crimes white people were capable of. The older man was not surprised or phased by the way that white people behaved with regards to blacks. I also think that as he grew older he found a part of himself that lacked.

Updated: Nov 10, 2022
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Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison. (2018, Oct 25). Retrieved from

Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison essay
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