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Analysis of “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison

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“Battle Royal” provides a critical historical and theoretical perspective on the servitude life experienced by African Americans eighty-five years after its abolition during the restoration era. It is about a fight for existence in a world dominated by Southern whites. Ralph Ellison defies all odds to have a first-person narrator that takes the reader through the life of a young man who aspired to please both his grandfather and whites during his early years at Oklahoma State. Though he faced several bloody challenges; he managed to rise against all abuses and insults to remain steadfast in his quest for making a difference in the inferior black state. It is upon these struggles that this paper offers an analytical outlook of the level of satirical but symbolic racial inequality experienced by blacks in a post-slavery America under the superiority of the whites.

Blacks were plagued with constant battles of survival eighty-five years after the reconstruction. They formed a society of less free men and women who could only understand the language of torture that formed part of their social stratification in the Southern States. Regardless, the narrator being the main protagonist of the play, define that, no matter the level of subjugation a man is placed, nothing can separate him from his quest to make a difference in his society. Although the state was experiencing the unprecedented rise of black Americans into the working class, there remained the fight of survival in a white supremacy environment. For instance, inside the battle arena, the narrator talks of whether one was educated, poor, scared or even fearless they remained in the constant fights to be recognized (Ellison 231).

Black Americans depended on every kickbacks and opportunities from the whites to remain useful men in the southern part of America. Although the narrator was a graduate, there was no way he could present his speech without passing through the battle in the ring. Together with other colleagues, they were all dependent on some cash that was given to them after the fight, and this was a symbolic representation of the level of poverty they were in and how they all depended on some tinkle from the white upper class to make in life. A more thorough explanation and evidence is presented in the last bit of the story when he was given a scholarship after being forced to fight. His initial intention was to make a speech that he had made during the graduation, but this was never meant to be unless he fought and made the white people happy during the battle. As he says in the beginning “I am nobody by myself: But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man.” (Ellison 230)

Although almost all the black Americans were all grown men inside the battle room, there was no way they could come close to touching a white woman because of the secondary level the society classified them at that time. The evidence pointing to this is the way the boys could salivate about the white woman who was being terrorized by the men inside the arena. Despite facing danger, the boys in the ring could not stop from salivating and admiring the physique of the woman even in the ring. But that was their limit in terms of admiration of white ladies, the other bit of touching was only left for the other superior color in the group, indicating how satirical it was to live in those days.

Even though they were educated, the idea of equality was very short of their vocabulary syntax, and yet they had seen slavery abolished. On the contrary, what used to categorize blacks' level of literacy was social responsibility and not equality. Anyone who mentioned this word was met with racially dehumanizing eyes and insults, yet they were all human beings and full American citizens with a right to vote. They not only had to survive the hard blows and electric shocks but insults and emotional torture were part of their claim in this society. Some fainted midway, but a bucket full of iced water was used on them so that they could realize that the struggle was only beginning.

African Americans were also used to extend the level of inequality to their fellow men in society. The bigger black male was part of the whole plan to win the battle and torture the narrator with blows. “Then I understood the boys had arranged it among themselves. It was a custom for the two men left in the ring to slug it out for the winner’s prize, I discovered this too late” (Ellison 236). It was a show of disharmony among black men which the smart white people explored fervently to extend their control over the black people in the region. Besides, no matter the amount of money the narrator could offer the tall boy so that he could fake the fight, there was no way he could give up because he only wanted to please the organizers who were in no way interested in helping him. The result of this was only a ten dollar note that never changed his life. Instead, it’s the narrator who won a scholarship but to a black community college not a white one.

In conclusion, it is quite the obvious that, the whites in southern America never saw the benefits of reconstruction several decades after its inauguration. They extended the highest degree of inhumanity by forcing black boys to fight for their places in the society they had control. It never mattered to them, but this form of struggle was well articulated in the battle royal. Also, black Americans were limited from expressing their interests to white women and had their vocabulary of social equality limited to social responsibility. Their subjection for using such words was symbolic for compliance to rules created and controlled by the whites for the extension of their supremacy to the blacks in those regions. Even after gaining a scholarship, he remained in the circles of white supremacy because he could only afford to go to black community college.

Work Cited

Ellison, Ralph. “Battle Royal” in Gardner, et al. Literature: A portable Anthology, 3rd Edition. New York: Bedford St. Martins, 2013. 230-236.Print.

December 15, 2021
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