Symbolism in “Battle Royal”

Symbolism in "Battle Royal"

The characteristic of any good piece of writing is its universality and its representativeness. Ralph Ellison's Battle Royal is such a great short story which can be considered as an embodiment of the social struggles that the African Americans suffered from while dwelling in a society dominated by the whites. Interestingly enough the author has expanded his view in this short story beyond any single African American individual and though "the story only relates the experiences and thoughts of the narrator, the narrator is anonymous, allowing the conclusions drawn from Battle Royal to extend beyond this character and speak for an entire society of African American people" (Walker) and therein lies the universal nature of Ellison's short story. Meticulously the author has incorporated within the story myriads of events that were experienced by the narrator as symbols to convey the hindrances faced by the African Americans in the American society and the problems of inequality and discrimination which became a part and parcel of their lives.

Symbolically the uncertainties, the obscurities, and the dilemmas through which the African Americans went while sustaining their existence in the white dominated American society has been shown in the very initial lines of the story in which the narrator states "It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory" (Ellison 1).

The depiction of the stripper in the story is actually a ploy to symbolize the wretched and insecure condition of both black men and women in the white dominated society. Equal distribution of power and wealth was a utopia for the blacks at the time of Ellison and such lack of social equality has been symbolized by the author through the inclusion of the character of the stripper. In order to depict the monotonous, hopeless and insecure life of the African Americans amidst of the whites Ellison described the condition of the stripper by stating "As the dancer flung herself about with a detached expression on her face, the men began reaching out to touch her" (265). From such statement it can be understood that the helpless condition of the stripper was same as that of the African American men and women during Ellison's time. They were everything but human beings before the whites who can be overlooked when the whites wished to and ravaged when the whites desired so. Like the stripper the African American women in a society dominated by the whites were helpless and were provided with little protection.  Moreover, it is the stripper who symbolizes the fear with which the African Americans had to lead their life in the American society that ran at will of the whites. Ellison revealed the fear of the African Americans by symbolically presenting the fear of the stripper (when approached, touched and chased by a group of young white drunken men) before the eyes of the narrator and this has been meticulously done through this line: "I saw the terror and disgust in her eyes, almost like my own terror and that which I saw in some of the other boys" (265). And this terror in the eyes of the stripper relates the African American experience with her experience of the white brutality.

In conclusion through the symbol of the stripper Ralph Ellison was able to reveal before the eyes of the reader the disturbing truths about the relation between the Whites and the African Americans in the American society of his time. The uncertainties, the obscurities, the dilemmas, and the oppressions that the African Americans had to suffer in the American society has been precisely described and analyzed by Ellison through the symbolic presentation of the character of the stripper. 


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