Merriam-Webster defines battle royal as “a fight participated in by more than two combatants; especially: one in which the last man in the ring or on his feet is declared the winner.” In Ralph Ellison’s short story, “Battle Royal”, the theme most prevalent throughout the narrative is, “The Fight for Equality in a White, Male-Driven Society.” The author’s use of symbolism in the narrative supports this idea. Such things as the grandfather’s curse, the stripper and her tattoo, the battle itself, the speech afterwards, and the dream that the narrator had at the end of the tale are all symbolic examples.
We start off with the knowledge of the narrator’s grandfather’s death. On his deathbed, the grandfather tells about his time as a slave 85 years prior. The grandfather states that he was never troublesome but saw himself as a traitor and spy. This conversation between family members opens up the opportunity for the upcoming symbolism and understanding of the difficult paradox that black people found themselves in at this point in time. This is also the infamous curse mentioned in the story, which is not being able to stand up against the White Man. This curse is interesting because the narrator admits to sharing the same curse. All his life he has been classically conditioned through false praise to be submissive to the white man, but when the death of his grandfather occurred, the advice given was very controversial for the narrator to hear and understand.
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’em to death and destruction, let’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open…Learn it to the young uns. (Ellison 275)
This advice the grandfather gives is confusing at first to the narrator because he is not sure why his grandfather would say this if he was supposedly a quiet, trouble less man. He does not worry about this information too much because he was invited by the esteemed white men of the community to give a speech.
Before the narrator is to give his speech, he is told that he will fight. There are a plethora of examples pertaining to the main theme throughout this part of the story in which the battle royal takes place. To begin with, the naked woman who dances and has the flag tattoo is very important. She does not want to dance for the men, but she has to because she is under the control of the white men. She is just like the black men who are about to fight in the arena in that she is also looked at as a submissive. This piece of information lets the reader know that it was not just black people who did not have rights in this 1950s white male dominated society. While she is dancing, the black men are ogling over her beauty and the beautiful...