A short analysis of the major theme found in Ellison’s Battle Royal, supported by a literary criticism dealing with the tone and style of the story.
Ralph Ellison’s short story, Battle Royal, is mainly an account of the African American struggle for equality and identity. The narrator of the story is an above average youth of the African American community [Goldstein-Shirlet, 1999]. He is given an opportunity to give a speech to some of the more prestigious white individuals. His expectations of being received in a positive and normal environment are drastically dashed when he is faced with the severity of the process he must deal with in order to accomplish his task.
The recurrent theme of Battle Royal is that of a struggle for one’s rights against overwhelming odds. Instances of this struggle are found throughout the story. Ellison highlights the enormity of the problems faced by the African American community to assert themselves. This is done by the extreme nature of the incidents described in the Battle Royal.
At first, the boys are taken to a room where a nude woman is dancing. When the boys turn their heads away, they are yelled at for not looking. The tone of the rebuke implies that the blacks were not entitled to most of the ‘good’ things being white could bring them and that they weren’t really good enough for them. The boys then compete in the Battle Royal. This classic example of symbolism shows the fight African Americans have been putting up against an oppressive system over time and how it was necessary to persevere and have courage even when hope diminished. The boys fiercely beat one another. This may perhaps also represent in some small part the extent to which a united community’s harmony may be disrupted and undermined. After the abolition of slavery, blacks continuously fought against racial segregation in schools, restaurants and other public facilities. Many history altering events took place during this continuing struggle. More symbolism appears during the fight when the nature of the audience changes for the worse. Through his description of whites from a high social standing watching the battle of ten blacks in a ring, Ellison shows the attitude and approach those in charge of running system have towards ethnic minorities – in this case, African Americans. As the battle intensifies, the enthralled audience become more engrossed and began foul mouthing the fighters in their animalistic frenzy. The total disregard for human dignity shown by this reaction is a prime example of the stance of superiority assumed by the ruling majorities over minorities.
The main theme of Battle Royal occurs again with the incident of the electrified rug. After the battle has ended, the boys are allowed to pick bills and coins off of a rug. As they try to take the money off the rug, they are jolted...