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Battle Royal By Ralph Ellison English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 855 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“Battle Royal,” by Ralph Ellison depicts the story of young African American man fighting his way through life. Ellison explores the symbolism of a young African American who desires to be understood for his accomplishments not the color of his skin. P1

The young man in this story struggles with the last words of his dying grandfather:

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.” (244)

The old man’s dying wish was meant for them to stay quiet, keep your head down, agree with the white man, and you will survive this life. P2

The strong words of his grandfather haunt him to the point that he follows the rules without trying to. The young man does not wish to be a shadow against the wall, but to accomplish honorable things in his lifetime. It makes it very difficult for young man to forget who he is, a black man in a white man’s world. P3

The young man gave his honored graduation speech and in turn is requested to give the speech again in for the town’s leading white citizens. However, this turn of events does not begin the way that he plans nor wants. P4

When the young African American man enters the hall where he is to give his speech, he comes to find that he as well as some of his schoolmates will be participating in a series of fights called the battle royal. This battle royal of course will occur before the speech. The ten men did not care for each other, and this seemed to start the tension before the fights even began. The other men who accompanied him seemed larger and more apt to fight than he was. All the young African American man could think of was to get through this fight, and then he could give his speech. This goes to show the readers that above all else, he wants to succeed. P5

The men are herded to the hall to watch a young Caucasian woman dance. Some of the men are told to watch and others are told not to. This reflects the power that Caucasian’s still have over African American’s so long after slavery has ended. The woman danced slowly and then began to move faster with the music as the drunken Caucasian men began to assault her and toss her as though it was a mosh-pit at a rock concert. This set the stage for a hectic night for the African American men who were about to fight. At this point, most of the stronger more able men were afraid and crying that they wanted to go home. The dance sequence seemed to put the fear into them. P6

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The men were blindfolded and told to beat each other and if they didn’t then they would be hurt. As the men stood in the fight ring with their blind folds on they could hear the voice of their school superintendent yelling racial profanities at them. Then the starting bell was rung, and “it was complete anarchy” (247). The ten men were fighting for their lives. All the while, the white men were shouting for them to kill each other and to beat each other. The author explores the battle in such detail, it makes you feel as though you were there, feeling every punch and fear that the men felt. This again shows the control that the white men have over the African Americans. P7

Throughout the fighting even in the end the young African American still thought of his speech, and how these fights were not a true picture of who he was. At the end of the grueling fights he was knocked out. The men were then assembled and forced to kneel on the ground where their payment laid. They were told they could have what they could grab. The floor was electrified. However this did not stop the men from the humiliating circumstances of grabbing the coins. P8

Finally, the young man was able to give his speech. However, the way in which he was introduced seemed condescending. During his speech he was mocked and laughed at, however, he finished, he finished with an emotional intelligence that few men could understand. The young man was given a token of appreciation from the white men. He thought this to be an award for being such a smart young man who gave a great speech. However, the white men meant it as a bribe to “…lead his people in the proper paths” (252). They also gave him a college scholarship in hopes that he will forever be in their debt. These acts symbolize the manipulation that the white men still had over the young African American. P9

“It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself” (243). Eventually the young African American realized this manipulation and found himself. P10



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