Ralph Ellison’s short story, “Battle Royal”, is symbolic in many different ways.
In one way it is symbolic of the African Americans’ struggle for equality throughout our nation’s history. The various hardships that the narrator must endure, in his quest to deliver his speech, are representative of the many hardships that the blacks went through in their fight for equality.
The narrator in Ellison’s short story suffers much. He is considered to be one of the brighter youths in his black community. The young man is given the opportunity to give a speech to some of the more prestigious white individuals. The harsh treatment that he is dealt in order to perform his task is quite symbolic. It represents the many hardships that the African American people endured while they fought to be treated equally in the United States. He expects to give his speech in a positive and normal environment. What faces him is something that he never would have imagined. The harsh conditions that the boys competing in the battle royal must face are phenomenal. At first the boys are ushered into a room where a nude woman is dancing. The white men yell at the boys for looking and not looking at the woman. It is as if they are showing them all of the good things being white can bring, and then saying that they aren’t good enough for it since they were black. Next the boys must compete in the battle royal. Blindly the boys savagely beat one another. This is symbolic of the African Americans’ fight for equality. It represents the struggle they endured, to be accepted as equals with our society’s white population, upon the abolition of slavery. Blindly, our nation’s black population fought, not always knowing what for, just as the boys in this story fought.The segregation of schools, restaurants, and other public facilities were issues that were fiercely fought over.
These battles are directly represented by the barbarous fighting by 10 boys in a ring, being witnessed by whites in high social standing. Totally engrossed by the fighting these men yelled cruel things and became frenzied. This is representative of the how our nation’s white population treated African Americans for many years. Often they took a stance of authority, feeling superior to the black minorities. This belief is portrayed by the men’s angered actions toward the boys.
The electrified rug is another important piece in this story. The boys are given the opportunity to take bills and coins off of a rug, after the battle royal has been completed. As they grab for the money they receive jolts of electricity from the rug. The boys find it extremely hard not to reach for the money even though they will go through much pain in doing so. These activities again represent the African American’s struggle for equality. Even though segregation became an eventual realization the blacks had to suffer much. Blacks attending schools with whites still had to endure racial prejudices and misjudgments by much of the population. The boys in “Battle Royal” were given the opportunity to get money, but they had to endure the physical pain of being electrocuted in the process. The white men again are amused by these activities just as men throughout the years were amused by the activities of African American’s. The blacks were given things but with a price attached to it just as the boys were.
The dream that the narrator has at the end of the story is very important as well. He describes his grandfather as having him open envelope after envelope, finally reaching one that held a document. On it was written “To Whom It May Concern, Keep this Nigger-Boy Running.” This represents many of the hardships that the African American people had to deal with over the years. Even though the narrator was given a degree of respect by giving his speech it was not nearly enough. The whites gave him his briefcase and congratulated him and that was it. The dream shows that they were just casting the narrator off, not really giving him anything valid at all. They said “Nice job,” but this really isn’t much