Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison Analysis

“Battle Royal” is a short story by Ralph Ellison which occurs in a small town in the south (Bloom, 3). The main focus of the story is the continued recurrence in the incidences of racial inequality.  The story is about a black boy struggling to fit in, in the largely white society. The boy tries to achieve this goal line by adhering to his grandfather’s dying words. Before his death, the grandfather tells the boy “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 (Ellison, 15).” This words show that his grandfather wanted him to find a way to fit in to the white community. Symbolism plays a significant role in the drive of “Battle Royal, Ralph Ellison’s short story.” I believe the story had a deeper meaning and if we were to unfold the deeper meaning of the story we would find that not only does the story symbolize the young boy but also it symbolizes the hardships undertaken by the black people in their fight for equality in the society.

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The narrator of the story was born as well as raised in South America. However, he later moved to Harlem a small neighborhood in New York City. The neighborhood is the center of the black American culture. The narrator finds the difference between the south and the north quite incredible as a matter of fact, he finds it amazing that white drivers are obeying directions from black policemen. Moreover, the narrator says that he experiences a certain amount of freedom in the north compared to the south. His race seems to be the primary determinant of how others perceive him. In the long run, it is by plunging in a manhole and remaining invisible to the white society that the narrator of the short story can operate in a setting which allows him to reveal his broad range.

Narrator’s point of view

The “invisible man” is the narrator of the story. Since we hear the story from his perspective, the reader cannot be sure whether the narrator’s memories in the stories are completely true or not. Moreover, rather than judging, the reader understands that the story is based on the author’s perception and he is speaking out of his own experience, hopefully shedding light on the things which the reader may not have realized on his or her own.

Writing style

A lifelong lover of Jazz, the author conceived the idea of “Battle Royal” as Jazz equivalent.  Moreover, the author compares most of the aspects of the invisible man to Jazz.


Ellison’s short story is symbolic in very many ways. In one way the story symbolizes the African American struggles for equality in the society. For instance, the hardships endured by the narrator in his quest to deliver his speech symbolizes the hardships which the blacks faced when they were fighting for equality. The narrator of the story endures a lot of suffering and pain. Since the black people considered him to be one of the bright people in his black community, he is given the chance to give a speech to some of the most respected individuals in the white community.

The harsh treatment which he undergoes in order to perform his task is rather symbolic (Hill, 29).  It represents the hardships endured by most African Americans while they fight to be treated equally in the U.S. As he delivers the speech he expects it to be in a normal positive environment, however, what he faces is something that he would have never imagined. The narrator in the story is unnamed because he is meant to symbolize the black people in the society. The narrator’s struggles represent the struggles experienced by the blacks at that individual time. The narrator has to undergo humiliation to win a scholarship to achieve his dreams. This represents the African Americans who undergo humiliation in order to get ahead in life.


The narrator tells the story the way he perceives it. In addition to that, even though the story could have easily been turned into something melodramatic, the narrator uses a frank and thoughtful tone which allows the story to have a more reflective edge.


The author manages to develop a strong philosophy through the characterization of the story.  Ellison portrays the lonely narrator’s quest in his struggle to search for his identity as well as his understanding of his time.  The development of the character lays out a good foundation in his understanding. Through a maze of deceit and corruption, the narrator of the story undergoes a series of events which manages to enrich his experience and contribute to his search for his identity.

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The story consists of a framework in which the narrator recalls his grandfather’s dying advice and his cruel betrayal which confirms the grandfather’s advice. Using elements such as plot, setting, characterization, point of view, tone, symbol, and style, this paper explains the deeper meaning of the “Battle Royal.” These elements work together to achieve the effects and themes of the short story. The story shows the hardships which the narrator had to go through to get a good life. A large segment of Ellison’s work represents the hardships which the black community face to survive in our todays culture.

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Bloom, Harold. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009. Internet resource.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. United States: Paw Prints, 2008.

Hill, Michael D, and Lena M. Hill. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: A Reference Guide. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2008. Internet resource.

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