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Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. Many authors use symbolism to get readers thinking about the message and overall theme of their stories. Symbolism gives a deeper meaning to seemingly vague ideas. It gives readers a chance to dig deeper into the theme, and allow new ideas to flow. Ralph Ellison used many symbols in his short to show the ongoing struggle of African American people for equality. Multiple research papers have shown the theme of equality for his story “Battle Royal,” and how it is conveyed through Ralph Ellison’s use of symbolism.
Ralph Ellison was born March 1, 1914 Oklahoma City, OK. He was an African-American writer best known for his award-winning novel Invisible Man. The invisible man was published in 1952. The novel focuses on a Civil rights worker form the South who moved up north and felt isolated because of the racism he encountered. Ellison wrote The Invisible Man on farm in Vermont. The Invisible Man was on best seller lists for weeks. The following year after the Invisible man was released it won the National book award. The short story that he is most known for is Battle Royal.
In the story Battle Royal a young man is haunted by his grandfather’s dying words. His grandfather tells him to smile in the enemies face but remember the fight for equality. He encourages he grandson to do whatever it takes to gain equality. The young man was considered to be intelligent for a black man, and he was allowed to give a speech for some of the most prestigious white men in town. The speaker was very nervous upon attending this event because he wanted everything to be perfect for these white men. This symbolized that black people searched for validation of self-worth and achievement through white people’s acceptance. At the beginning of the story the speaker aspired to be like Booker T. Washington. Washington believed that if black people worked hard and was educated, it would help them gain equality. However, Ellison contrasted that idea by showing that an education without a voices does not make a black person invincible to injustices and inequality He was considered special because he was smart and black, but he was not considered equal to the white men. He shows how black people where quickly reminded of their place in society when the speaker arrived at the event and was forced to fight like his school mates.
When it was time to prepare for the battle royal he is stripped of his clothing and placed in a fighting wring. When the young man was stripped of his original clothing it symbolized slavery and how the slaves were stripped of their land, and culture. When he was forced into the ring it symbolized America. Ellison never hinted that the young man was a fighter so the ring was foreign place that speaker knew nothing about. The ring was the equivalent of what America was for the slaves. He was blindfolded and told to fight other black men. They didn’t know why they were fighting all they knew was they were told to fight and so they did. The blindfold represents the blindness of black people of the time. They felt like they did not have a voice and they were afraid to speak out. However, as the story goes along, readers see the determination to give his speech. While he was fighting his mind was on giving his speech. He was determined to give his speech because he knew it also meant a reward for him. The thought process of the speaker was symbol for African American readers to stay focused on the goal of equality.
The electric rug was another part of the fight for equality. The harsh conditions of the working class black American was symbolized by the electric rug. All the young men were being electrocuted by the rug trying to get the money. This was an everyday reality for them. They had to work the worst jobs for low pay just to survive. “The speaker says “It felt as though my back had been beaten with wires.” The pain on is back was a representation of slavery.” They were still like slaves working for nothing while trying to survive in a world where they were treated as animals. In Ellison’ time period a lot of black people still felt owned by white people. They had little independence and depended on white people to get what they needed. (Jennifer Smith)
The speaker is finally able to give his speech at end of the story. His reward was a briefcase with a scholarship to the state college for black people. The scholarship was men to be a symbol of dominance over black people for the white men, however it was a symbol of progression. The young man is now put in the position to make a big impact on social injustices because he can obtain a higher education He now has the tool he needs to advance his race in the fight for equality. He was the good boy and did what he was told and he received the ultimate reward.
Battle Royal symbolizes the fight for equality and all that was sacrificed for equality. Ellison used “Battle Royal” to show the hardships of African Americans and to also to remind them to never give up fighting. Through the story the speaker goes through pain and humiliation but he is still focused on his goal to deliver his speech. The symbolism in this story help portray the theme of equality.
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