Refusing to Fight in Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royal

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Refusing to Fight in Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royal

The 1940s represent a decade of turmoil for the United States in general. Perhaps no group of people struggled more during that time period, however, than African Americans. With racial segregation prevalent, particularly in the South, opportunity was lacking for African-Americans. However, Ralph Ellison suggests in “Battle Royal” that due to the lack of racial unity among black men as well as a certain amount of naiveté, black men prevented themselves from succeeding more so than their white oppressors.

With few outlets to succeed in America at the time, African Americans put forth extra effort to succeed when they were given a chance. Often times, this set black men at odds with each other, as they fought to get ahead in a white-dominated society. In “Battle Royal”, this type of dog-eat-dog behavior is duly noted in the actual fight scene. From the moment the narrator steps into the elevator with his classmates, he “felt superior to them in [his] way” (200), and yet he also felt intimidated by their overwhelming fierceness. The only hint of unity that the reader can sense is when all the boys are thrown together, feeling awkward and uncomfortable at the site of the naked white girl in front of them. This distorted sense of unity ends as they are blindfolded and thrown into the ring together. This immediately draws a parallel to society in general, as black men were thrown out into the world, competing against each other to see who would succeed. Likewise, the boys immediately turn on each other, as “everybody fought everybody else. No group fought together for long” (203). Though it is their white oppressors that serve as a catalyst fo...

... middle of paper ... males may have been their own worst enemy in trying to succeed and create opportunities for themselves. Allowing themselves to be pit against each other, there was no hope of propelling their status while they did not support one another as a whole race. Turning their anger toward each other rather than the white men who had put them in these situations, the struggle of black men transitioned from the fight for justice as a people to a war with other black men, so as to boost themselves in the eyes of the white man. They furthermore allowed themselves to be manipulated, mocked, scorned, and beaten, yet still stood up afterward to do what they were told. As inner-conflict combined with complete oblivion to the racial situation grew, Ellison criticizes African Americans of the time for not banding together and recognizing the problem that was social inequality.

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